Text: Matthew 15:10-28
If you’ve been paying attention to the news at all, it’s been quite a week. Robin Williams, the famous actor who starred in both TV and movies – Good Will Hunting, Dead Poets’ Society, the voice of Genie from Disney’s Aladdin…and this goes way back, the TV show Mork and Mindy…committed suicide. Then you have popular NASCAR driver Tony Stewart, who ran over and killed fellow driver Michael Ward when Ward got out of his car in the middle of the racetrack after crashing. And in Ferguson, Missouri, a small suburb of St. Louis, teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed by police officers. Brown was unarmed…but the facts are unclear whether Brown approached and attacked one of the police officers first. And to add to that, Brown is African-American and the police predominantly white, and tensions are such that now the whole town is on curfew – lockdown. Then there are the ongoing things happening across the world….the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has thrown Iraq into another state of Civil War, and the United States is sending “advisors” and ordering airstrikes to help “stabilize” the region. Palestinian and Israeli leaders are still choosing to lob bullets and rockets at each other rather than discuss solutions leading to peace.
And, last time we checked, everyone in the government is still fighting and not getting anything done, right?
I don’t mention these things together to make light of them…they each carry unique and complex issues that need to be dealt with much thought and care. What troubles me is what gets talked about in the wake of such tragedies. Because as I continue to read the news this week I’ve noticed:
A tragic death gets turned into an ethical debate about suicide – it is right or is it wrong?
A death on a racetrack becomes a soap opera of conspiracy theories about whether the victim was intentionally hit or not. It becomes about when Stewart’s gonna start racing again, because he’s in the hunt of the NASCAR championship.
An 18-year old’s death sparks a race war in the country, followed by riots, and facts skewed to avoid or escalate issues of race that continue to drive a wedge between people in this country.
And then wars…whether wars of weapons or wars of words…continue on between leaders of the nation and world – because sides are unwilling to sit down, talk, and compromise.
And I just feel that in the wake of such events, what gets talked about…I just wanna say, “stop the madness.” Everything gets turned into agendas and divisions that separate us…I wonder if we don’t lose all sense of humanity, and wounds of tragedy and suffering go unhealed.
The gospel story today is an interesting combination of stories….Jesus gives us this nice, inspiring speech: if you think you’re righteousness, that your salvation is earned through following rules and laws to a “T” then you’ve missed the boat. It’s about what lies in the heart….those intentions to kill, steal, and harm…that is what makes one “unclean”….unrighteous before God. But then we get this story of Jesus’ interaction with a Canaanite woman – an outsider, not a Jew – who brings her daughter to be healed. She cries to Jesus for mercy….and Jesus denies her. It’s a hard story, because at best, Jesus is testing her faith, and at worst Jesus completely contradicts everything he said to the crowds earlier by dismissing this woman in her cry for mercy. These stories together, I think give us this lesson: you can talk up and down about what’s right, about having the right intentions of the heart. You can say you’re all for righteousness, justice, and love…but when it comes time to live that out, that’s an entirely different matter. Even Jesus gets it wrong with this woman initially….failing to recognize her need, failing to show compassion.
Failing to show mercy.
When people ask me what the point of faith is and what role it plays in life, I tell them that faith addresses what I like to call, “the human element.” The human element is that we are people both the cause of and victims of tragedy and suffering. That is the sobering reality of being human. But this same humanity is one that God loves, a humanity that God embraces in grace and compassion. It is our humanity that in Jesus Christ, God unconditionally and ultimately shows mercy to.
The Canaanite woman calls attention to the “human element” in her response to Jesus – that she and her daughter are human beings in need of God’s compassion and mercy – that is what she seeks. She asks Jesus to “stop the madness” of her life, and, I think…reminded Jesus of the “human element.” Jesus does indeed show mercy…he heals her daughter.
It is hard to do this…..it’s hard to see people as human beings who do horrible things, who suffer them as well, look at them through the eyes of compassion and mercy.…and actually show such compassion and mercy in our actions. Yet as today’s gospel story tells us, the only way to stop the madness – the ways we de-humanize ourselves and each other – is compassion and mercy. Jesus is right – that starts from our hearts, because that ultimately dictates our actions. But it must also move us to actually show compassion and mercy as well. It’s the only way we are healed, relationships are reconciled…our humanity gets saved.
And as hard as it is, I feel we have great freedom to live out this call – God’s call to witness and minister to the “human element.” Because the good news always is, that in Jesus Christ, God has stopped the madness of sin and death in our lives, showing us compassion and mercy in death and resurrection. And such an act, an act for the sake of humanity…heals us. Frees us. Saves us. Amen.