MySpiritualAdvisor.com’s Mark Kurowski reflects on the judgmental Christians, strippers, New Beginnings Church in Ohio and Larry. Who has a right to faith? Who knows the mind of God? Listen to this podcast of his reflection on the readings for 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time to find out. Please read Matt. 15:21-28. #Prayer #Sermons #Homilyhelper #CanaaniteNegro #LarrytheLoudMouth #WhoIsJudgedNow #LordSaveMe
MySpiritualAdvisor.com, this is Mark Kurowski with a reflection for Sunday, 8/17/2014 The 20th Sunday of Ordinary Time.
Please pause this audio and read Matthew 15:21-28.
There was a priest who had been appointed to a parish for about two years. Rather than the norm, this priest was dynamic. He was a good preacher. He visited his parishioners with regularity at the hospital and in their homes. He was open to the community around the parish and even went and knocked on the doors of the homes in the community asking how he could be of service to the people there. Like Pope Francis, this priest was so personable and merciful that the people of the outside community loved him. That was the rub.
Even though the priest was attentive to their needs, too, the people of the church asked a much different question, “Why does he focus on those people so much? Why does he go to their homes? Why does he preach like that? Priests don’t preach like that, he sounds like a Protestant.”
One day, at a coffee shop near the church where the priest served, the stalwart and angry members of the Parish were gathered for their “Thursday morning coffee.” Into the coffee shop walked a man known to most of the stalwart members of the church. His name was Larry. Larry was in his late forties. Larry’s hair was down to his shoulders, dishwater black with grey coming in, and wild. Larry had bad teeth, an undesirable physique, and was odoriferous. Larry dropped out of college, lived with his brother, and drove the world’s worst looking car. Larry was divorced several times. Worst of all, Larry was loud.
Even worse than worst of all, Larry had started to come to Mass ever since the new priest had knocked on his front door. When Larry entered the coffee shop that Thursday morning, the conversation of the good people of the church stopped cold.
“Hey, everybody!” Larry said.
“Are you still buzzing about how much you hate the new priest?” Larry said for the people in the mezzanine of the coffee shop to hear.
“What is going on with you people?” Larry yelled like a deaf man who couldn’t hear himself speak without drowning everyone out. Now the coffee shop was silent but everyone was now involved, like theatre goers riveted to their seats wondering how the next act was going to play out.
“You, uh, we, got the second coming of Christ as our priest and all of you act like the Devil himself showed up in a collar and robes,” said Larry.
“When was the last time you knew about a priest who knocked on my door, asked me what I needed and then let me convince him to pray for my mother at the hospital. Heck, he even WENT to the hospital to see my mother.
I have come into this coffee shop for years and heard you moan and groan about how ineffective past priests were. I have heard you moaning and groaning about how the parish was going to die because of ineffective leadership. Now, when you have the greatest priest since Christ himself, you can’t stand it. You can’t stand people like me sitting in them seats of your “vaulted cathedral of the west side.”
It really eats at you that there are other people who are believing in Jesus, doesn’t it?” Larry said as he turned with his heat cuff around the paper cup that held his coffee in one hand and his other hand raised almost above his head in incredulity. “Wow. You had better grab ahold of this priest’s tale because if you don’t we are going to leave you in the dust.” With that Larry, grabbed his bagel in his free hand and took himself out of the coffee shop, odor and all.
The complexities of the story that is told in Matthew’s Gospel for the 20th Sunday of Ordinary time are many. Jesus is being rejected by the Jews, the very people he came to save. The people who were not chosen like the Jews, called the Gentiles, were not important to this Gospel writer. Matthew is not the Gospel where we find many encounters between Jesus and Gentiles. Luke is the Gospel where the Gentiles are loved and adored.
In fact, Jesus goes to Gentile territory, yet, he does not stay in anyone’s home. He avoids people.
Matthew is very clear about the standing of the Gentile woman that he calls a “Canaanite.” That is the equivalent of referring to an “African American” person in the United States today as a “Negro” like when the Jim Crow laws were in effect. The contempt with which Matthew writes this Gospel is striking. In fact, Jesus is rude and unapproachable in this story. The woman is met with silence when she asks to have her daughter healed. Then the “in” crowd wants to send her away. Then Jesus rebukes her. Only after her third attempt and her acceptance of the humiliating title of “dog,” does Jesus relent.
Even through it all, the Canaanite woman uses terms for Jesus that had heretofore not been used by anyone in the Gospel of Matthew to describe Jesus. She calls him “Lord”, “Son of David” and asks him to have “mercy on him”, something reserved for God alone to do. She knelt before him and called him “Lord” again, something that is done in Christian worship, but she did it before there was Christian worship.
She had no right to the Messiah because she was not a Jew. She had no standing in the community because she was a woman, unfortunately. She had only her persistence, belief and trust that THIS was THE MAN who could heal her daughter and she would do whatever it took to have him do it.
There are tons of lessons in this passage. There is the fact that we can resonate with the Canaanite woman when it seems like the Lord is silent when we pray. There is the idea that we have only one place to turn when we have a need and that is to God. There is the fact that sometimes God doesn’t seem warm and cuddly and I am not sure what to do with that.
Yet, today, what I think we need to hear as a church in all the “take back our church” language lately and the elevation of the Middle Ages as the sine qua none of what it means to be the Church, I think we need to hear that sometimes we on the inside are clueless. It is often the people who are not supposed to be blessed who get it. It is the place where we least expect to find faith that we find it. It is the realization that God is bigger than us and will do what he wants to accomplish what he wants when he wants it.
I cannot believe, for instance, the number of people who are trying to discredit the Pope when he is modest and insists on modesty from his Archbishops in their residences and from his priests in their conduct with their parishioners. Can’t the Pope give a few crumbs off the table of the Roman Catholic Church to those who are not where the holy people want them to be? Is there no other age of history that can inform the Truth than the Middle Ages? Is there no age in which the Pope can be something other than a geopolitical leader? Can we not have a person who cares and is compassionate wearing the white robes and miter? Does Jesus have to always stay silent to “those whom he should not speak”?
The New York Daily News reports that in Warsaw, Ohio, the New Beginnings Church has been protesting the local strip club by methods of harassment and embarrassment. So, the strip club decided to protest outside of the Church. Brilliant political move, I might say. Yet, the strip club owner made a bad move because he opened up his flank to exactly where God wanted them. The people of the New Beginnings Church, if they had any sense at all, would walk across the street with coffee, donuts, and invite the strippers to have a New Beginning in their Church. But is that the message they sent? No.
They, like the disciples in our Gospel message wanted to “send [the undesirables] away.” What is wrong with us? The people who need Jesus do not normally show up ready to go to heaven. The people who need Jesus do not normally have a clean record when they approach the Lord saying, “Lord, save me.” As much as I want my children to show up for Church and honor the God they know with nice clothes on, it is true that there is no dress code for those who need Jesus. There is no etiquette for those who need Jesus. There is no right way to stand, no proper way to pray, no proper way to smell, no requirement that they know proper grammar, have enough to contribute to the offering, can speak clearly and properly to read scripture, be of the right family to serve at the altar, there is no economic class that they need to be in to serve on the parish council.
These things, they are all made up by us. We are doing our damnest to keep Larry and the Canaanite woman out of our Church until we close the thing down. We treat the people who are poor like they are objects for us to use to do our good works. We treat the people in adultery like they are a pariah who should not darken the door of the Church because they are in sin. Sure, God allows us to feel shame because of what we have done, but we are not God. We are the ones standing on the same side of the street as Larry and the Canaanite woman. The moment we feel like we are going to heaven and we have a right to send someone away, we have joined the crowd we have damned.
What is more is that people who are sinful know what righteousness is more than we who have been working at being righteous sometimes. The divorced know the pain of a bad marriage and are keenly aware of what they have done wrong. The people lost in drugs, alcohol and addiction know their sin worse than we do, or they wouldn’t try to hide it. The Canaanite woman and Larry know who Jesus and the priest are before the house of Israel and the good people of the Church. We would do well to listen to them.
The Rev. Gary Forbes once told a class of people learning to preach, “If you empower the powerless in your churches, they will take off to places you could never imagine.” The Canaanite woman, rejected by Israel, despised by the Jew, oppressed by men, treated rudely by Jesus, she was accepted because of her tremendous faith.
Who have we rejected because they didn’t fit the mold of what we thought a holy person should look like, act like or be like? Where have we been pompous in our faith? Have we welcomed others to our parish with openness and goodness no matter who they are? What message are we sending to others as we live out our faith? Is it one that listens and hears or is it one that closes out and condemns? We cannot have it both ways. We cannot bemoan the sinfulness of the world and then reject the people in sin who approach us or darken the doors of our church. The story of the Canaanite woman invites us to take stock of just who we think we are. If we do it right, we will inspire others to believe and be healed. Amen? Amen.
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