This morning God calls us from fear to astonishment. We start out the first reading in fear, and we end the Gospel with amazement, and that’s what God does for us, the journey God takes us on.
We have a lot of fear. We are isolated, ruled by fear. It is so easy to go there. We think of the worst possible outcome, so we can be prepared. Fear blinds us to the possibilities God has in mind, unable to see the vision that God is building toward, in which streams will flow in the desert and the blind and the lame with see and leap. Fear makes us deaf to our neighbors in need as we work to protect our own position and possessions. Fear paralyzes us in inaction as we hesitate to make a move that might put us at risk. Fear keeps us from speaking for fear of saying the wrong thing. Fear isolates us from others as we fear our neighbor. These times seem especially ruled by fear, as people are afraid to talk to their neighbors and family members for fear of a difference of opinion, fear of being “ghosted,” fear of being shunned, fear of embarrassing ourselves. Fear makes us judgmental. It causes us to draw lines between us and other people, to try to sort people into safe people and unsafe people, or deserving people and undeserving.
But fear is not living, so God calls us out of fear into faith. To have faith is to act into God’s vision, even though we can see it or hear it, yet. To have faith is to move forward, even when we can’t see the way, following the one who leads us, the one we are learning to trust. To be faithful is to be trustworthy, reliable, dependable. To be faithful is to show no favoritism. To be faithful is to be compassionate rather than indifferent to the needs of others.
Faith calls us out of our fear. It doesn’t say we won’t be fearful, but faith means not to let our fear be our prime motivator. We shouldn’t worship fear or let it rule us. Instead, faithfulness means that we let love guide our actions. We step out into the unknown wilderness and dance with joy. Because of love we put our fear behind us and sing in the dark valley of the shadow of death. Because of love we invite those who are disheveled and not dressed up, people with different hygiene than we have to join us. Faith means we don’t just tolerate people different from us, but we learn from them. We ask their opinion and listen to it. We give them opportunities to share their gifts. We find things in common with them. We regard them as brothers and sisters. Faith calls us to respond to the basic needs of all our neighbors because in doing so we help them move from fear into loving relationship and abundant life.
Faith calls us to persist. The Syrophonecian woman comes to Jesus. She is compelled by fear—fear that her daughter will never find healing. But she is also compelled by love to come on behalf of her little one who lay dying at home, and on behalf of all Gentiles. She goes to Jesus on our behalf. Did you know we are Gentiles? And Jesus calls us dogs. We are unworthy of notice, he seems to say. There isn’t enough for us, according to Jesus in his weary, tired, annoyance. He just wants a moment to himself. But she comes to Jesus, because we dogs can’t wait another moment for our crumbs, which are more than plenty for us. We sit at the table, and Jesus is trying to eat in peace, and we sit begging, watching his every move, hungry, hopeful, faithfully by his side, hoping to catch a nibble of the abundant, life-giving food he has to offer. We don’t care what he calls us, we just want a little of what Jesus has to offer.
Dogs don’t know when they are being insulted, but this woman does, but she is fearless. She doesn’t care what she’s called, because she knows who she is. She knows her daughter is precious and worth fighting for. If it had been only for herself, she might have gone away, but not for her daughter. She’d be kicked and spit on and insulted and she even would have died. She knew what it meant to sacrifice her dignity for the life of her beloved child. She was a precursor to Jesus’ sacrifice for us, for us Gentile dogs.
This woman is fearless in the face of Jesus’ insults. When he calls her a dog, she doesn’t even wince. Instead, she proves she’s his equal, that her faith is strong by trading barbs with him. She insults the Son of God right back. When she says, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs, she’s pointing out that right now, no one is lined up to eat at Jesus’ table. She’d happily eat the crumbs, and she is pointing out that currently the “children,” the Jewish people aren’t biting, they aren’t accepting the food that Jesus is giving them to eat. She’s pointing out that his message is falling on deaf ears. It isn’t reaching the children. So she’d gladly take their crumbs of what they’ve taken for granted. She knows she is going to get the whole meal. He’s a failure in his first task, and she lets him know that she knows. But failing with the Judeans isn’t the end of the story. Jesus isn’t going to be afraid of failure. He’s not going to worship at the shrine of fear. Instead he recognizes faith when he sees it, and he grants this woman’s prayer. In fact, Jesus grants the prayers of the Gentiles, our prayers that we would taste the abundance of what God has to offer. In this Gospel, God is hearing all our prayers.
Then there is this Gentile who is deaf. He has friends who act in faith, by bringing him to Jesus. Jesus makes a considerable effort to bring healing to this man. He says to his ears, “Be opened.”
Isn’t that Jesus’ prayer for us—be opened? What is closing us off? What is keeping us from hearing each other? What is keeping us from seeing each other? What is keeping us from communicating with each other? What is keeping us from touching each other? What is keeping us from feeding each other, inviting each other, walking right up to each other? It is fear that keeps us from embracing God’s love and each other.
So Jesus calls us to faith, like the faith of these friends. Jesus invites us to shed our fear and open ourselves to relationship. It is in the relationship, the love that we are saved, that we find safety, that we find salve, healing, salvation. Jesus walked right up to us. Maybe we didn’t want him to truly see all that we’ve done or haven’t done. Maybe we didn’t really want him to know our selfish thoughts. But he walked up to us anyway. He commanded us to be opened. He commanded us to be opened to him and his love. He commanded us to be open to each other, even when that other person doesn’t look like us, dress like us, smell like us. And he commanded us to respond to God’s love, by taking loving actions toward those around us, meeting their needs.
As a result, we are introduced to God and those around us are introduced to God. That’s what is says in Isaiah, “Here is your God!” Here is your God, all who have trouble walking, seeing, talking, hearing! “Here is your God” all you thirsty, isolated people, animals and places. “Here is your God!” you poor, wearing dirty clothes. “Here is your God,” you rich who are quick to call your lawyers. Here is your God, showing you what it means to love your neighbors far and near. Here is your God, all those who think you are better than others. Here is your God, all you who show favoritism. Here is your God all you who give, hoping to get something in return. Here is your God all those who wish someone else well, but refuse to share your bread. Here is your God, you dogs, you Gentiles, you outsiders. Here is your God all you interrupting mothers, demanding our time. Here is your God, all you who make mistakes and create divisions. Here is your God, you pushy friends with all the answers. Here is your God, you children of God. God is here! God is near! God is faithful! God is powerful.
God is powerful to stand against our sins, our blindness, and all that we do that divides. God is powerful to show mercy, forgive us, and help us live in a new way. God is powerful to save us, heal us, and lead us toward God’s vision that is coming into this world, the Kingdom of God, justice, bread, community, love. So we end with astonishment, awe, at God’s power and God’s love. We stand speechless before God’s mercy, generosity, and healing.