Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Tag: blind

Trinity 11A

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Matthew 15:10-28

10Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind, and if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then He said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? 17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer, 18but what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles? 19Out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

21Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22Just 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,’ 23but He did not answer her at all. His disciples came and urged Him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,’ 25but she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish,’ and her daughter was healed instantly.

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Over the centuries leading up to the time of Christ the Jewish religious establishment had developed several rituals which they insisted on people observing. One of those was the ritual cleaning of hands before eating food. Just as with the older rules of some foods being considered not safe to eat because they were associated with various forms of sickness, so too, with the cleansing of hands. Does it remind us of the instructions which have been pushed hard during 2020 as we cope with Covid-19 infections being spread because we pick up the bug from somewhere and have no defence against it. Let’s not forget that the scientific understanding we have about germs didn’t exist 2000 years ago. Jesus wasn’t against the idea of washing hands before eating food. He would undoubtedly have seen the impact of people eating food with contaminants on the hands, but He was very much against the rituals which had been forced on people. Telling His audience that eating without the ritual cleaning wouldn’t cause problems was always going to get up the nose of the Pharisees, and Jesus would have known that. The disciples, on the other hand, appear not to realise that people will often take offence about the least important matters when there is a suggestion that their own approach is not wise. Christ’s comments that ‘every plant not planted by God will be uprooted, and describing certain people as the blind leading the blind into a pit, will have been seen as direct criticism of the religious leaders. Looking at the track record over the centuries since then shows that we have learned little: we have not ‘listened’ or ‘understood’ (v10).

Doubting Peter, always prepared to show he doesn’t understand what Jesus is about, needs clarification, just like we do, but are afraid to ask, or too often we’re told our questions are silly, or we should know, or they’re ignored by those who can answer but don’t want to.

Allowing for the problems of getting infections because we don’t wash hands well enough, Jesus reminds us that food goes into our mouths, passing through our digestive system before the waste is disposed of in the sewer, and so cannot defile us. On the other hand, what comes out of our mouths as we speak, or what actions we take, are directed by the heart, and humans have an unfortunate tendency to speak and act inappropriately. When we tell others to do something because it’s in our interests, or protects our power base, we are defying God and misleading the people. How we try to control others for our own benefits determines our level of defilement.

So we move to the story that many avoid, because of the way Jesus talks to a woman, but we shouldn’t be afraid. This is early in Christ’s ministry, and He was focussed on the lost sheep of Israel, rather than expanding to include non-Jewish people. The woman who pleads with Jesus was a Canaanite, who would be used to dogs, as pets, eating at the same time as the family, and picking up the scraps, whereas the Jews wouldn’t allow dogs anywhere near the feeding family, but if we look closely at what she said, we can note that she was aware of who Jesus was. She addressed Him as “Lord”, respecting His status as a rabbi, she called him “Son of David” thereby claiming kinship through the Davidic line, and she knew that He could show mercy for her. She didn’t have her troubled daughter with her, but she recognised that Jesus could heal the child all the same.

The disciples want her sent away because she was crying out and annoying them, and they, as Jews, didn’t want anything to do with her. The Greek verb κραζω (kradzo), which gets translated as crying out, or screaming, also has a connotation of being like a crow’s call, which can be penetrating and annoying. Were they also reacting to how she sounded as she tried to get Christ’s attention?

When Jesus did respond it was in a way which was typical of Jewish interaction with Canaanite people: “I have come for the lost sheep of Israel, why should I waste the food on you?” The text doesn’t indicate to us if He was responding directly to the woman, or to the disciples, but it does show Christ’s humanity, and it provides an opportunity for her to come back at Him, and show Him that His mission wasn’t limited to the Jews. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table”. In other words, even though you might think of us as low lifes, we can still listen to, and benefit from, the Lord’s words and healing, and we can still appreciate Him for who He is.

Her persistence has paid off: her daughter is healed, and Jesus celebrates that He has found someone with faith strong enough to counter the arguments put forward from Jewish culture.

If we turn this into a 21st century story, based in Australia, we can see how people of different cultures, or with different ideas, whether they have lived here for 50000 years or 6 months, can be mistreated by those who hold the keys to power. How do we treat people who are different from us, or who bring a different approach to a passage of scripture?

Advent 3 (Year A)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart: ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’ 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.

Just as hope is the recurrent theme of readings leading up to Christmas, Isaiah gives us a sense of hope for an exiled community. When we take a simple reading from scripture, and read it in isolation in our churches, we miss the connection, or disconnection in this case, with the surrounding text. This message of hope comes amid others of despair. Why? I think it’s important that even in our darkest hours we can hear the hope of a future which will restore us to a good relationship with God. Give thanks to God in all circumstances. If you break a leg, give thanks to God; if someone close to you dies, give thanks to God; if you’ve just won a major lottery, give thanks to God; if you have a child with disabilities, give thanks to God; if you lose your job, give thanks to God. Why? Because God doesn’t give us a challenge we cannot meet when we put our minds to it and trust Him to help us, and what you will receive can be a far greater reward than you might expect – just don’t expect to see the reward in a time-frame set by you. In this instant-gratification era that’s hard, I know, but it’s what God calls us to do.

Some commentators believe this passage appears too early in Isaiah for it to be in its original position. This is a passage which appears before people would expect to hear it. Absolutely fantastic! Of course it’s earlier than people would expect. That’s precisely what God has intended. Isaiah is showing us that we need to speak up against what is wrong in this world, and speak with hope for a future where we can live peacefully with others. This passage tells us that we should not wait for ’the right time’ because the right time might never come.

The message in this passage is not directed at anyone in particular, and there is no time reference which would allow us to stick it at some point in history and forget the implications of the message. No, the message applies to everyone, everywhere, in every age, including Australians in 2019! We should help the weak, those who are downhearted and fearful of the consequences of their actions because God will deal with the oppressors. We don’t have to be concerned about them. Let go and let God!

Whenever I read the next few verses I can’t help but start to sing from Handel’s Messiah. Remember the quote from last week’s reflection: ‘there are none so blind as those who will not see’? Does it matter, in terms of the message from Isaiah, if those who are literally blind do not see, when the message which Christ brought as well was that we need to be willing to open our eyes to what is happening around us, and to act. The lame can leap, the dumb can ‘sing’ and the deaf can hear when God’s message is shown in our lives. We will find what we haven’t been able to see, even though it has always been there, new life will spring forth because we are charged by the power of God – as Christians we would say by the Holy Spirit – and we will live protected from the evil ways of oppressors.

Trust God unconditionally. Do not wait for the right time to pass on messages of hope and an opportunity to redirect our ways so that we listen to God, rather than human ways of thinking, which are all-too-often self-centred, power greedy, worshipping money, and trying to stop people spreading the Good News.

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, so let’s prepare the way for the Lord, let’s make a straight path through the wilderness around us for the Son of God, and let’s challenge ourselves with the question “What would Christ do in my circumstances?”