OrthoAnalytika

Homily – Prejudice, Objectivity, and Grit
St. Matthew 15.21-28

Gospel: Then Jesus left and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried; “have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; for my daughter is severely possessed by a devil.” But Jesus did not answer her at all. So his disciples came and pleaded; “send her away, for she is crying after us.” Jesus replied; “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and knelt before him saying; “Lord, help me.” And Jesus answered; “it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Then she said; “yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that moment.

Are we ashamed of the Christ? Should we be?

If you were not jarred by the language of this Gospel lesson, then I am not sure that you were paying attention. Did you hear what Jesus said to this poor woman? She came to him with a terrible problem, and how did he respond? First, he ignored her! Then, as if that was not bad enough, he told her that he did not come to help “her kind.” And then, to top it off, he pretty much called her a “dog” and told her that she was not worthy of his help! How can we deal with this? How are we to understand the rudeness that Christ exhibited to this brokenhearted and suffering mother?

It is a point of fact that when the Scriptures surprise or offend us (and it often does… or should!), that we should react with joy rather than sadness, anger, or disbelief – for we are about to have our understanding enlarged! That is certainly the case with today’s lesson. The fact that Christ’s words are so offensive is part of the point, part of the lesson. So what are we to learn from it?

Some theologians would explain that we have to look at the cultural context of the reading: Jesus was a Jew, and that this was how Jews thought about and treated the Gentiles. This is what some theologians say, but they are wrong. In charity, I should give them more credit: they are only mostly wrong. They are right in teaching that we should look at the cultural context of scripture, but they are completely wrong in believing that Jesus was shaped by it: Christ is utterly BEYOND culture. Remember: he was the Logos before time began. As a human, he was affected by his time and place, but as the source of wisdom he transcended the bigotries and prejudices of the world. Ironically, it was this very transcendence that led to his offensive treatment of the Canaanite woman. Let me explain.

Jesus recognized that there were aspects of worldly cultures that were literally demonic (e.g. Psalm 81; Psalm 95:5 1 Corinthians 10:20) and, as such, they were a serious obstacle to satisfying his desire that all men be saved. Through his language, he was awakening his audience to the absurdity of treating people based on their group rather than as unique persons in need of our love and attention. The disciples could not help but notice the huge gulf between what morality required and the way their prejudices would have them act. There is no room for prejudice or division in God’s love. Those who serve him must rise above their worldviews and see the world in the light of pure love and objectivity.

Again, Christ was using this encounter to teach his audience that love requires that we serve everyone who comes into our midst, regardless of the color of their skin, where they or their babas were born, or how much money they make.

So what about the poor woman? What if she had given up? Remember, we are not dealing with a common man here, but with the eternal God incarnate. He knew the woman’s heart in its entirety; not just the love she had for her daughter or the trust she had in the power of God to heal her, but also her grit. He knew that she would do anything within her power to save her daughter. She would persevere. She would overcome.

This is the second lesson I would have you learn today: the virtue of perseverance and grit.

On perseverance.

[Persistence – examples from regular life (including studies on the relative importance of “grit”)]

If perseverance matters for all these other parts of our lives, why shouldn’t we expect it to affect our spiritual life?

If we are persistent, if we persevere, then the changes we make in our lives – eating well, exercising, being more patient with our families, dealing properly with our addictions, praying and worshipping more, being more serious in our Orthodoxy – will become less about the goals we want to achieve and more an expression of who we are.

  • We would no longer eat well because we wanted to become healthy, we would eat well because we WERE healthy.
  • We would no longer exercise regularly because we wanted to become more fit, we would exercise regularly because we WERE fit.
  • We would no longer be more patient and loving with our families because we wanted our family life to be more enjoyable, we would be patient and loving with our families because our family life WAS more enjoyable.
  • We would no longer be more diligent in our prayer and worship life because we wanted to reduce stress and help others, but because we WERE LIVING stress-free and helpful lives.
  • We would no longer be more serious in our Orthodoxy in order to get into heaven or to become more holy, but because, through Holy Orthodoxy, we WERE ALREADY BECOMING holy and more worthy of a place in heaven.

Then we will have been transformed:

  • From dieters to health eaters.
  • From out of shape to fit.
  • From casualties of broken families to beneficiaries of healthy ones.
  • From stressed out and powerless, to peaceful and powerful.
  • From part-time Christians into saints.

While each of these begins with a single decision, a decision on its own is not enough. In order to change our habits we have to exhibit enough grit and determination to make our decisions real in our lives. People who are serious about making changes rededicate themselves to their decisions every morning, then take stock of their efforts every evening. Moreover, they constantly ask God for his strength and support and that he remove the stains their weakness has caused. This is true whether we are talking about food and exercise or the even more important decision to give our lives over to The Way Christ established for the healing and salvation of all his people; it takes grit to make it real. It takes determination.

A Warning

We have to be careful: the world is full of snake-oil salesmen who will try to sell us shortcuts to health and perfection, and our egos are the most convincing charlatans of the lot. But there are no shortcuts. A pill cannot make up for laziness. We cannot eat junk and lay around all the time and expect to be healthy. We cannot ignore your family and be a blessing to them. We cannot skip prayer and find lasting peace. We cannot forsake The Way of Orthodoxy and live a holy life. And we cannot do anything worth doing without grounding ourselves completely in Jesus Christ, the very source of all power and perfection. Anyone who tells us differently – to include our own egos or “consciences” – is setting us up for failure. We have to ignore them, roll up our sleeves, and get serious.

Conclusion

It takes a lot of effort to gain anything worthwhile. In his interaction with the Gentile woman in today’s Gospel, Christ was showing us that salvation and the qualities needed to obtain it are not limited to any race, class, or nationality. It is ours to take no matter the color of our skin or where we were born. Christ came to save us all. In him and his love – that is to say, in his Holy Orthodox Church – there are no Gentiles or Jews, no Americans or Syrians, no rich or poor. Only those who are alive in Christ. Remember, God is not a respecter of persons. He desires that all be saved. He is knocking at the door of every heart. We must all let him in. We must accept him as our Lord, God, and Savior. And this is more than a one time promise. We cannot just say a “sinners prayer” and expect to be saved. The kingdom of heaven is taken by force and we must constantly strive – dare I say “work!” for our salvation. But do not despair: through Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit, we all have access to the strength we need to persevere.

And the road that we must walk, the very “Way” that the persistent must follow is found in its fullness here at this parish and in this community of Christ the Savior in Anderson, SC.

 

Direct download: 20240218-PrejudiceandGrit.mp3
Category:Orthodox Podcast -- posted at: 6:49pm EDT

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