Page last updated



Sent to the Outcast
Matt. 15:10-28
Crystal in NY

Good morning. My name is Joanna. I am an Israelite. My family and I were neither wealthy nor elite. But we did our best to love God and our neighbors. It wasn't easy, I'll tell you! We were oppressed by the filthy Roman dogs who had conquered our nation. And though we could hardly grow enough food to provide supplies and nourishment for ourselves, they imposed heavy taxes. And if that were not enough, the religious leaders also required that we tithe all that we produced. Not a tenth of what we had left after the Romans got to us . . . a tenth of all that grew in our fields! By the time we paid our taxes and our tithe, there was almost nothing left. But if we did not tithe, the produce was considered impure and no one would buy it. But you can't give what you don't have and, I must admit, that sometimes we did not give our tithe. In order to stay alive we sometimes ate food that was considered unclean. The Scribes and the Pharisees considered us bad Jews but we did what we must to stay alive. After all, it is also a mitzvah to stay alive.

As if that weren't enough, we were struck by disaster. I developed leprosy and was banished to the leper colony outside of the town limits. I could not see my husband or children. I couldn't even give them a hug before I left. No one would be allowed to touch me from now on. And whenever anyone else came anywhere near me, I was obligated to call out, "Unclean, unclean." Can you imagine how it feels to have to tell anyone you see, even from a distance, that you are unclean, unworthy? The leper colony was miserable. We were a group of refugees. We had been banished from our homes with just the few things we could carry with us. We had no way of keeping clean and ate whatever we could scavenge. And OH! The horrible itching from the disease! And there was very little hope for a cure.

But one day, miracle of miracles, this man whom I had heard had healed others, this Jesus of Nazareth, came near our camp. I went out to the area where I had heard he was and saw him there, talking with his disciples. I was ashamed of my disease and the disgrace that it put me in, but I was desperate! I needed a healing so that I could return to my family and help them get along. My need, my desperation, was greater than my shame. "Jesus!" I shouted. "Jesus! Have mercy on me. Heal me, please, so that I can return to my home and family." He smiled at me. A gentle smile. Touched me. The first touch I had felt in years. And said, "Daughter of Israel, God wants you whole. You are healed. Return to your home and family."

I couldn't believe it! The relief I felt! The joy of being set free from this curse! And you should have seen my family when they saw me coming home! The shouts of joy! The hugs and kisses! The crying with delight! Our shouting alerted the neighbors and they came to welcome me back. We ended up having what you would call a "block party" to celebrate my return. We went to the temple made the appropriate offerings for my healing. And we began to go to hear this Jesus whenever we were able. Oh, the things he taught! And the things he did! We were amazed and delighted. This rabbi was not like the other rabbis in Israel. He knew how hard it was for the average person to keep the rules of ritual purity. And he knew how the Scribes and Pharisees, who kept every law in exacting detail, had no compassion on us but thought of us as unclean dogs. "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles," He said. "It is what comes out of the mouth that makes one unworthy." He really infuriated the religious leaders with that one! But He won the hearts of all of us who struggled day after day just to get by.

After saying this, He headed into Tyre and Sidon. Perhaps He needed to put some distance between himself and the Scribes and Pharisees. I, myself, wondered why He would go into the territory of those Canaanite dogs. . . and I hesitated to follow. The Canaanites and the Jews had been enemies ever since we had first moved into the Promised Land. They worshipped false gods and they had cheated and deceived our people since our first memory of them. They were the most vile of the vile and no good Jew would want to have anything to do with them.

But I did follow Him. I followed Him into this uncomfortable place. It seems that Jesus often asks us to follow Him into uncomfortable places.

A Canaanite woman came up to Him crying, "Sir, my daughter is possessed by a demon. Please heal her!" Jesus did not seem to hear her. He continued walking. I was glad that He did not get mixed up with the Canaanites. If He had stooped so low as to heal a Canaanite, would any Jew ever listen to anything He had to say again? The disciples told Him to send her away. He had to keep His priorities straight and if He wanted to continue His ministry, it would not be wise to heal the daughter of this hateful Canaanite woman. And yet, I thought of my own children and how I had felt when I had been away from them for so long. Of how deeply I loved them and how sorely I had missed them. But still . . . she was a Canaanite! . . . He would not aid the enemy would He? But what is important in the light of our priorities is not always the compassionate thing to do. The most obvious response, in terms of society's prevailing values, may not be the responsible one.

The woman cried all the louder, "Jesus, please heal my daughter. I know you can do it. You have healed others." He stopped and looked at her, "But I was sent to the lost sheep of Israel." She fell down at His feet, tears streaming down her face. "Lord, please help me." "Lord." She had not called Him "Lord" before. She had come thinking of Him as a great man---a miracle worker. But now she called Him "Lord." He had awakened faith in her. She no longer came in desperation, she came with confidence. "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs," He said. Yes, we Jews thought of the Canaanites as "dogs" . . . but He said it with a twinkle in His eye. And the tone of His voice was like one friend calling another "you dirty rascal." She knew that He was only teasing her and she replied with the same teasing manner that he had addressed her, "Yes, Lord, but even puppies eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table." No, she wasn't an Israelite, but she was still a child of God. I thought of Jesus healing me when I was an outcast and I was embarrassed, ashamed that I had thought so poorly of this woman. Her love for her child was a reflection of the love of God for ALL of God's children.

It's not always easy to maintain our trust in God when our lives are falling apart, or when the world seems to be falling in on us, or when it seems that God remains silent to our desperate pleas for help. But this woman had learned the power of a faith that endures.

When Jesus paid attention to the Canaanite woman at the risk of jeopardizing his own reputation, He broke down all the boundaries that separate us from one another. After His resurrection He sent his followers out beyond their own boundaries with these words, "Go, therefore, and make disciples of ALL nations . . . ." As you leave here today, Jesus sends you out beyond the boundaries of race, economic status, age, gender or ideological orientation. He sends you out to high school drop-outs, illegal immigrants, even to criminals. Christ sends you out to all whom our society shuts out.

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Go out now and do the works that Jesus would do.