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Sunday, August 16, 2020
Today’s Scripture Reading | Matthew 15:10–28
Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” Then the disciples approached and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.” But Peter said to him, “Explain this parable to us.” Then he said, “Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.”
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (NRSV)
We can’t know how much time elapsed between Jesus’ pearl “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart” and his barb “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” but for Matthew it’s no time at all. The pearl precedes the barb immediately.
What else comes out of peoples’ mouths in this episode? There is the disciples’ gossipy warning: “The Pharisees are offended by what you said.” Does that defile? What about Peter’s demand for an explanation? Or Jesus’ impatient response to that demand: “Are you still without understanding?”
Out of the Canaanite woman’s mouth comes perhaps the most unvarnished speech, a gut-wrenching plea: “Lord, help me” (though the disciples’ insistence that Jesus send her away is also rather straightforward). As a Gentile, she’s already “defiled,” from a strictly religious point of view, so she has nothing to lose in calling out to the rabbi. Perhaps that is why her words have the opposite of a defiling effect, even on Jesus.
By the time she’s done with him, Jesus has had his mind changed. The space between calling a Canaanite a dog and lauding her faith is as massive as it feels, as massive as the space between the pearl and the barb is short. The woman’s daughter is healed. Jesus, too, seems healed. One only hopes the disciples notice that.
Merciful Jesus, guard our mouths from talk that defiles and defames our neighbors, our enemies, and ourselves. Work in our hearts through your Spirit, that our speech may reflect the Spirit’s gentleness and truth. Amen.
Written by Rocky Supinger, Associate Pastor for Youth Ministry
Reflection and prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church
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