Sermon for Sunday August 16, on Matthew 15:21-28
My beloved fellow disciples of Christ:
White supremacy is a sinful infection that is a problem in our nation, and it is a problem in the church. It is killing our fellow people around us right now, and if we claim to follow Jesus we must root it out, we must change, we must be transformed by God. Thanks be to God who has given us a model in Jesus to do just this!
Now our little church is one of the most ethnically diverse congregations I have ever worshiped in, diverse means representing many ethnicities and our little church does that. So you might think, well our church does not suffer this sinful infection of white supremacy, because we are more diverse, and I say, mm- maybe. But even if on Sunday morning we see people of Japanese, Filipino, Hispanic and white ethnicities (or we used to when we could see each other) white supremacy is so much a part of the fabric of our country that it sneaks into all kinds of places and has to be named for the evil that it is so we can recognize it and demolish it. Please note I am not saying demolish white people or any person, but demolish the philosophy, the idea, the creed of white supremacy.
What does this have to do with the story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman, well everything.
But let’s back up a little, remember last week if you were with us I mentioned that Matthew’s gospel is the one where Jesus is kind of the Moses figure, going up the mountain to talk to God, giving discourses at the foot of the mountain, providing food in the desert to the multitudes, and last week walking on water to show he had the power of the elements just like God when Moses parted the waters of the Red Sea. The story names this woman as Canaanite for her nationality, but the Canaanites had not been a name of the neighboring people for centuries, it is a name out of place. Mark’s gospel tells almost the exact same story except the woman is called Syrophoenician, which is the accurate nationality of the time of Jesus. In Matthew with its emphasis on Moses, the story throws our imagination back to when the Israelites finally made it to the Promised Land, and then come some of the hardest stories to read in the Bible, how they had to totally demolish anyone in their way so they could establish that land as their own. There began a long history of antagonism between the people of Israel and the people of Canaan- who really were the ones who had been there first.
But the Israelites, like so many other groups of people, thought of themselves as the ones with the rights. The ones who had the destiny for that land. They defined themselves over against others. And the story is really quite a messy one because the Canaanites never really went away, the foreigners keep coming up throughout Israel’s history, and Matthew’s opening chapter names Rahab, Tamar, and Ruth, three foreigners 2 of them Canaanite, in Jesus’ own genealogy.
But the idea of being a people set apart persisted and Jesus names his ministry here and in chapter 10 as being “to the Lost Sheep of the House of Israel.” He is going to his own people who yes are being mistreated and denied justice by the Romans over them. He starts with his own people and their own corruption and collusion with those who are harming the most vulnerable among them. He calls them to repent for the kingdom of heaven has come near, he heals them as he preaches to them. They are the focus of his ministry.
But now Jesus encounters this woman, foreign woman, in her own territory, and she calls to him. Somehow word of this healer has come to her and her own daughter is unwell so she goes and cries out in a loud voice Lord son of David (whose great-grandma was a foreigner) save me!
And Jesus is very human here. In our creeds we confess that Jesus is both divine and human at the same time. Last week he walked on water. Now he will show his humanity, his identity of his own people and bias towards another, by using an ethnic slur. He calls her a dog. In every language and culture I am aware of, that is not a compliment but a dehumanization. When Jesus calls his own people children and hers, dogs, he is showing his human prejudice against her people, that he was steeped in as he grew up.
But she, so cleverly persists and says well even the dogs eat the crumbs. In other words, a crumb of what you are doing as you go around and heal and teach and transform, just the tiniest morsel, that will be enough. She reveals in that little phrase to Jesus what he needed to figure out- just how huge the potential of his ministry is, just how amazingly great what God wants to do through him is.
How can I say this? Because Jesus will never utter the phrase “house of Israel” again in Matthew. Because right before this he had fed 5000 plus with 12 baskets left over, a number used to represent his people Israel, he will go directly after this encounter and feed a crowd of 4000 plus with 7 baskets leftover, a number used to signify the gentile, non Israelite peoples. By the end of the gospel he will command his disciples to go not to their own hometowns, not to the house of Israel, but to all nations. The pivot point is right here in this encounter Jesus has with the foreign woman, the old rival group to his own people represented in her, when he says you know what, you are right, your faith is great- is huge, is expanding on my own, and yes I will heal your daughter.
She helps Jesus change his thinking, after he uttered aloud an awful ethnic slur she showed him through her utterance of a crumb being enough that he could go beyond his own people. His ministry could be for every kind of people, every person. And in a way that small encounter was a way of healing those old divisions between Israelite and Canaanite. The countless battles and old antagonisms cast aside in favor of a view of God who is God for all and has sent Jesus the son for all. He named that prejudiced mindset, but he didn’t stay with it, he listened and opened himself to change.
Every people I know of, every group of humans, tends to produce a sense of tribalism a sense of take care of us first, later, anyone else. But white European descent people have really taken this to an extreme since those escapades of conquering the American continent. And they did it with an unholy mingling of the Christian faith with their worship of their own likeness, saying it was their duty to conquer and so convert the native heathen. And that heritage has passed on to us today. The fabric of our society is woven with so so many threads that come from the idea that white people are better /white people are smarter/ white people should have preference for housing in certain places/ and people of color can do the hard and dirty jobs white people shouldn’t have to do. Until time and again, white police officers who are supposed to protect and defend, harm and kill Black and Brown people who pose no real threat. All of this is what I am referring to when I say white supremacy. It is racism but defining it for what it is in America, an inheritance of lies saying not just that one ethnicity is less than another but that whiteness is somehow superior to all others. Sometimes it is glaringly obvious like Neo Nazi or KKK followers, but much more often it is subtle and you don’t need to wave a confederate flag to be infected with it.
And then there are other consequences to white supremacy like this news that I read about last week.  Food processing plants in our own San Joaquin valley, our own backyard, treating their workers as less than human. Not telling workers that the ones who had been working beside them indeed had symptoms and tested positive for Covid 19. Not providing working conditions to help minimize the spread, not providing hand sanitizer, not providing tests or any help to pay for tests. Here are a couple of quotes. The first one references Central Valley Meat co, in Hanford.
“When Maria Pilar Ornelas, began struggling to breathe at work on 23 April, she asked management if she could get tested, according to the lawsuit. They told her testing was only offered to employees “chosen by the company”, the suit said” (I interrupt the quote here to ask, I wonder what ethnicity the employees chosen by the company were), “and told her she had to finish her shift, even though she had a headache so severe that her vision became blurry. She soon developed a fever of 103.7F.
“Ornelas eventually paid $225 for a test because the company does not provide health insurance, the lawsuit said. By then, she had unknowingly spread the virus to her boyfriend.”
Another company named in the article is Primex in Wasco where a third of their entire workforce has contracted Covid-19. They did not put any preventative measures in place or tell the workers what was going on until it was too late. “Maria Hortencia Lopez, a 57-year-old Primex employee, died of Covid on 14 July.”
Employees becoming sick, with symptoms that pointed to COVID19 and told to finish their shift. Essential workers dying because their lives were not valued by their employers. Not every company is wonderful with their workers, but you know and I know that the way they were taken advantage of and mistreated has everything to do with their accents and skin color. That is white supremacy in action, in our own area, killing people. COVID 19 is affecting communities of color more than white communities, and in very large part due to those communities making up the essential workers who are just not being protected and cared for equally.
If we follow Jesus, we can hear ourselves say things that come from the place of tribalism, of take care of us first, and then have our minds changed and our lives transformed. That’s what Jesus did. He heard himself say it out loud, then listened to her response, and was transformed. If we follow Jesus we can learn right along side him that God’s grace is big enough for all people. That no one is first when it comes to God and what God wants for us. That indeed those first disciples were sent beyond their own land to meet people from other places who spoke other languages so they too could know that God’s kingdom has come near. If we follow Jesus we will stand up to every voice that says, well but God is for some and not others and say no. no no no. Maria Hortencia Lopez, child of God, may she rest in peace. Maria Pilar Ornelas may you have speedy recovery and no lingering symptoms, may you find employment that recognizes your human dignity. And all the others whose names were not made known. They are the Ms. Canaanites of today, revealing the prejudice at work in our midst that diminishes some because of a false and sinful ideology of white supremacy.
It may or may not be within you, my beloved, but white supremacy is all around us. It has infected our nation and in many ways even the Christian faith here. And God of all calls us today, to name it wherever we see it, so it can be demolished, in the name of Jesus Christ. God has shown us this also in Jesus, the model for growing beyond our bias, to be challenged and truly change direction. Because after Jesus encountered the Canaanite woman, he was transformed in his mission. After he was resurrected his followers experienced the Holy Spirit he sent, that helped them bridge cultures with people from other countries, other languages. a later adopter of faith in Christ would write “for there is no long Jew nor Greek, Slave nor free male nor female all are on in Christ Jesus.” That is the extent to which we are to be transformed by God, this is our mandate to remove white supremacy from ourselves our faith and our society, to better follow in the way of our Lord Jesus. May it be so, Amen. https://news.yahoo.com/everyone-tested-positive-covid-devastates-100005164.html?soc_src=community&soc_trk=fb