When we lived on Green Street, I had a five-mile walking course laid out that took me up to Foothill then back down Towne to home. I would often do this route after dark.
One evening as I was heading back down on Towne, I didn’t notice that one section of the sidewalk had been lifted up by tree roots. The next thing I knew I was sprawled out in some juniper bushes in the park strip. Down for the count.
As I slowly gained my wits and realized that I was probably going to live, I noticed a sharp, stabbing pain wracking my shoulder. Then I began to feel like maybe, in fact, I wasn’t going to make it. The pain was excruciating. “They’re going to just find my cold, dead body lying here in the morning when they bring in the trash containers,” I thought. After laying there for a number of minutes, I realized nothing was broken, and gingerly got back on my feet.
Obviously, I didn’t expire, but made it back home. The next day I did report this trip hazard to the city. I wasn’t going to sue them, but the next victim might.
In our reading from Matthew, we discern the importance of the Law and the tradition. We see the importance of Jesus’ mission to the people of Israel. But, in today’s reading, the gospel writer is moving us beyond this narrow vision. The dietary restrictions are not the sole point of it all – the be-all, end-all in themselves.
“’Listen and understand: It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defies.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?’…’Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind…what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.’”
Mathew goes on then to introduce the foreign woman, breaking all boundaries of protocol.
“Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and starting shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’”
Jesus ignores her, as well he should according to custom and propriety. But she persists. “’Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’” But this is my kind of woman. She will insist that Grace trumps all. She will not be denied. When Jesus tells her that his mission is solely to the house of Israel, and that one does not take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs, she nails him and his stodgy, limited understanding of God’s Welcome.
“She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’”
At this point Jesus grants her the healing she seeks for her daughter. “’Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.”
And like the Grinch who Stole Christmas, Jesus’ heart grew three sizes larger.
The divine, enfleshed in human yearning, grew beyond the narrow bounds of nationality and custom. Grace upon Grace. That’s what God is all about as revealed in the maturing vision of the Matthew’s community of faith as evidenced by their preserving of this story.
We come to the consummation of this vision when the Risen Christ in Matthew commands us to take this understanding out to all. “Go and make disciples of all nations.” All means All!
The Johannine community captures this sentiment exactly. “God is Love, and those who abide in Love abide in God and God in them.” Not a sloppy, sentimental, Hallmark pastel-cheap sentiment – but a Love that costs. A Love that commits to doing the necessary thing. A Love that speaks the Truth and lets the chips fall where they may. What Bonhoeffer called “costly grace.”
Somewhere the spiritual writer Anne Lamott nailed it when she posted, “You can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”
So, folks, here’s the takeaway: When we act as the “Frozen Chosen,” when rules become more important than the essential of Grace, are we Christians not a stumbling hazard every bit as much as that broken sidewalk that sent me sprawling into the bushes?
Such impediments were called a skandalon, a stumbling stone – just as such attitudes are a scandal to the proclamation of the Gospel in our day.
When we ignore the damage done to the “least of us” and just go about our comfortable lives, aren’t we as dangerous to the faith as that cracked concrete?
In the Episcopal Diocese of West Virginia, Bishop Mike mandated that every parish and mission would have Narcan, the antidote to opioid poisoning, available on site with people trained to administer it.
One stodgy priest was heard to comment, “Why would we do this? They’ll just overdose again.” Yeah. Right – probably up there with what Jesus might have said. And just what part of the Gospel did this uncaring clergy creep miss??? A stumbling stone to the proclamation of Gospel Grace, that soul is.
Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks, indeed!
I find that there is much joy to be had in being part of the welcome, in being part of the solution. That’s what the Jesus Movement is all about.
Saturday morning, I went out to Amy’s Farm, a non-profit organization and met with Randy Berkendam, Amy’s husband who runs the business end of things. He showed me around and we talked about the prospect of them moving to St. Francis as they are being evicted due to the land being sold to a developer.
I witnessed all sorts of healthful, productive activity – now that’s Gospel Grace. That farm is a welcome to all – Gospel Welcome.
This is an opportunity for Love-in-action that God may now be giving to us. Just as a woman with a hemorrhaging daughter was an opportunity for Jesus to grow spiritually – dare I say, for God to grow? — the community of faith to grow?
Randy, at another location, showed me a huge, monster pile of composting soil which would need to be stashed elsewhere than at St. Francis. It is the essential soil composting. With this, Randy believes he can get moved and have the farm up and running in as little as 6 weeks.
Right now, Amy’s Farm is economically self-sustaining. Unfortunately, selling healthy food does not pay all the bills. Two potential sources of income would be reimbursement from the House of Hope – San Bernardino for making this form of therapy available for our clients; the second being from a local college or university which would want to make a sustainable farming course available to their students. Amy’s Farm presently has one such arrangement. Our son Jonathan took such a course at Kenyon College and loved it — one of the best classes he took there, he says.
Are we interested in hearing what Randy has to say? Are we sufficiently daring to step out in faith for the sake of Love? — Jesus did.
Everybody, stay safe, keep batteries and flashlights handy just in case. But in any case, the lights will NOT go out on the Spirit of St. Francis! Amen.
Randy shows off the farm. It was built over a bed of wood ships then layered with rich, composted soil. Notice the efficient drip irrigation.
Rich, black, living soil, makes the kale grow!