Matthew 15:10-28

Matthew 15:10-28

The Rev. Marc Vance

St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

August 17, 2014

Let’s play a little follow-the-leader this morning: [sign of the cross, see-hear-speak no evil, pat-head-rub-tummy].  I went to a concert in Louisville last week by a guitar duo call Rodrigo y Garbriela (sort of an acoustic rock-and-roll flamenco vibe).  Like a lot of rock musicians, they did not hold anything back, but poured out everything they had into the performance and did not discourage the crowd when it got a little rowdy, jumping around down front and readily followed along when Rodrigo got them clapping.  I remember when I played this game in morning chapel at the school that was associated with church I served in Florida, it was absolutely hilarious to have an entire school of first through sixth-graders and their teachers (!) to do this [lip thing].  You cannot be one to hold anything back if you are willing to follow along and do that in church!  (Or at least engage in a little holy laughter!)

The word “follow” comes from a compound word of Germanic origin which, in English, gives a sense, not of just tagging along, but going all out, holding nothing back, giving it your all.  The word “holy” has pre-Christian origins that are not possible to determine, but the connotation is along the lines of consecrated, sacred, or godly and probably meant something like "that which must be preserved whole or intact; which cannot be transgressed or violated.”  Considering these defining concepts is very helpful as we seek to do exactly as we prayed together when we began our worship this morning: to follow daily in the blessed steps of our Lord’s most holy life.

When you consider how high Jesus sets the bar, even when you are clear about what it is, following daily in his steps seems rather daunting.  To be faithful to such a holy life in word and action requires an uncommon degree of motivation and unselfishness and so the only real option is to go all out, holding nothing back, giving it your all.  Such was the woman who approached Jesus undaunted in her quest to secure relief for a daughter who was suffering.  This story portrays Jesus in a way that seems a bit harsh to our ears, disappointing maybe in his ignoring of the woman’s plea for help and in his apparent implication that she is not worth his time.  A more complete analysis on why it would have been heard differently (and not so harshly) then as it does to us will have to wait for another time.  The pertinent point here is that Jesus is absolutely clear in his mission to offer redemption to those who come to him in faith.  If he is going to be faithful to that mission, if it is to be holy, it has to remain intact, inviolate, and so nothing is going to distract or deter him from that mission among the people of Israel.  It is not that others do not need to hear God’s good news.  It is just that, at this point, his mission is focused only on Israel, God’s chosen people, because they are without adequate leadership.  He just is not going to expend time and energy getting side-tracked because that would diffuse his ability to give his all to those whom God has called him to lead.

By the same token, the woman has one thing and one thing only on her mind.  Motivated and unselfish, she will not be deterred.  She is ignored, she is rebuked, she is rebuffed, but she is absolutely clear in her mission to secure relief and healing for her daughter, and has no intention of going away disappointed.  Because the woman is so persistent, because her clarity of mission demonstrates an uncommon depth of faith, Jesus apparently realizes that this woman is no distraction, but very much one for whom Jesus came so that God’s glory would be revealed in her daughter’s healing and people would be better able to follow in the steps of his holy life.

Part of what makes Jesus such an effective teacher is that he follows what he teaches.  He has left the region of Genessaret and come to an entirely different location, but his purpose and his teaching remain consistent.  He had been teaching those for whom the Pharisaic leadership was woefully lacking as far as exemplifying a truly holy life.  For them, a holy life means nothing more than following the tradition’s rules and ritual for the sake of following them, and not for what those rules and rituals are supposed to signify and reveal.  They are more concerned about things that go into the body than with what comes out.  Those who follow such hollow teaching are as blind as those leading them; both fall into a pit.  No, the important point is what comes out through word and action because that is what signifies and reveals what is truly in the mind and heart.  If you go through a ritual process of washing your hands, but then put your hands in the proverbial cookie jar to abscond with what belongs to another, you have not demonstrated holiness, but have fallen into a pit of holier-than-thou self-righteousness.  If a claim of moral certitude is made from one perpetrating, say, marital indiscretions, they have fallen into an unholy pit of deception that betrays the true nature of their moral turpitude.  Do not follow such blind guides, for they will guide you right over a cliff.  The ones, those Pharisaic leaders, who think so highly of themselves and who should be the ones to lead by example find themselves a product of their own delusions while the heart and faith of a modest and humble woman who should not even have reason to know about Jesus reveals far more about holiness than the Pharisees do.  It is not necessarily those in high office, but those like this common Canaanite woman, who gives insight into doing exactly as we prayed together as we began our worship this morning: going all out, holding nothing back, giving it your all to receive thankfully the fruits of redemption and to follow daily in the blessed steps of our Lord’s most holy life.

Seems like a daunting task, does it not - to follow daily in the footsteps of our Lord’s most holy life?  There are circumstances daily that would keep us doing anything but that.  We have our own struggles within ourselves because of forces that would lead us to compromise our integrity; not necessarily big things like marital infidelity or theft (right?), but things that are not so blatantly obvious, like maybe a little creeping self-righteousness toward those who are different in some way; who, rather than being distractions, are the very ones for whom we should commit our time and energy.  Or maybe a thoughtless biting comment spoken in haste that reveals a lack of charity in heart and word.  Such a lack of clarity of mission neither helps us in our own faithfulness nor inspires others to follow.  Too, we may suffer in some way that would easily distract us from our mission: physically, with some illness or malady; emotionally, with some unmet expectation of life; spiritually, with some gnawing question or emptiness that is yet to be filled.  Even if our mission is clear and we are careful in both word and action to follow in Jesus’ holy steps, like Jesus (and like the Canaanite woman), we may find ourselves ignored, rebuked, and rebuffed, none of which are pleasant experiences.  Eventually they can wear on you like water on sandstone.

All of these things and more can lead us right into a pit - of disappointment, of suffering, of our own internal struggles if we choose to follow that path.  When you consider how high the bar is set for following in the holy steps of Jesus, following daily in his steps requires an uncommon degree of motivation and unselfishness.  That is why it is important to understand what Jesus is offering and welcome the gift of redemption; why it is so important to be absolutely clear in the mission so it can be kept intact and exercised faithfully; why it is important to follow in the steps of holiness: not ritual and rule for their own sakes, but going all out, holding nothing back, undaunted in the quest to proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ.  Regardless of our own disappointments, our own sufferings, our own short-comings, holiness expects for nothing to distract or deter us from that mission.  It is a matter simply of refusing to expend time and energy getting side-tracked because that diffuses our ability to give our all to those whom God has called us to lead to the good news of a redeemed life.

Knowing ourselves to be recipients of this gift, freely given, should motivate us selflessly to offer others the means for receiving this gift themselves, through the mercies of the one we call Lord.  Clarity of mission, undaunted by setback, faithful in word and action: that is the example we set that gives insight into doing exactly as we prayed together as we began our worship this morning: going all out, holding nothing back, giving it your all to receive thankfully the fruits of redemption and to follow daily in the blessed steps of our Lord’s most holy life.