Pastor Michael Frye:
There is a German saying: Man ist was man isst, translated: “Man is what man eats.”
This saying could harken as far back as Jewish Levitical laws, because here were strict regulations regarding the preparation and consumption of food. The Hebrew word for this is “kashrus” or “kosher,” which means pure or suitable for consumption.
The laws of “kashrus” included an extensive list of permitted and forbidden foods, along with strict instructions on how these foods should prepared.
For instance, Torah law instructed that the only types of meat that could be eaten are “cattle and game that have cloven hooves and chew the cud.”
This list includes cattle, sheep, goats, and veal.
But to be truly kosher, these animals must be slaughtered and cleaned by a Kosher Supervisor and his team.
There were only certain fowl and poultry that could be eaten: chicken, geese, and ducks.
Dairy product must have come from kosher animals.
Also, milk and meat could not be prepared or eaten together – after a meal with meat one had to wait anywhere from one to six hours before eating dairy. Only fish with fins and scales could be eaten; no shellfish.
All products grown in the soil or on plants, bushes, or trees were considered to be kosher if the proper cleaning procedures were followed.
Cross hybridization was also strictly forbidden.
The ritual washing of hands was totally different from just coming off the field and washing off the dirt and grime.
But even when the hands are clean, there are certain times, especially in the temple when they must be ritually purified.
Water must be poured out of a cup or glass twice over the right hand, then again over the left hand (unwashed hands should not touch the water used for washing); as the hands are being washed, a prayer is said:
“Blessed art thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with thy commandments and has commanded us concerning the washing of hands.”
The hands are then dried with a towel before the meal is eaten.
The Jews, especially the Scribes and Pharisees, identified religion and pleasing God with the observing of rules and regulations regarding cleanliness, even going as far as determining which individuals were clean or unclean – again this had less to do with hygiene, and more to do with one’s being in a state where he might worship and approach God.
Why am I telling you this?
Because Jesus startled the Jews by condemning much of the Scribal and Pharisaic rituals and religious ceremonies, and he was critical of much of what had been carried down through the centuries from the book of Leviticus.
Jesus was especially critical of how rules regarding cleanliness had crept into who one could associate with: women were considered unclean for a specified time after child birth; one was considered unclean if they had touched an ill person or someone who had died; and all Gentiles were considered to be unclean.
Therefore, anyone who touched any of those people were unclean, and so on.
Jesus identified one’s religious fervor with the state of a person’s heart, and he said bluntly that the Scribal and Pharisaic laws had nothing to do with whether or not one’s heart was right with God.
So, if one’s heart is defiled, then that is what makes them unclean, not the lack of following the rules and rituals set down by those who were blind to God’s ways.
It isn’t surprising that the Scribes and Pharisees were so hung up on these rituals and rules.
It is far easier to abstain from certain foods, wash hands in a certain way, label people who are of a different culture of religion “unclean” than it is to love the impoverished, the poor, and the alien at the expense of one’s money, or time, or comfort.
In what seems like a direct effort to demonstrate what so angered the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus made his one and only trip into Gentile territory exposing himself and his disciples to these “unclean,” and “unholy” people.
Jesus knew that no one else would follow him.
How the Canaanite woman knew who Jesus was and that he could make her daughter well is a mystery.
But she certainly was persistent, making a nervous wreck out of the disciples.
Finally, they pleaded with Jesus: “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
Now, here is where it gets interesting.
We know full-well that Jesus was not prejudiced against Gentiles, but we also know that he had recently remarked that he had been sent to the children of Israel (meaning that this is where he must concentrate his efforts).
Jesus and the Canaanite woman now do a little psychological dance:
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she does the unthinkable and comes right up to Jesus, kneels, and looks Jesus straight in the eyes: “Lord, help me.”
Jesus’ response seems so out of character, even cruel:
“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
But, believe it or not, she would have expected such a response from a Jew.
Jews often referred to Gentiles as “Gentile Dogs” and Gentiles would call Jews “Jewish Dogs.”
William Barclay, in his commentary on this passage points out that there is an interesting play on words here.
The word typically used by Jews and Gentiles for “dog” describes street dogs, dogs that are scavengers, dogs that are diseased, painting a disgusting picture.
But Barclay points out that the word Jesus used with the Canaanite woman describes a dog that is someone’s pet: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the (pet) dogs.”
(Remember, Jesus would not have had enmity or anger in his voice as he spoke to the woman).
And, without hesitation or despair, she responded: “Yes, Lord, yet even the (pet) dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
Do you see what is happening here?
Their conversation is almost like diplomatic banter: Woman, I shouldn’t be talking with you at all, let alone give you what you are asking for. My healing powers are for God’s chosen people.
But even those despised by God’s chosen ones deserve whatever God will cast upon them.
I can just see the smile that comes upon Jesus’ face as he realizes that this woman is not about to be denied what she believes in her heart of hearts that he can do for her daughter.
“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”
And her daughter was healed.
We in the Church today must avoid the trap that Jewish religious leaders fell into centuries ago.
One can come to church regularly, give liberally, volunteer, attend Sunday School and Bible studies – all of which are admirable ways in which we exercise and apply our faith in God.
It wouldn’t be that hard to do all these things and feel justified.
But the faith life of a disciple of Christ also requires an attitude of heartfelt devotion to God that calls us to establish and maintain relationships with all our neighbors, not just the ones we choose to be our friends.
Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote: “Man sees the deed, but God sees the intention.”
God is more interested in why we do something for others rather than how we do it; and God wants to see that what we do, no matter how grand we might think it may be, is done from the heart.
All of us are sinners who stand in need of a Savior.
But when our Savior searches our hearts, he knows when our thoughts and our intentions are set on doing God’s will and not our own.
This nation and this world have seen a lot of tragedy in recent days.
We have also seen how those with evil and impure hearts are doing everything they can to thwart unity and peace
among God’s children.
What in the world would cause someone to be so vengeful and cruel to resort to waving flags and symbols and screaming phrases from decades ago that incite hatred and disgust toward other human beings?
We cannot allow this disease fester and grow into something ugly and abhorrent that infects, not only our generation, but also generations to come.
This is the Church’s moment to show its loving and compassionate heart to those in the world who are losing hope and who are feeling abandoned and neglected; it is our time to say “no” to prejudice and hatred and efforts to strike fear and upheaval into peoples’ lives.
We cannot remain silent when the very principles and freedoms that our parents and grandparents and great-grandparents and ancestors have given so much of their lives for are threatened.
We must be willing, like the Canaanite woman, to take the risk of facing ridicule and rejection to accomplish our task of receiving and bestowing God’s blessings.
We, like the Canaanite woman, must be persistent and passionate, both in prayer, and in our expectation of having our prayers answered; and we must go about our lives with hopeful and joyful hearts, knowing that God will help us to overcome those who would thwart his will for this world and for his kingdom.
We could learn a valuable lesson from the late President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela, who endured his share of persecution and conflict, but whose faith and perseverance brought him and his nation to a place of calm and peace.
Hear his words:
“No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin or his background or his religion…
People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.
For love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Sisters and brothers in Christ, the heart of the Church only has room for love.
Let us go about the task of imparting that love upon our neighbors and the world.
Let us pray:
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is discord, union; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that we may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.