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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources

Ordinary 20 Year A


Introduction

It is an interesting fact that it was the weakest and the outcasts of society who most easily understood who Jesus was. The reading from Matthew's gospel today tells us of a Canaanite woman who came to Jesus. She was a woman and she was also a gentile, which meant that she should not have approached Jesus, it went against the custom of the day, she was not of sufficient social status. This Canaanite woman refused to believe that Jesus was sent only sent for certain people. So it was that her faith enabled her to go close to Jesus and believe that he would help her, against all the odds.

There are many people today who are also considered to be second class citizens. Women are still unable to have equal rights even in our own Church of England ! This story is an encouragement to all who struggle to survive and are looked upon less favourably than others.

We learn that Jesus looks beyond the things which we use to make people of less worth.
He looks beyond our gender, our race, issues of religious background or politics. Jesus is not interested in the value which society places upon us, he gives us all equal worth.

The Christian Gospel is all about liberation and transformation, we must be like Jesus and work for equality and liberty for all.

Opening Verses of Scripture    Psalm 67:1

May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us, that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.


Collect Prayer for the Day — Before we read we pray

Almighty God, who called your Church to bear witness that you were in Christ reconciling the world to yourself: help us to proclaim the good news of your love, that all who hear it may be drawn to you; through him who was lifted up on the cross, and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.   Common Worship

Almighty God you search us and know us: may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness, now and in all our days, through Jesus Christ our lord.  Amen.   Common Worship Shorter Collect

God of the nations, to whose table all are invited and in whose kingdom no one is a stranger: hear the cries of the hungry and mercifully extend to all peoples on earth the joy of your salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.   Methodist Worship

To set the earth ablaze, O God, your Son submitted to death on the cross, and from his cup of suffering you call the church to drink. When we are tempted give us the strength to run the race that lies before us, and to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen. Methodist Worship

First Bible Reading  Isaiah 56:1,6-8

This is what the LORD says: "Maintain justice and do what is right, for my salvation is close at hand and my righteousness will soon be revealed. And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." The Sovereign LORD declares-- he who gathers the exiles of Israel: "I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered."  

Second Reading  Romans Chapter 11:1-2a, 29-32

I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you. For God has bound all men over to disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all. 

Gospel Reading Matthew 15:10-28

Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." Peter said, "Explain the parable to us." "Are you still so dull?" Jesus asked them. "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean.'" Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
 

Post Communion Sentence

God our creator, you feed your children with the true manna, the living bread from heaven: let this holy food sustain us through our earthly pilgrimage until we come to that place where hunger and thirst are no more; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
 

Commentary

Open to All
Earlier in Matthew’s gospel Jesus directs the disciples to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and urges them to steer clear of the Gentiles and Samaritans (Matt 10 v 5 - 6). So it could seem a little strange that now Jesus himself heads in a pagan direction, toward Tyre and Sidon.  Indeed, Jezebel, who sought to destroy Elijah, was the daughter of one of the Kings of Tyre, indicating the type of person who was seen as coming from that region!  Perhaps not surprisingly whilst He’s there Jesus is met by a pagan, a (Canaanite) woman.  When His disciples ask Jesus to send her away it would appear that he doesn’t, but repeats to them that He has come to the “lost sheep of Israel”, those who are professing a faith in the God who is His Father.  The Canaanite woman continues to question Him and her faith is rewarded with the healing of her daughter.  In not dismissing the Canaanite woman we get an insight into both into Jesus’ sense of urgency in helping the Jews to understand the New Covenant which He reveals, and also His openness not to reject anyone who comes to Him in faith. 
 

If this New Covenant is to be understood by the Jews, it’s imperative that they, those whose very lives are governed by the precepts of the Old Covenant, understand how their faith can be made complete by belief in Christ, the Messiah, for whom they prayed for daily.  The Old Covenant is made complete in the New.  Similarly, non-Jews who will profess the faith of Christ crucified need to understand that their faith is based on the heritage of the Old Covenant made complete in Christ, not on something which is completely unrelated to the way in which God has engaged with His people throughout history.  There can be no New Covenant without an understanding of the Old.  In the Canaanite woman Jesus sees a faith which is as strong and profound as any He has seen in the Jews and it is this faith, and implicit in it the understanding of the interdependence of the Old and New Covenants, which brings healing for her daughter.   


But why did Jesus go to this pagan region in the first place?  Perhaps it was to live out His mission to seek out the lost sheep wherever they may have wandered.  After this interchange Jesus moves on again, back down to the Sea of Galilee and the up into the hills above it so we don’t know if the interaction with the Canaanite woman was all that happened there or whether He met with others who lives were similarly transformed. 

The interchange with the Canaanite woman takes place in the middle of a number of exchanges between Jesus and the Pharisees and scribes where the Pharisees and scribes are questioning the authority of Jesus and Jesus is questioning their understanding of the Law, and by extension, of God.  The point of keeping purity laws, the Pharisees would maintain, was that so the person could be the type of individual that God had intended.  Jesus responds in today’s gospel passage by emphasising that the type of person God wants is one who is pure, not just on the surface, but deep down too, as exemplified by the words that come out of their mouth.  Just to stick to the laws of outward purity misses the point.  The discourse with the Canaanite woman underlines this point by taking these exchanges out of the context of a purely Jewish debate and placing them in the context of the broader world of Jews and Gentiles.  It shows that Jesus’ calling and mission has a far broader scope, it is to the whole world.  Through His sacrifice on the cross Jesus offers real purity, inward and outward, to Jews and Gentiles alike.   


This broadness of calling is one of the issues that Paul struggles with in his letter to the Romans.  The early Christians had to work out the breadth of their calling.  For both the readers of Romans and of Matthews gospel there would be those who believed that the Christian faith was solely for the Jews, an extension of their religion.  This was something Paul would battle against constantly and perhaps why he referred to himself as an apostle to the Gentiles.  It’s a salutary reminder that God includes all in His plan for salvation.  Sometimes we too want to keep our faith to ourselves or to those who are like us.   
The gospel reading presents us with a number of challenges to our lives.  It challenges us not to miss the point by keeping our faith too small or too exclusive but openly offering it to all who ask.  It challenges us in that whilst we may not follow the purity codes of the Jews, we need to constantly reflect on our words thoughts and intentions to see whether they are telling us that our own purity, which will be made complete when we met Christ, needs to be worked on until we do.  It also challenges us about where we decide to spend our time, sticking with those who are like ourselves or stepping out into unfamiliar territory where we may meet lost sheep who are looking for crumbs that we, through our faith in the One who is the bread of life, may be able to offer them. Rev Dr Sam Cappleman

 

Meditation


The faith of the Canaanite woman transformed her life.  For the Jews Paul writes about in his epistle to the Romans, they were transformed from people described as being ‘disobedient to God’, to ‘those who have received mercy’ because of God’s grace.  God is a God of transformation and of new creation.  Each time we celebrate the Communion Service we are reminded of this transformational and creative God.  An International Commission, writing on the communion service wrote, “God uses the realities of this world to convey the realities of the new creation.  Before the Eucharistic prayer, to the question: ‘What is that?’, the believer answers: ‘It is bread.’  After the Eucharistic prayer, to the same question they answer: ‘It is truly the body of Christ, the bread of life.’”  As we share in the Communion Service, whatever our view of what happens to the elements during the service, we continue on our transformational and re-creational journey of life as we eat and drink of the transforming and re-creating nature of Christ. Rev Dr Sam Cappleman
 

Hymns

  • God is our strength and refuge
  • Give thanks with a grateful heart
  • God is working his purpose out  (Tune Benson)
  • God moves in a mysterious way (Tune London New)
  • God is love let heaven adore him  187 (Tune Abbots Leigh)

Alternatives

  • The head that once was crowned with thorns (Saint Magnus)
  • God is love let heaven adore him (Abbots Leigh)
  • As the deer

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian, if it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die.


O God, in the course of this busy life, give us times of refreshment and peace; and grant that we may so use our leisure to rebuild our bodies and renew our minds, that our spirits may be opened to the goodness of your creation.  Amen 

O Lord, take our minds and think through them; take our lips and speak through them; take our lives and live out your life; take our hearts and set them on fire with love for you; and guide us ever by your Holy Spirit.  Amen  

Lord Jesus Christ, who prayed for your disciples that they might be one, even as you are one with the Father,; draw us to yourself, that in common love and obedience to you we may be united to one another, in the fellowship of he one Spirit, that the world may believe that you are Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen 

I know what must be done. Only now am I beginning to be a disciple.  May nothing of powers visible or invisible prevent me, that I may attain unto Jesus Christ.  Amen    Ignatius of Antioch 

May God grant that we who have worshipped Him may be witnesses to Him in His world, and the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be with you and remain with you always.  Amen 

Additional Material

Commentary

Jesus upsets the Jewish leaders

Jesus moves from Gennesaret, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, to Tyre and Sidon, 25 and 50 miles north of Galilee on the Mediterranean shore. No buses or cars remember, it was a long walk, and we are not told why he went there. It is the farthest north that he will travel, and the only time in this Gospel that he goes outside Jewish/Samaritan territory except to escape Herod as a baby (2:13-23) and to visit Gadara (8:28-34). It is one of three occasions in this Gospel when he heals Gentiles (8:5-13, 28-34).

In this part of Matthew we read that Jesus is in dispute with the Pharisees and scribes regarding the observance of the law. The Pharisees and scribes came from Jerusalem to Galilee to tackle Jesus. Jesus was attracting attention and his teaching required consideration and challenge. In itself this speaks of the growing recognition of Jesus' ministry.

These important religious experts were a kind of religious police and they ensured proper obedience to God's law. They criticised Jesus for the failure of his disciples to observe ritual cleansing. The rabbis developed the Mishnah (200 B.C. to 135 A.D.) and the Talmud (compiled 250-500 A.D) to help guide people into what it meant to obey the teaching which we can read in the Old Testament. The Pharisees questioned Jesus for allowing his disciples to ignore the ritual handwashing required by their tradition. Jesus responded by challenging not just the rules of the Pharisees, he challenged to very importance of Jewishness itself. Jesus put aside the need to obey laws given by Moses himself.

Jesus challenges the basis upon which we should consider what it means to be God's people. Jesus calls for a new way of living, not obedience to a set of rules.  There is also a fundamental and important question which is still important for us today, but which was of even more importance to the early Christians disciples,

'does the Christian need to be obedient to the rules for living which were laid out for the Jews in the Old Testament in places like Leviticus?'

Obviously the Pharisees and scribes considered faithful observance of the Jewish law as the way to true holiness. They believed that God was pleased when the dietary laws were obeyed as a part of Jewish religious observance. Dietary laws helped to create the sense of a separate people, so important to Jewish identity. Even today many Jews will keep two distinct parts of the kitchen so that meat and dairy produce are kept separate. They will use separate fridges and in accordance with teaching in the Old Testament, they will not eat certain foods like pork. These rules help Jewish people to maintain their identity as God's people. The Old Testament pronounces certain foods unclean, and eating those foods defiled those who ate them. The issue had nothing to do with hygiene or health, but with holiness -- obedience to the will of God. God had specified what was and was not allowed. Failure to observe these laws constituted rebellion against God.

Understand then how radical it was when Jesus says

"It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.

Jesus is setting aside parts of the Bible and changing the focus away from obedience of the very things which kept the Jews different. He redirects the focus from that which enters the mouth (food) to that which springs from the heart (thoughts, feelings, and motives).

Make no mistake this was amazing teaching. We are often told that Jesus condemned the Pharisees and their religious traditions. However Jesus does more than that, he rides a coach and horses through the book of Leviticus and says that some scripture is no longer relevant. All of the Kosher laws, still observed by many Jewish people, are wiped out by Jesus in the reading today.

When we realise this we can begin to recognise why the Jewish religious leaders bothered to come out of Jerusalem looking for Jesus to see what he was saying and condemn him. The Pharisees were deeply religious and devoted their lives to obeying God's laws in scripture. We should expect them to be angry at Jesus and we can understand why they would want him dead.

When the Book of Matthew was written, this passage of scripture would have been important as the church struggled to understand whether Gentile converts had to do adopt Jewish practices. Jewish law would eventually have no place in the church and so today we no longer consider it important to follow the teaching of large parts of the Old Testament.

Jesus is not proposing a free for all, he is just far more concerned with how people behave in their personal relationships, than whether they ceremonially wash their hands before dinner to emphasise their Jewishness. Jesus looks at the heart inside of us and challenges evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony and slander. These things destroy life, families, marriages and we are to seek to be rid of them. No more need we follow the Jewish commandments, but instead of the detailed laws telling us how to behave, we have instead a more difficult task of trying to work out in our daily living the correct way to treat one another and so please God.

The Canaanite Woman

This teaching of Jesus is followed by the remarkable story of a Canaanite woman who comes to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter who we are told was troubled by a demon. The woman approached Jesus desperate to find help for her daughter. However, Jews like Jesus normally had nothing to do with gentiles and the fact that this was a woman made matters worse. The woman addresses Jesus both as "Lord" and as "Son of David," words that a Jew might use for the Messiah. Remember, the Jewish people in Jesus' own country are yet to recognise him as Messiah(16:13-20). Matthew is making a point, that the confession of faith came from a Gentile, a foreign woman. It was she who recognised Jesus compared to the disciples lack of vision (14:13-33) and the anger of the Jewish religious leaders . 

At first, Jesus didn't answer the woman and his disciples urged him to "send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." Even Jesus seemingly tries to brush her off. "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." But this woman is not easily discouraged. "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master's table," she answers. She could have felt pleased with herself, for it was a clever answer. Only recently Jesus fed the 5,000 men, in which there were 12 baskets full of crumbs or leftovers.

So Jesus responds, "Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish." Here lies the key to the whole story. It is her faith that makes the difference. "Great is your faith" -- compare this to the words we heard addressed to the apostle Peter in last week's Gospel: "You of little faith, why did you doubt?" Peter was a Jew, Jesus' friend, and one of the chosen twelve; yet this Canaanite woman had shown greater faith than Peter. And her faith is rewarded.

There was a real struggle in the early church when the Gospel of Matthew was written. In the writing of the Apostle Paul we read of his campaign for Gentiles to be included in the faith of the early church, without having to become Jews first. It seems little has changed, we are still trying to exclude people who are different from our own race or religion or sex. How different Jesus was in opening wide the boundaries which divided his followers. God's invitation is an open one, it is not a restricted guest list, but more like 'come along and bring your friends.' God invites the people of all nations to his holy mountain and it is our job to make sure they all know that they are invited.

Our last hymn this morning expresses these thoughts in the words– ‘God is love and he enfoldeth all the world in one embrace; with unfailing grasp he holdeth every child of every race.’ That grasp of God on people across races is spoken of in Isaiah 56:6-8

‘And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant-- these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations." The Sovereign LORD declares-- he who gathers the exiles of Israel: "I will gather still others to them besides those already gathered."

Charles Royden

 

Meditation

On one level, the Canaanite woman is like many people in our world today. She is like all the women who are denied an equal place at the table. She represents those who are struggling to care for others (children, family, parents, etc) and do not have the means to do so as they would like. She is like all parents who cannot get good health care for their children. She represents those who are left out because of their national or ethnic background. She reminds us of those of us who are intimidated by religious, political, or economic authority.

On another level, the Canaanite woman reminds us of those who take the courage to speak up despite all the cultural messages to keep quiet and just accept their suffering. She models a woman who is willing to speak up to authority. She represents those who keep on speaking out for justice and basic human rights. She represents those who do not give up.

It seems as if in some way Jesus is moved by this amazing encounter. He praises her faith. Her daughter is cured. The experience of Jesus seems to point to the possibility of conversion and the possibility of help coming to those who are in need.

This story reminds us that the Gospel inspires those who have the freedom and courage to speak up and take action for their rights. The Gospel is about liberation and transformation. The woman speaks up. Her daughter is healed. Both she and Jesus are changed. The prophecy of Isaiah comes true. On God’s mountain there is a gathering of folks from all the many nations who enjoy justice and peace.

Can you be so persistent in speaking up for your rights or the rights of those in need?  

(from Center of Concern http://www.coc.org/focus/ej/reflections.htm)

Perseverance
A woman approached Jesus with a request for him to heal her daughter. Jesus put her off, but she persisted, and was rewarded. Very often we are ruled by emotional responses which are very unreliable and fickle. Whatever it is that we desire, we jeopardise our chances for success when we base our pursuits on our feelings. How many times must an athlete like Paula Radcliffe have felt like she would never succeed on the athletics track, despite her success on the field? Yet she persisted and won gold in the Commonwealth Games over 5k.

Acts of commitment and will allow us to persist when supportive emotions may be absent. Perseverance proves our good faith and it is persistence and not our initial enthusiasm which achieves results. Successful people and 'successful’ Christians have something in common, just like the woman in our story they too are determined and do not give up.

Prayers

Blessed Lord God, be to me at all times my unending joy, my eternal bliss and my enduring comfort. Be to me light in the darkness, strength in temptation and refreshment in the desert. Grant that, penitent for my sins, I may never be separated from you and, longing for your face, I may behold you in heaven; for your own name's sake. Amen Margery Kempe, c.1373-c.1433

Set our hearts on fire with love for you, O Christ, that in its flame we may love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and in this holy fire we may love our neighbours as ourselves; that in the keeping of these holy commandments we may glorify your name, now and for ever. Amen. Orthodox prayer

God of new beginnings, your love to us knows neither measure nor end. Reveal yourself to us in the ordinary things of life, so that each day's tasks may be done for love of you and each day's living may bring us nearer you; through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Saviour. Michael Townsend, Chair, Leeds, District

To set the earth ablaze, O God, your Son submitted to death on the cross, and from his cup of suffering you call the church to drink. When we are tempted give us strength to run the race that lies before us, and to keep our eyes fixed on Jesus; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen. Methodist Worship Collect 2