Sunday, August 17, 2014
Proper 15A: Matthew 15: 21-28
God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way; Thou who hast by Thy might, led us into the Light. Keep us forever, O keep us forever, in the path, we pray. Amen.
This text, this gospel reading, it’s shocking. It’s jolting. Jesus, the one who has been going around healing folks like crazy. The one who has cast out countless demons by now, touched lepers, caused the lame to walk… That guy — looks at this woman who’s daughter is sick, and at first, he says nothing. Nothing. He ignores her shouting. So much so that the disciples beg him to send her away because her “nagging” was getting on their nerves.
The fact that Jesus ignores the woman is shocking in and of itself. But then it gets even stranger indeed, it gets even worse. While the woman is down on her knees pleading with the Son of David, he says to her, (now I’m paraphrasing here), “Look you ‘female dog,’ my miracles aren’t for you. You are just a dog.”
It’s surprising to us because Jesus is so… “Jesusy.” Right? He’s kind, he’s helpful, he’s loving, he’s God…
But as much as Jesus is God, Jesus is also human, very human.
And like all humans, Jesus was influenced by large systems of oppression and privilege that perpetuated sexism and racism. Patriarchy — this notion that men are some how better than women and thus should always be in charge — patriarchy permeated the air that Jesus breathed. It was the norm, the expectation that men could and would treat women dismissively. And it was also the standard of the society that Canaanites, Syrophoenicians, and other Gentiles were to be be treated like dogs.
As we’ve watched the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri this week, and as we’ve heard more and more stories of white police officers killing or harassing unarmed black men… There’s been a lot of “shock” in this country. A lot of people have been surprised and find it jolting to learn that our law enforcement officers, the men and women that we’ve entrusted with the duty of keeping us safe, have indeed perpetuated violence on innocents souls… Many have found it surprising that a police officer would shoot a black man in the face — as if he were a dog.
But, really, we shouldn’t be surprised. You see, while much has changed since the days that Jesus walked the face of this earth, there are somethings have not changed at all. Patriarchy, sexism, and racism continue to be huge systems of oppression that influence the way that we think and act towards each other.
Now listen, my sisters and brothers, I’m not here to point fingers and to rage against any of you as individuals. In fact, I’m here to suggest that all of us, black, brown, white… male, female, or trans… all of us are breathing in the same polluted air. We are all breathing in messages that tell us that black men are dangerous and that white men deserve to be in power. We are all living among principalities and powers that seek to divide and to destroy.
Jesus wasn’t immune to it. And neither are we.
But my friends, here’s the good news: things can change! Ferguson can change. St. Louis can change, Stone Mountain can change. Georgia, yes, even Georgia can change!
I know that change is possible, because that’s what happened to Jesus. He changed. It took some time, but he opened his ears and heard the cries for help from that woman. He listened to her. He shut out all of the opposing cultural norms and expectations, and he heard her plea, then he responded. Using the power that he is privileged to possess, Jesus responded to her needs and healed her child.
Friends, mothers are still crying out. Trayvon, Michael, Travis, Kareem, Chavis, Tyree, Oscar, these are names of young unarmed black men killed by police officers. Their mothers are pleading for justice, for an end to violent and deadly policing. And it’s not just the mothers of black boys who are crying. Immigrant mothers who stowed away their infant children as they crossed the border hoping for a better life for themselves and their kids. They too are crying. They are pleading and asking that their children be spared deportation. They are begging that their children be allowed to receive a college education at our public institutions of higher learning.
Women are begging for fair wages and for a breaking of the glass ceiling. Poor folks are yearning for adequate housing and better schools for the children. People who are homeless are in desperate need of food and a safe place to shelter them from rain and cold…
The people are begging. The people are crying.
But let me be honest. Sometimes I don’t hear the people and I don’t see their tears. I don’t see because many of them don’t live in my middle class neighborhood. And perhaps you haven’t noticed the pleas either because those women aren’t sitting beside you on your pew… In truth, I sometimes don’t even notice the cries coming from those standing right next to me because I live in a world that taught me to keep my head down and mind my own business.
Let me end with a story: this past week, I watched in awe as hundreds of young black men gathered on Morehouse’s campus to begin their freshmen year of college. Though technically “adults,” many of them still carry the look of boyhood with their soft faces and hairless chins. This is one of the most exciting times of their lives. The rituals and traditions of Morehouse College are rich and inspiring. It’s truly a beautiful thing to behold. As a part of orientation, the young men are expected to stay on campus (they shouldn’t even go just across the street to see the women at Spelman) for the first 2 weeks, because the administration wants them to be focused and clear about the importance of improving themselves through education.
Despite the excitement and the very full schedules, those young men refused to yield to the temptation to be self-absorbed and Morehouse- focused. They heard the cries and pleas of the mothers in Ferguson, Missouri. They heard the weeping of black people across the nation who have sons, brothers, cousins, or nephews who will not receive the benefit of a college education because of an early death or a life-long prison sentence. Those men of Morehouse had their ears opened and they responded to the cries.
Some of them jumped into cars and drove to Missouri to add their voice to the wailing — hoping and praying that someone will hear the collective cry. Others began organizing themselves. They’re trying to map out ways that they can be a part of changing this world by breaking down these systems of injustice. I’m inspired by their faithfulness, inspired by their audacity. They believe that another world is possible. And, like the woman in this morning’s gospel, they believe that this new world will be a place where mothers no longer wail and a place where black brothers no longer live in fear. They believe that this new world will have plenty good room for everyone — even our dogs.
In the words of Sweet Honey in the Rock, a powerful all female singing group, “Until the killing of Black men, Black mothers’ son / is as important as the killing of White men, White mothers’ sons… we who believe in freedom cannot rest.”