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17th August 2014 – Ninth Sunday after Trinity – Jack Noonan

SERMON: Matthew 15: 10-28

Today’s passage from Matthew is sandwiched between the 2 feeding miracles… the first feeding over 5000 with 5 loaves and 2 fish and the second feeding of over 4000 with 7 loaves and a few small fish.

In our reading we do not meet a meek and mild androgynous Jesus

but a Jesus talking confrontationally with religious establishment figures;

then talking bluntly to His mixed ability group of disciples

and finally Jesus being ambushed by a faith filled feisty foreign lady .

Preceding our extract, a number of significant events occur:

The beheading of John the Baptist , obliging Jesus, for security considerations, to leave the area with His disciples to a more isolated place.

While His plan was prudent, with a volatile, hormonal Herod on the loose, it was ultimately ineffective; for having celebrity status, as a healer and teacher, He now hasan army of fans, followers and seekers. Young and old, firm and faint.

It was not long before His secret location is broadcast and droves of the full spectrum of needy humanity find Him; seeking to be ministered to in mind, body, soul and spirit, and somewhere among them we are also.

great crowds came to Him bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute…. they put them at His feet, and he healed them, so that the crowd wondered…and glorified the God of Israel. ‘’

THE DELEGATION

Among the crowd was a delegation, from Jerusalem, which is some 60 miles from where our action takes place. The religious establishment had sent out its investigative team of religious and legal experts; to follow, listen, note, observe, and engage with Jesus. These Pharisees and scribes would later file a report on this worrying upstart rabbi from nondescript Nazareth.

But their reports about Him would be reminiscent of the judgement on King Balthazar in the Book of Daniel:

‘’In the eyes of the Religious Authorities, Jesus of Nazareth you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting…your disciples break the religious ‘’traditions of the elders’’.. and You do nothing to correct them.

Similar reports would denounce Him for flagarantly healing on the Sabbath and refusing to apologise or repent!

Our reading commences just immediately after Jesus publicly addressed the Pharisees and scribes as ;

You hypocrites!

Quoting Isaiah He publicly denounced this influential group, paying no particular respect to their very high status in Jewish society;

This people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

This Religious Syndicate would soon be part of the lobby to engineer, the arrest, trial, torture, and death of Jesus.

With the possible exception of the time He knotted a rope and caused a riot in the temple…

the white incandescence of Christ’s anger throughout His public ministry was consistently directed towards the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. For they were guilty of the heinous crimes religious hypocrisy, and arid legalism and spiritual obstruction of the people of God.

Their religious spirit, man-made observances and traditions…. accumulated by generations of elders… had added massively to the Torah, burdening and hindering the people God.

To the radical, Spirit- filled, Spirit- led Jesus this was simply wrong, unacceptable and had to be relentlessly challenged, given no quarter.

Jesus was neither quiet in this public confrontation with the Pharisees and scribes;

He called the people/crowd to Him …

Hear and understand…it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.…

what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart….

evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft false witness and slander…these defile a person…but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile a person.

With Jesus interior reality is paramount. So…

Guard/Keep your heart for everything you do flows from it… for it determines the course of your life ’Proverbs 4:23

Are we doing this?

Do our hearts still have the toxicity of unforgiveness?

The brittle dried bones so graphically described in the Book of Ezekiel have no place in the free open Spirit filled love that we have in Jesus…

Where nothing is written on unfeeling stone , but on the tender flesh of the heart, conscience, and regenerated spirit………and this sets us free to abandon ourselves to wholly and freely to be loved by Jesus, the very image of God.

He came to set us free from physical and psychological bondage, free from the spirit of this age with its stifling political correctness.

Religion can grow into an arid form without power. This is not Christianity. Christianity is non-relationship.

For Christianity without an ongoing living relationship with Jesus is lifeless, ritualistic, barren, full of effort and plain boring.

For the letter of the law kills… but the Spirit gives life.’

APOSTLES AND DISCIPLES

In dealing with disciples Jesus is firm, direct, flexible, kind and patient ….and touched pretty regularly…. with moments of exasperation.

Jesus, with the disciples, as with us, has many moments of disappointment, incomprehension, frustration, desertion, and restoration.

As with us, their rate of progress, depth of understanding, lack of spiritual insight, were on going issues.

Also, like us, they regularly possessed so little faith that by comparison a mustard seed looked a water melon.

But today being another ‘slow day’ for the disciples understanding parables. Peter is nudged forward to ask Teacher questions again.

One can ‘hear’ some of Christ’s exasperation in what I hope were rhetorical questions.

Have I been with you so long?

Are you still without understanding?’

Do you still not realise?

How long must I bear with you?

You know not what kind of spirit you are of….

Have you so little faith…why did you doubt?

Do you not realise?

We have much in common with the disciples. I wonder how often in our relationship with the Lord has He had spontaneous mouth zipping moments with us?

We are slow… but the love nature of Jesus.. is such that He would not break the bruised reed.

Today is trickier the disciples are not only ‘slow’ but may be miffed as Jesus may have embarrassed them.

Pharisees and scribes were very highly regarded in their society. Jesus had wiped the proverbial floor with them.

Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?’

When it came to speaking the truth or making an astute judgement, Jesus does not compromise but speaks forthrightly against attitudes that actively mislead and undermine Divine provision. Jesus dismisses the religious leaders with…

Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’

I wonder, how might living, with the indwelling Spirit of Jesus be awkward and embarrassing for us at times? Do we inform our consciences with the Word of God and then activate it in our behaviour, thinking, and conversation? For we are called to be salt and light to the bland darkened world.

The final encounter with Jeshua in our reading is with the Canaanite woman.

The dialogue ‘challenges’ our 21century sensibilities…with references to dogs.

But the first thing to be clear on that we are in the 1st century not the 21st. Our rules do not apply…period.

Also in the original Greek the dog in question is an affectionate term used for a domestic pet …..not some Heinz 57 variety of feral cur or mongrel.

This woman is also a descendant of Israel’s ancient enemies and has the feisty gall to

a). address Jesus, a Jewish male and b) the blessing of healing for her daughter.

She had done some homework. She respectfully address’ Jesus as Lord. And in addressing Him as Son of David indicates she had some recognition of Jesus as Messiah.

From a distance and without introduction, she rudely starts shouting her request across to Jesus who ignores her. She does not qualify for His attention. Jesus is silent. He does not answer her.

Her persistent calling is reminiscent of blind Bartimaeus . The more he was silent the more he called out ‘Jesus ,Son of David’…… Ignoring requests to shut up was worth it…..for a disciples comes to him and tells him; ‘He/Jesus is calling you.’ This we must remember….and do. Persistence pays off.

Jesus turns and tells her that precedence rules… that the children of Israel, not outsiders, must be fed first. But this tenacious woman, for love of her daughter hangs in there and replies masterly to Jesus.

She doesn’t ask Him to make an exception, neither is her answer a smart/clever retort.

She agrees with Christ’s assessment of her situation but adds… for/but even pets eat up the bits that fall from their young owners table….

She is a mother, rich in love, wisdom, and faith. She now simply and nobly asks for help.

Then there is the beauty of the Lord’s response to her!

So like Jesus, when we give Him a chance.

The faith that simply seeks mercy is honoured.

Then Jesus ( sense the emotion) answered her, ’’O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’’ And her daughter was healed instantly.’’ : ))

We can be the Pharisees….sadly trusting in our self righteousness acquired through religious performances.

We can be the disciples well intentioned, flawed, but growing into the self awareness of our helplessness and profound need to freely breathe in all that Jeshua can be to us.

We can be that beautiful Canaanite woman. Who realises that faith seeking simple mercy is honoured by the touch\word of Jeshua who is the same yesterday today and forever.

Each believer is intimately indwelled by the the Holy Spirit of Jesus, making each of us the eyes, ears, mouth feet of The Lord on earth.

God’s power and glory becomes obvious in our weakness…so no place for self-righteous pride but dependence and humility.

Christianity is not a legalistic or philosophical system of ‘’do’s and don’ts’’.

It is a love affair….failure to realise this makes everything a personal effort instead of Spirit driven effortlessness.

We are designed for this relationship.

We are made for the dancing intimacy of the Triune God in Christ.

In this relationship we know we are really alive… there is no pressure in genuine relationship, and with Jesus ‘’ the author and finisher of our salvation.’’ we are bound to succeed;being changed from glory into glory.

For this reality Jesus died and rose on our behalf… and freely and continuously fills the desire of our hearts from here to eternity and beyond ; )

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face…

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim.

In the light of His glory and grace……Amen