A sermon preached by Bishop David on Matthew 15:21-28
Never mind the 13th Dr Who being female, the Canaanite woman, star of this morning’s Gospel, has been travelling through time for 2000 years.
I caught her on her death bed in Middlesbrough in 1984.
Her daughter, keeping vigil, told me how her mum had saved her life.
Way back in the 1940s the daughter had been a bit of a tomboy.
She’d impaled herself some iron railings, the wound turned horribly septic and she ended up in hospital, dying.
One dread week-end when all seemed hopeless, her mother pleaded with the ward-sister
to call out the consultant, just to have one last try. The sister sternly refused, but somehow the mother found the consultant’s address went round and knocked on the door of his house, a palace compared to her humble back-to-back. ‘He isn’t in,’ a frosty maid informed her. ‘He’s watching Boro play at Ayresome Park.’
Undeterred, the girl’s mother bearded the consultant in the director’s box, only to be sneeringly dismissed by him. ‘How dare you bother me when I’m off duty!’
‘Shame on you, watching football when a little girl in your care is dying,’ she retorted
As she stomped off, she looked over her shoulder only to find the consultant following her.
He’d had second thoughts, returned to the hospital with her and examined her daughter.
‘There’s a new drug, it’s not really proven, but let’s give it a try, we’ve nothing to lose.’
Penicillin was duly prescribed and brought the little girl back from the brink.
There she was forty years on keeping watch as her Canaanite mother breathed her last.
Women who take on the big man are eternal cropping up in every age.
The original took on Jesus. ‘Please heal my daughter,’ she cried and cried.
‘I am ministering to Israel, no more, no less. I am not taking bread meant for the children
and giving it to dogs,’ Jesus harshly replies,
the original Brexiteer playing the Israeli supremacist card.
There were the children of Israel, God’s chosen; and the rest were dogs, Gentile dogs, scum.
Rather than going off in a huff or getting on her high horse and giving Jesus the mouthful he deserves, our canny Canaanite woman disarms him with humour.
‘Come off it, Lord, even the puppies eat the crumbs the children drop.’
You can imagine Jesus laughing.
‘You’ve got me there, girl, go for it.’ And so the mission to the Gentiles was born.
Through a lowly woman taking on the big man and getting him to laugh at himself and all the petty rules that confined him, springing him to be at the service of the whole world.
Without that woman there would be no St Laurence’s, no St Laurence, no church, no saints, and we’d be still in the dark ages.
As I say, the Canaanite woman is eternal, cropping up in every age, every place.
There in Mary when she takes on Jesus at that wedding in Cana when the wine has run out.
‘What have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come, woman,’
is the ultimate put down from Jesus.
Mary hangs on in there, saying to the stewards,
‘You know what boys are like with their Jewish mommas! He’ll come round. Just do whatever he says.’
They do, and 180 gallons of finest wine is the result. Wow, that would be some party!
Imagine coming to a Eucharist, but instead of a sip of wine the congregation had 180 gallons to consume. All consecrated wine had to be consumed by the final hymn, so I think you might have to book a taxi home!
Our Canaanite woman crops up again in the woman whose life had been bleeding away for twelve years. Most likely a birth that had gone wrong and she had been bleeding ever since, unclean, an untouchable according to the strict Jewish law.
Fobbed off by doctors galore, she had the nerve to take on the big man who was on an urgent 999 call, ironically to tend a 12 year old girl on the point of death. Maybe she and Mrs Jairus had been in the same labour ward.
‘Never mind the 999 call, I’ll just touch his cloak as he whizzes by, that will suffice.’
And it did and the bleeding stopped, instantly.
‘Who dared to touch me?’ asks Jesus, grinding to a halt.
‘I did, sir,’ the pale looking woman admits.
An unclean woman touching a rabbi: boy was she for it. But Jesus, the big man, looks at her and loves her. ‘My daughter, your faith has cured you.’
St Teresa of Avila was on a weary winter pilgrimage, hungry and cold to cap it all her horse throws her into a muddy ditch. A she crawls out, none too pleased, she hears a voice from heaven,
‘Don’t worry, Teresa, this is how I treat my friends.’
‘Then I’m not at all surprised, Lord, that you have so few!’ was her robust reply,
Teresa, Mary, the bleeding woman: Canaanite women to a tee, feisty, adolescent, with a definite attitude.
Maybe we should let it invade our prayer life. Anglican prayers are so subjunctive, Lord, may you do that, may you do this… Dare to go Canaanite, like the Psalmist.
`Hear, O thou shepherd of Israel, stir up thyself and come and help us.’
‘Lord, jolly well stop the carnage in the Yemen.’
‘Well my child, it’s not as easy as that. My gracious gift of free will means that people can follow me or turn away from me, choose war or peace, love or hate, opt to destroy or build up. I mustn’t interfere.’
‘Mustn’t interfere? Don’t fob me off with that, Lord. You created the Big Bang and the dinosaurs and Teresa May! You burst your Son from a stone cold womb and a stone cold tomb. For goodness get off your divine backside and do something! Don’t give me that “Don’t interfere” nonsense!’
Going Canaanite on God can be so bracing. With one caveat. God might go Canaanite on us.
A businessman stole into church one Saturday teatime. ‘Lord, let me win the lottery,’ he prayed,
‘several creditors have defaulted – I really need the money!’ Nothing happened. He came back the next week. ‘Lord, please, let me win. The bank is talking about foreclosing, my home is about to be repossessed, my wife is threatening to leave me. For goodness sake, let me win the lottery.’ Nothing. Next week he was really desperate. ‘Lord, I am almost homeless, my wife has gone to live with her mother, the bailiffs are sharpening their swords. At this 59th minute of the 11th hour, please, please, please, let me win the lottery.’ Amazingly God replies. ‘OK my son, I have heard your heartfelt plea and will grant you your desire. But how about meeting me half-way? How about this week actually going out and buying a ticket?!’
‘Lord, for goodness sake stop the carnage in the Yemen!’ ‘OK,’ God replies. ‘But you help me. There are a million members of the Church of England. All buy an Easy-Jet ticket to the Yemen
gather in the most bombed-out part and dare Saudi Arabia to take out the entire C of E.’ ‘Sorry, Lord, that’s going a bit far!’ ‘OK,’ the 180-gallons-of-wine God replies. ‘Then instead I want every member of the C of E to buy a ticket to London, gather around Downing Street, all one million of them, too many for the Met to kettle, and sing that rather catchy White Stripes’ riff which has seen a revival in recent months. But instead of “Oh Jeremy Corbyn” sing ‘Come Lord Jesus Christ.”
There is a difference – slight I grant you. A million voices singing that to Teresa May as she signs another contract selling the Saudis weapons of mass destruction.’
The young man turned away from Jesus with a heavy heart, for he was a man of great wealth.
Perhaps going Canaanite on God is not such a good idea after all.
Rabbi Lionel Blue told the marvellous story of a man who falls off a cliff but half way down manages to catch hold of a little tree sprouting from the cliff-side. As he hangs there he cries out, ‘Help! Is there anybody up there.’ God replies, ‘I am here, my son, let go of the tree, trust in me, and I will carry you in my everlasting arms safely to the ground.’ The man thinks for a minute and then cries, ‘Er, is there anybody else up there.’
To be Canaanite or not to be Canaanite, that indeed is the question. Not just for prayer, but for mission too. The misconception of mission is that we have the product, Christ, about which we are expert. If the mood takes us, we may deign to share him with the dogs in rest of the world.
The giddy joke is, Christ is out there already, Canaanite and canine, broken and bleeding waiting for us to discover him and take us to places we never dreamt of going.