When Jesus Gets It Wrong

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on August 16, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here. 

Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

Being a Christian is hard. Not ‘woe is me’ hard, because as Christians we have so much privilege. But it doesn’t have to negate the challenges. It’s hard for a lot of reasons, but perhaps the biggest one is that we follow this guy, Jesus, who has made a pretty big name for himself. He’s kind of a big deal. He did a lot of things right, some even argue he was perfect. And we, each one of us, are supposed to strive to be like him, a textbook definition of perfect. 

So it is month six in these COVID times. I don’t know how you all are doing, but my mind is a mess a lot of the times, very far from clear and perfect. I’ve noticed myself making a lot of really silly mistakes. Anybody else?

What is a silly mistake we’ve made recently.

The other day, I went to make a baked potato, like I’ve done 100 times before, and I accidentally set the oven to 250 degrees, rather than 400. I went about my business and an hour later, went to take it out, but then realized the middle was still raw. I finally realized what happened, after I sat on the floor for a good ten minutes googling how to make a baked potato. 

Especially now, making mistakes seems to be part of the game, as we are all in a weird liminal space. Today’s story is about making mistakes too, only this time, it’s Jesus who messes up. 

Prior to the passage today, Jesus found himself with Pharisees and scribes, who were all having a bit of a venting session to Jesus. The Pharisees and scribes were upset because of the actions of other people, who were breaking the tradition of the elders. And Jesus essentially tells them to worry about themselves, about their own actions, and not to be tattling about what others are doing that isn’t perfect. 

This interaction leads us nicely into today’s scripture, which starts at verse 21. Jesus encounters a Canaanite woman who was shouting, calling out to Jesus. You see, the woman said her daughter was being possessed, and was pleading to Jesus to help her daughter. 

Now, let’s pause the story here for a minute. What would you expect Jesus to do? How would you expect him to respond, based on who we know Jesus to be? In the comments, go ahead and type help if you think he would help her, and not help if you’d expect him to walk away or refuse to help her.

We’ve already heard the story, but I’d agree with the majority here. I would expect Jesus to help her. But his immediate action is to ignore her. He does nothing, and even goes so far as to pretend like she didn’t exist. Next, we read that his disciples came up to him, asking him to send her away. It’s as if they are regarding her as a nuisance, a distraction, something to be gotten rid of. Jesus wouldn’t even respond to that! His response to the disciples is that he was sent to help only a specific group of people, and this woman was not in that category. So he continued about his business.

Now, this woman was resilient, and she wasn’t taking no for an answer. In fact, she called Jesus out, saying, “even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”, which is to say that Jesus wasn’t even giving her the scraps, even the scraps that the dogs get. It’s as if she was saying “You and I both know that I deserve better. I am worthy of your attention.” The Canaanite woman is confronting Jesus about a bias he is carrying; and by her not taking no for an answer, she is reminding him how to be Christ, what faith looks like.

How do people, not unlike the woman in this story, inform your reading of scripture, or society, or social issues? Does scripture inform your faith, or does your faith inform scripture?

This woman and her daughter, they represent the ones we regard as outcasts: the ones we cross the street to avoid, the ones we avoid enacting policies to protect, the ones who are still in overpopulated prisons for petty crimes, the ones who are in cages, the ones who are being shot by people who took oaths to enforce the law. 

And we as people of faith, people who follow Jesus, we get to put ourselves in the place of Jesus here. We can either choose to help, or we can choose to do nothing, choose to look the other way, choose to make claims about the limits of who and how we can help. 

This is an instance in scripture that is tough to find, but it’s an important one because it shows us that Jesus is human. Because in this instance, Jesus doesn’t do the right thing right away. He ignores the oppression that is happening right in front of him. If it were 2020, Jesus may not have called his representative. He may not have registered to vote. He may not have humanized the people he disagreed with. Jesus makes a mistake here, a mistake that is counter to who we know Christians and Christ himself to be. He looks away from the hurt and misses the opportunity to love.

After the woman told Jesus that she was and is worthy of his attention, Jesus changed his mind. Once Jesus was able to see the woman, see her daughter, and see both of their humanity, that was the moment where he changed his mind.

Each of us are faced with moments where we have the choice to look away or engage, and it’s not uncommon that looking away is the easy choice to make. Even Jesus had his moment, we read. But if we’ve learned anything today from our story, it’s that changing our minds and making mistakes are Christlike qualities. Just as Jesus changed his mind in choosing to engage with the woman who needed his help, we get to decide how we are spending our energy, time, and resources. We get to decide what being a Christian looks like for us. 

After Jesus changed his mind, he too was changed as a whole person. It says “After Jesus had left that place, he passed along the Sea of Galilee, and he went up the mountain, where he sat down. Great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the maimed, the blind, the mute, and many others. They put them at his feet, and he cured them, so that the crowd was amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the maimed whole, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel.”

When we change our minds, we too are changed. Because faith doesn’t happen inside of a vacuum. Instead, it involves our full selves, showing up, being open to what God is teaching us through scripture, through our experiences, and through the people around us. 

Are you willing to have your mind changed? Are you willing to be changed?

Friends, as we leave this place, may we be open to being wrong, to making mistakes, to not having all the right answers. May we learn that following Jesus, being a Christian, is a journey and not a prestigious title. And may we be open to being changed by those around us, guiding our words and actions to grow closer to God’s love.

Amen.

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