Sunday 14th August, 2011 Ninth Sunday after Pentecost
Maintain justice and do what is right, for soon My salvation will come and My deliverance be revealed.
Almighty God, You have given Your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life; give us grace that we may always thankfully receive the benefits of His sacrifice, and also daily endeavour to follow the blessed steps of His most holy life, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Old Testament Lesson Genesis 43: 1 – 15
Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, "Send everyone away from me." So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, "I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?" But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. Then Joseph said to his brothers, "Come closer to me." And they came closer. He said, "I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, 'Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children's children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there--since there are five more years of famine to come--so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.' And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honoured in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here." Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.
Behold how good and lovely it is: when families live together in unity
It is fragrant as oil upon the head: that runs down to the beard: fragrant as oil upon the beard of Aaron, that ran down over the collar of his robe
It is like the dew of Hermon: like the dew that falls upon the hill of Zion.
For there the Lord commanded His blessing: which is life for evermore.
Epistle Romans 11: 13 – 32
I am speaking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle to the Gentiles, I glorify my ministry in order to make my own people jealous, and thus save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead! If the part of the dough offered as first fruits is holy, then the whole batch is holy; and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy. But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, a wild olive shoot, were grafted in their place to share the rich root of the olive tree, do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.
You will say, "Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in." That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe. For if God did not spare the natural branches, perhaps he will not spare you. Note then the kindness and the severity of God: severity toward those who have fallen, but God's kindness toward you, provided you continue in his kindness; otherwise you also will be cut off. And even those of Israel, if they do not persist in unbelief, will be grafted in, for God has the power to graft them in again. For if you have been cut from what is by nature a wild olive tree and grafted, contrary to nature, into a cultivated olive tree, how much more will these natural branches be grafted back into their own olive tree. So that you may not claim to be wiser than you are, brothers and sisters, I want you to understand this mystery: a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved; as it is written, "Out of Zion will come the Deliverer; he will banish ungodliness from Jacob." "And this is my covenant with them, when I take away their sins." As regards the gospel they are enemies of God for your sake; but as regards election they are beloved, for the sake of their ancestors; for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.
GOSPEL Matthew 15: 21 – 28
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.
© New Revised Standard Version of the Bible Copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the
National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA, and used by permission. All rights reserved
NOTES ON THE READINGS
This culmination of the long-running tale about Joseph has a rather lovely ending, as perhaps both the brothers and Joseph had enough time to ponder the outcomes. The wisdom and care of Joseph is remarkable, but certainly, Joseph must have been a priggish kid, partly due to doting parents. (Never mistake doting for love! They are too very different things.)
In the providence of God, the small Abrahamic tribe was enabled to survive, which is the repetitive story of Israel. Mind you, as time went by, this was the start of another difficult time as there arose a king who knew not Joseph as the old King James Version translated the story.
Once in my lifetime have I heard a sermon based on this psalm, and it was Don Robbie, later Archbishop of Sydney, who gave it to us in my College years. This brief passage is a panegyric on the value of unity in a family, the working, living and loving together, which tends to be increasingly lost in this day and age of individualism. If you do not get the impact of ‘dew’ then you must live indoors rather too much to notice. Try going out early one morning. Refreshment is almost tangible.
Again I would have to say that modern Biblical scholars and theologians are likely to use Scripture in the same way to reach the telos that Paul did. That poor man seemed to be torn between retaining value for the original People of God, and yet acknowledging their rather odd response to Christ. However, he was aware that God’s call remains for whoever chooses to respond, Jew or Goyim. Basically he was making sure that no one dared to lord it over Jewish people; and a huge pity it has been that often that charge is rarely responded to.
And yet there is ever the conundrum; and do not miss this point either. Jesus seemed to have another ‘spin’ on the interracial issues. Always read the fine print. If you are unfamiliar with the map of the Holy Land, it would be worth finding one and pinpointing where mentioned places are situated. Here is a case in point.
You might be surprised at the number of times Jesus went outside the borders of Israel, where you can be sure that Gentiles were encountered. You might also detect where Samaria was, for that too was somewhat ‘outside’ real Israel. At the time of the collapse of the Northern Kingdom (6th Century BC) , people from the north were introduced, as was victors’ wont, to control the now-conquered peoples. As time passed, people of mixed race and blood were born, Samaritans being some of those. These were despised by ‘real’ Jewish people, yet they retained some of the Hebrew faith.
Anyhow, Tyre and Sidon were further ‘outside’ than Samaria, so were complete gentiles. And that was the issue here. This Canaanite woman was entirely beyond the pale as far as Jews were concerned, and was almost subhuman. No self-respecting Jew – male in particular! – would enter into any conversation with such a one. And yet Jesus turned this incident into a very steep learning curve for the disciples. They expected Jesus to treat the lady with utter disdain; in fact that was what they wanted and expected. So when Jesus was really quite rude to her, the disciples would have applauded, if secretly. That business about children’s bread being given to the dogs was – quite honestly – insulting. Mind you, that woman may well have expected something far worse. However, the jibe was directed, not at the woman, but at the expectation of the Twelve. Our Lord put them in a bind they did not see until too late, one suspects. On the one hand, there was that Gentile woman mendicant asking for help from Someone she recognized as Son of David. In other words, she knew Who He was. That implied a clear perception of Jesus, a clear statement of faith – better, understanding if you will. It was a sort of two-edged sword in a way; one aspect of the case seemed to be overcome by the other. It was an approach that Jesus used on more than one occasion, and He used it to somehow force His team to see way beyond their bigotry.
So Jesus was not going to let the Twelve off lightly, although He was far more compassionate to the woman who ‘should have been’ ignored if contemporary Jewish attitudes were to be followed. ‘Woman, great is your faith!’ bore tribute to the love she had for her child, the persistence she had against contrary pressure, and her patience in coping with then typical Jewish rudeness. ‘Great is your everything’ would you not say?
This Jesus of ours puts us in all manner of awkward situations as He raises issues that we should have dealt with long ago. We Christians have been so remarkably slow to respond to NT challenges about women, about slavery, about ingrained attitudes that reflect very poorly on our own discipleship and faith. Christianity is not about being orthodox – for Jesus was certainly not that. It is not about being conservative – nor was He along those lines. It is about being open and honest, accepting people – particularly those on the edges – and putting our arms around them to provide room for them to move forward.
It is a risky business, but then it always was so.