This week I had a zoom catch up with the other ministers and pastors in the Essendon area, and it was good to see their faces, hear their voices and learn how they are seeking to exercise their ministry remotely and on line. One of the changes we have made to our pastoral care in addition to phone calls and on line services, has been to burn CDs of the worship Service and give them to some of those who do not have the technology to view youtube.
We have also learnt that we have people watching our services from places as far afield as Chile and India. You may have noticed that I have been encouraging people each Sunday to pray the Lord’s prayer in the language of their birth. Last week it was in Tamil and this Sunday in Samoan. We are a multi-cultural Congregation and are very much enriched by the diversity of culture and language.
If you would like to participate in a zoom morning tea at 11.00am on a Sunday morning please contact Bruce – that’s another way of keeping in touch with everyone. Those who have joined I think really appreciate catching up.
This week in our Gospel reading we meet a woman in great distress who comes to Jesus pleading with him to heal her daughter. There is so much about her situation that puts her at a disadvantage. First of all she’s an outsider, a foreigner from beyond Israel, but her marginal status as a woman doesn’t help either. What’s in her favour is that she has chutzpa! I don’t know whether it’s because she’s at her wits end, desperate to find some way to bring her daughter peace, that leads her to come to Jesus, but the text says she came shouting at Jesus.
That says a lot to me about the level of her anxiety and despair. The trouble is that when someone comes to you for help and does so by shouting, it can have a negative consequence; it can feel like a barrage. Jesus’ response is at first silence, which feels like a complete rejection, or a big put down! It seems so counter to all that we have known so far about Jesus. Isn’t he the embodiment of compassion – the healer, the comforter?
When I put myself in this woman’s place I recognise that what she experiences from Jesus is what we often live with when we are at our wits end. We pray but sometimes it seems that God is silent, and at times that silence seems like rejection – ‘Why don’t you do something to help me God, I’m desperate and I don’t know where else to turn?’ What is so powerful about this encounter is that the woman doesn’t give up; she’s persistent. What’s more her response to Jesus reveals a faith that puts Peter to shame. Remember this comes just after that encounter between Jesus and Peter where Jesus hauls him out of the water dripping wet and says, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ What a contrast to find Jesus praising a woman, an outsider. ‘Great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish’.
I have often wondered whether this story, written down many years later, also reflected the change of direction undertaken by Matthew’s community. Matthew’s community had seen their mission as reaching out to the Jewish Community, but when they were excommunicated from the Synagogue, they turned toward the Gentiles.
So at the beginning of the Gospel we have that wonderful story of the Magi – those exotic wise men from the east who came to worship Jesus – and at the end as though to bookmark the gospel with this message, we find the risen Lord commissioning the disciples to go into all the world to teach and baptise. In the middle we have this Gentile woman whose faith could not be clearer or more vibrant. Jesus commends her faith more than he does for any other in the whole gospel.
So while this passage surprises or even jolts us, it does that on purpose because it challenges us to ensure that we warmly embrace those we regard as outsiders, and yet whose vibrant faith inspires and encourages us.