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Joining the Dots

August 19, 2014

Genesis 45: 1-5           Matthew 15: 10-28canaanite woman

 

Our OT reading is the most extraordinary ending of the most extraordinary story. To appreciate that I think we just have to put ourselves in Joseph’s head for a moment. Imagine we were making a movie of the Joseph story… imagine the flashbacks as Joseph recognises his brothers arriving in Egypt to beg for food.

 

Flashback to the sunny day in his childhood when he arrives in the fields where his brothers are working… sent by his Father to see how the older brothers are. Instead of a friendly greeting from his older brothers, his role models, he is violently attacked and tied up. He has no idea what is happening for they have seen him coming and sprung it on him. And now he is tied up in their midst while they argue over whether to kill him. One of his brothers defends him and argues that he should be left to die in a pit rather than killed. So they strip him naked and put him in a pit to die. Then another of these delightful brothers comes up with the bright idea of selling him as a slave to some passing Egyptians. This they do and off he goes into slavery. I don’t know how many of you have seen 12 years a slave. In the story a free man is sold into slavery by some con artists he doesn’t really know. Imagine what is must feel like to be sold into slavery by your brothers.

 

Imagine the years of imprisonment… the moments of good fortune which mean that Joseph is finally given freedom and becomes a powerful person. All of this flashes through his mind as he sees his brothers arriving in Egypt now hungry and seeking food.

 

The urge for justice (for retribution) must have been almost irresistible. And yet in that moment… and isn’t it funny how the most important things seem to happen in a moment… something snapped inside him and he reached out and embraced his persecuting brothers. This is his amazing speech. “Come closer to me. Do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you have sold me here. For God sent you before me to preserve life.”

 

Ka-ching… the dots are joined for Joseph. He has this vision of God’s purposes. God’s purposes are the restoration of life rather than retributive justice. The crops have been preserved in the barns in the good years. They are now available for life in the tough times. But its more than just having enough food isn’t it. It’s having a life together that’s sustainable, built on forgiveness.

 

Joseph has an epiphany – a moment of understanding which is a turning point in his life. Have you had moments like that?

 

I often wonder if Jesus has a moment like that in our NT reading….

He has just been preaching about purity… what it means to be a righteous Jew… I was fascinated this week to attend Richard Bauckham’s lecture series on Galilee at the time of Jesus. Did you know apart from the Gospel there are almost no extant writings from Galilee at the time of Jesus. The nearest we have is a guy call Nittai the Arbelite. And only one of his ‘wise sayings’ remains. Here is what he says:

Keep your distance from an evil neighbour;

​do not associate with a wicked person;

​and do not despair of retribution.

 

As Richard Bauckham suggested the last line probably means that we shouldn’t give up believing that God will punish the wicked.

This is the context into which Jesus spoke. Jesus challenges the Pharisee version of purity. For the Pharisees it is about separation from certain kinds of unclean things – like pigs, or …. or gentiles. For the Pharisees its all about maintaining a ritual purity – its about things you might put in your mouth or touch. Jesus says no. The calling of God… is not to purity (in that sense) it’s to love… and these two ways of reading the call end up clashing. It’s not about keeping yourself untainted, its about giving yourself to the needy.

 

And so, having offered this wisdom about the true nature of righteousness, it tells us (v21) that he goes across a kind of symbolic border to a Gentile district – Tyre and Sidon … and a Canaanite woman… an unclean Gentile comes to him seeking healing for her daughter. And as I read this story, it’s like Jesus has worked out this purity thing in his head… but only to a point. He is living out of the righteousness of God within the bounds of his calling to Israel and its not until a woman from outside his world challenges him that he sees the full implication of what it means. The woman is persistent. Jesus and she engage in some quite edgy verbal jousting. “How can I feed the people’s bread to the little dogs (the pets)?” he asked. She retorts… that even the dogs get fed at dinner time. And then it’s like the penny drops… Jesus connects the dots. “Woman, great is your faith!” The Spirit of God has used a persistent woman, a woman in great need and therefore great faith, but a woman from outside the purity of Israel to show Jesus that the call of Abba redefines even the identity of Israel, of the people of God itself… from a people of boundary-purity to a people crossing boundaries in love.

I wonder if it was this experience that inspired in Jesus that classic parable of enemy-love that we call the Good Samaritan?

 

The woman’s great faith became a vehicle of the Spirit in Jesus journey of faithfulness to his loving Abba. We talk of Mary being the Mother of God. What about the role of this Canaanite woman?

 

I am struck today by ‘turning points’, by moments when we can suddenly, in the mystery of God’s Spirit, join the dots. Where are those moments in your life?

 

This week I spoke on a Panel on the Marriage Amendment Act and the Church’s response. And I had a bunch of ideas about marriage but I’m not sure I had really been forced to sit down and prayerfully hold all these things together. This request challenged me to do that, and to do it in a rather scary public way.

 

I think for many people, the dots only join up when someone actually confronts them. When they discover that one of their children or a friend or someone in their family is gay and this person comes to them and asks them ‘let me be a Christian too’. And we are not sure what that might mean. Sometimes we need our Canaanite woman to work out whether we are really people of purity or people of love.

 

I must say though, that when I did that, it was like the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle coming together. Jesus was the great reformer of institutions. Jesus didn’t simple reaffirm the traditional definitions. He didn’t say, oh sorry I can’t help on the Sabbath, the correct definition of Sabbath is no work. He said ‘the Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath. He didn’t say, look you will have go to the temple to find God, they have the correct means of forgiveness. No he said, Your sins are forgiven. My body is the true temple. He didn’t say sorry the only way to be righteous is within the nation of Israel, that’s just the correct definition of righteousness. He almost did say that to the Canaanite women, didn’t he. But then, perhaps he remembered the sermon he had just given about true purity. And he embraces this women and her daughter. When the theological pennies start to drop… it ends up meaning reform for all these institutions, these ways of living our life.

And Paul I think opens this up for marriage too.

He says in Galatians,

‘In Christ there is neither Jew nor Greek (the issue we’ve just had raised by the Canaanite woman), slave nor free (you can see the beginning of the church’s grappling with this in the book of Philemon), and there isn’t male AND female.

The Greek in Galatians 3:28 changes from ‘or’ to ‘and’ and some translations ignore it. But I think (and I’m not the only one) that Paul is making a point. This is a famous phrase from Genesis. ‘In the image of God he created them, male AND female he created them’. In other words this pattern in God’s creating, this complementarity of male and female, as important as it might be for reproduction and other matters, does not define life for the Christian. And so Christian marriage, just like the Christian community, and the Christian Sabbath and Christian purity and so on… might not be defined so much by its biological context as by the call of Jesus on our lives…

For me, joining the dots, this week meant seeing with a clarity that I hadn’t previously appreciated, the call to re-think the meaning of marriage rather than simply re-affirm traditional definitions.

I don’t expect you to necessarily connect the dots with me, or in the same way I have, this morning. For some I expect it will be quite challenging. But if you are interested in exploring further, my presentation is available online at Jason Goroncy’s website (www.jasongoroncy.com) – Have a read and I would be only to glad to talk further about it at some stage.

 

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