Reading Ramblings – August 20, 2017

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost – August 20, 2017

Texts: Isaiah 56:1, 6-8; Psalm 67; Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32; Matthew 15:21-28

Context: The readings for today all focus on God’s eternal purpose of reaching all peoples with his saving love and grace, brought into the world through his Incarnate Son Jesus Christ as a descendant of the Hebrews, God’s chosen children of Abraham. This balance between the blessedness of being part of God’s family, and the blessedness that through being part of God’s family, God the Holy Spirit continues to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others can be difficult to maintain. It can be hindered by obsessive personal piety, or by congregational rigidity and inflexibility. It is hindered by seeing the world as an us vs. them arrangement. The blessings of God are intended for all of his creation, and we as his people should be the first to rejoice in this and in the part we have to play in sharing this good news with others.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8 – For those who might see inclusiveness as a new thing with the ministry of Jesus the Christ, Isaiah is a good reminder that God has always intended his blessings to extend to everyone in creation, not just his chosen people. It is not genetics or genealogy that determines our place in God’s family, but rather love and obedience to his way of salvation through his Son Jesus. As God’s people it is paramount that we keep this perspective in mind. We are led in nearly every other aspect of our lives to see different groups of people as the enemy or as threats or as competitors. But we are called in Christ to see them as brothers and sisters (potential or realized) in Christ, and this identity should never be lost regardless of the political or social or economic issues that seek to separate and divide us. Rather, by keeping our eyes fixed on Christ’s love for us, we should be better able to extend his love to others – even those we radically disagree with or who actively struggle against us. Our prayer is that regardless of whatever divides us now, we will be united for eternity in common worship and praise of our common heavenly Father.

Psalm 67 – The notation of selah appears 71 times in the psalms, but we are uncertain as to its exact meaning and purpose. The assumption is that it is some sort of liturgical or musical direction or notation, perhaps indicating a musical interlude, or calling for a pause in the reading to allow for reflection. This psalm utilizes the notation twice, and as a whole is a call to both praise God and to pray for all peoples to be brought together in praise to God. This is on the basis of the righteousness and equality which God alone is capable and willing to give to his peoples. Through these aspects of God creation is continually renewed and continues to provide sustenance to all peoples, evidence of the Lord’s blessing.

Romans 11:1-2a, 13-15, 28-32 – In Chapters 9-11 Paul deals with the issue of the Jewish people – namely, why is it that those who should have been first to recognize and acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah did not, and are in fact active persecutors of Christians (as Paul himself once was). The assigned readings for the past few weeks have danced around this theme in order to highlight the broader theme of God’s intentions towards all peoples. But here we finally address the central topic. While the grace of God is extended to all peoples, we should be careful not to think of ourselves too highly in this respect. The grace extended to us has come by means of God’s chosen people, through whom the Messiah was brought into creation. God’s intention is that his chosen people will indeed, in the fullness of time and by his grace, be brought into the same grace in which the non-Jews in Christ now stand. God is at work even in this detail of his plan of salvation.

Matthew 15:21-28 – Jesus has limited time in his mission to God’s chosen people and his own race, the Jews. He has directed his disciples to focus their efforts on God’s people (Matthew 10:5-6), as they should be prepared to recognize Jesus as the promised Messiah the Old Testament prophets pointed them towards. But as Jesus has consistently responded with compassion towards the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 9:36, 14:14), He now responds with compassion towards a foreigner. However not immediately so.

Jesus has left areas of Jewish influence and withdrawn to pagan, non-Jewish areas on the upper coast of the Mediterranean Sea. He has sought time and space to be alone with his disciples since word of John the Baptist’s death came to him (14:12-13). Now He encounters a woman who has heard of his healings and miracle workings. She acknowledges him as the Son of David, at least indicating an awareness of his possible identity as the Messiah. How she should know this we are not told. But in her desperation, she acts on this knowledge of Jewish Scripture and Jesus’ reputation to plead for her daughter. Her refusal to be put off by Jesus’ silence leads his disciples to ask that He send her away, just as they did with the crowds who sought him earlier (14:15). Once again, Jesus has a point to make to his disciples.

As He responded to the Jewish crowds in Galilee, Jesus now responds to this Canaanite woman. First He reminds her the scope of his work and mission. He is not sent to all the earth, but rather to the people of God in Israel. She persists. He once again asserts that He is not sent to do signs and wonders among the Gentiles. But the woman is persistent as well. Surely the Lord is bountiful in his mercy and grace! Surely there is enough power and grace in Jesus to spare a bit for someone beyond the boundaries of Israel. Surely Jesus will not deny her plea, now that she is there in front of him!

And He does not. Her pleas are answered. Does she acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God? Not within the scope of the text. Yet the Son of God still answers the prayer that she raises to him. God’s grace is truly abundant, and we should direct all people towards prayer and supplication to him in time of need. It may be that He will answer their prayer as a means of leading them towards faith in him through Jesus Christ. It is also fitting that we his people should lift prayers to him on behalf of those outside the faith, trusting in his grace and mercy and his desire to change lives both now and eternally.

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