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“The Deeper We Go, The Wider We Grow”
The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost
Of all the verses which Sasha, Betsy, Meili Grace, Walker, Anders and Madyson might someday read, from those shiny new Bibles we just gave them, few could be more bewildering than those we read, this morning, from that corner of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus refuses to help a Gentile for no other reason than that she is a Gentile; placing her beyond the reach of his responsibility when he says, in response to her plea for help, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Because that sentence sounds so far from the spirit of Jesus, Bible commentators work overtime in their efforts to soften the blow of Jesus’ words; usually by speculating that, when Jesus refused to help the Gentile woman simply because she was a Gentile, Jesus was only kidding, or, that, perhaps, he was just testing the woman’s resolve by first saying, “No,” while planning, all along, to say, “Yes.”
None of which sounds much like Jesus, to me; teasing and testing someone in need of help and hope. And, all of which, though well intentioned, diminishes the power of one of the most significant moments in the entire New Testament; a moment when we actually get to watch while Jesus changes his mind; redrawing the circle of his welcome, to say “Yes” to someone to whom he first said “No.”
Of course, it may be helpful to recall that, for the writer of the gospel of Matthew, this story of Jesus, a Jew, being slow to welcome a Gentile stranger into his circle of care, may have been a parable of what was happening in the congregation for which the gospel of Matthew was written. Most of the best scholarship we have tells us that Matthew was probably written sometime in the seventies or eighties A.D., for a community of faith, probably in Antioch, which had begun as a mostly Jewish congregation, and now was struggling to embrace Gentile strangers; which is exactly what we see happening in this morning’s gospel lesson, where the ultimate Jew, Jesus, at first says “No” to the Gentile stranger, but, then, says “Yes” to the same person to whom he once said “No”; not unlike Matthew’s once predominantly Jewish congregation, eventually saying “Yes” to their own Gentile strangers, after first saying “No” to them for no other reason than how, and who, they were born.
Which, though it pains us to say so, is, apparently, what Jesus did at the beginning of this morning’s gospel lesson. It may be nearly impossible for us to say out loud, but, according to the words on the page, when Jesus said “No” to the woman in this morning’s gospel lesson, he said “No” to her because she was a Gentile; because of how, and who, she was born.
But then, if the story means what the story says, Jesus changed his mind; redrawing the circle of his welcome to take in this Gentile, letting down his hard guard to take in his new friend; a powerful picture for us all of the way life moves, and changes, when we are living and walking, praying and thinking, in the Spirit of Jesus.
My sisters and brothers, there is a reason why the people in our lives who are walking most consistently in the Spirit of Jesus, are also the people in our lives whose circle of welcome, friendship and love is the most inclusive, and that reason is that when we are living and walking, praying and thinking in the Spirit of Jesus, the arc of the trajectory of our life will always, and ever, be moving outward.
There are many things about this world, and the next, which I do not know, but this one thing I do know with utter and absolute certainty: Walking in the Spirit of Jesus will keep us always drawing a wider circle of love and welcome, because, when it comes to walking with Jesus, the deeper we go, the wider we grow.