What become the priorities of our faith?
To begin to read this with 21st century sensibilities, one immediately sides with the Pharisees on the issue of hand washing! Some may think, "Jesus, I hate to say it but you are just plain wrong on this." Then they may follow up with, "Please forgive me for saying so!"
But the issue in the first century was not germs of which they were not aware but ritual cleanliness. It was showing outward action to prove an inward spiritual righteousness before God.
He goes on to prove his point by showing that the concerns with observing dietary laws were not as important as cleansing the intentions that do harm.
In a mastery of humility, Matthew then shifts immediately to a story that allows Jesus to live out what he's been saying.
We have an encounter with a Gentile woman whose daughter is in need of exorcism. A typical Jew's first thought in that day might be, "You're all in need of exorcism. Every one of you is unclean!"
Jesus at least says nothing. He's not wanting the words coming out of his mouth to defile as per his example above.
The disciples have a similar response as they did to the hungry crowds in the feeding of the multitudes in the previous chapter: send her (them) away.
But here we have a woman who is willing to step out of her place because of her love for her daughter. She prostrates herself before Jesus and begs for help.
His answer prioritizes his own people (family) before those on the outside. But Jesus has already moved beyond this in chapter twelve when he speaks of the ministries of Jonah and Solomon whereby Gentiles came to faith. He also speaks in that chapter about the expansion of his own family to include intent of action over bloodlines.
Sometimes you can wash
but the whole system needs adjustment.
When we go against the grain and it is difficult, we must remember that systems try to pull us back into what is normal. They all resist change. There may have been subtle pressures on Jesus to ignore her. But then he receives this gentle reminder from the Canaanite woman. She is not telling him anything he hasn't already declared earlier in Matthew.
Jesus responds not with rancor or embarrassment at being instructed as many of us might do. He shows us what our response could be in similar circumstances.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
And her daughter was healed instantly. I love a happy ending!
How do our own systems defile us?
How does our participation in them keep us from seeing the larger picture?
How well do we pay attention to the harm that our words may cause?
Prayer for the day:
God, we may often speak our mind.
We don't think about it defiling us.
If others get offended, we can't be responsible for their heightened sensitivity, can we?
Or could it be that we are just embarrassed because we didn't mean to cause harm?
Help us to be strong like Jesus.
Help us to be a witness with our words and our ways.
Photo by Jo Naylor via Flickr.com. Used under the Creative Commons license.