Call to worship
Whoever we are,
Whatever our past,
God comes to us,
And invites us to come to him.
Hymn Together in Song 210 O for a thousand tongues to sing
Prayer of Adoration and Confession
God of absolute wonder,
We come before you with wonder, knowing of you
Knowing you a little,
But never able to know you fully.
Our minds could not grasp all that you are
yet you call to us
and you come to meet us.
You accept us with our limitations
and reveal yourself as we are able to recognise you and know you.
You pour out your love on us,
even though our response to you is limited
and cannot reflect the boundless love you show to us.
In Jesus, you give us the ultimate gift of your love,
your Son’s life, for our sake.
that we have made judgements,
based on what the world around us thinks,
and not on any facts we gather for ourselves, or on our knowledge of you.
that we have limited your grace
by our unwillingness to share the gospel
with people who are different from ourselves.
that we have lived lives directed by our own whims
without reference to your plan for our lives,
for our time, for our talents, for our being.
that we are sinful people, living in a world of sinful people,
and as much need of our forgiveness as
all those in the world around us.
We ask your forgiveness.
We ask your grace for ourselves,
that our lives may be turned around.
We ask your guidance to know your will.
We ask your power and strength to do your will,
in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Declaration of Forgiveness
The message of the gospel is this: Jesus came into the world for the sake of sinners. So I have confidence to say to you: our sins are forgiven.
Thanks be to God.
Hymn Together in Song 229 Jesus loves me
This is the word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
The gospels have lots of accounts of Jesus being caught up in debates with people - Pharisees, scholars, the people who really knew the religion stuff.
There’s only two instances recorded where Jesus conceded victory to his opponent in a debate. The first was at Cana, where his mother simply ignored all his objections, and he just did as he was told.
The second was with this woman.
All the experts of the Jewish faith who challenged Jesus found their understanding was too limited, that their wisdom couldn’t compare to his. So it’s utterly amazing that the person who could outdo him in a debate, was a non-Jewish woman, a person he should never even have been speaking to.
There were numerous reasons Jesus should never have spoken with this woman. Religious purity laws were very strict, and his having anything to do with a woman who wasn’t part of his immediate family was strange enough. (A strange woman might be having her period – which would make her “unclean” and “uncleanness” was contagious.) Having anything to do with a foreigner was also quite extraordinary. Having a conversation with a foreign woman, was outrageous.
There was a lot of animosity between the Jews and the Gentiles. The Jews inland, elide on the Gentile seaports of Tyre and Sidon for trade. They could not do without them (and the Jews very much resented this dependence.) The Gentile towns relied, in turn, on the Jewish farmers to provide them with food. Because the Gentiles had the money, they got first choice of what food was for sale. When there was a drought or food was scarce, money meant the Gentiles were far less likely to go without. In the eyes of many of the Jewish people, the dogs really were stealing the food out of their children’s mouths.
So for both religious and social reasons, the Jews looked down on the Gentiles, and avoided them.
Jesus had gone into Gentile territory, not to preach and heal, but to escape attention. He wanted to rest somewhere he wouldn’t be recognised. He had become so famous, however, that there really was nowhere that he wasn’t recognised.
There was no chance to get away and spend time on his own. Presumably, Jesus was tired, worn down, by the time the Syro-phonecian woman appeared with her request. His answer showed tiredness, a lack of patience, and the common prejudice of his people. Leave him alone – he’d come for the children of Israel, and wasn’t giving their food to the dogs. This is one of the points of the gospel which confirm that Jesus, although divine, was also really just as human as we are.
If the woman had argued that her people weren’t dogs – if she’d shown any sign of taking offence, perhaps the debate would have come out differently. But she didn’t argue against him. She didn’t try to trap him the way the Pharisees who debated against him did. In fact, she agreed with him, taking the insult on herself, accepting that she was being called a dog,, but even the dogs get fed the leftovers. What she did was exactly what Jesus himself did in conversation with other people: to take him from where he was, and challenge him to think a little wider, to challenge him to believe that God’s plan was wider than his view.
Jesus did the same thing when answering the question of “who is my neighbour?” with the story of the good Samaritan. And Jesus gave in, because she was right. Israel may have a privileged position in relationship with God – and a greater privilege in that Jesus himself came as a part of that nation. But the privilege was never meant to be kept to Israel alone. God had told Abraham that he was being blessed so that he might be a blessing to others.
Here Jesus was being challenged with the same lesson that he had taught other people. The challenge to his understanding of who he was and who he was there for must have come as a shock. He was forced to stop and re-think what he was doing and why he was doing it. What was he there for? How far was God’s grace to be spread? How would he handle the prejudices of the society he was a part of? Could he just go along with the way everyone in his society saw the people of Tyre? Or was he going to build a new relationship between God and human beings, including human beings of different races and social stations?
Most of the time when Jesus is shown in debates in the gospel, we see that he knew how to win an argument. Here we see that he also had the wisdom and grace to know how and when to lose an argument! When the woman who was confronting him was actually in the right – when what she said was in line with his Father’s will – then he gave her what she asked. The simple fact she challenged him with was that the differences between people were too small and superficial to matter.
James gave the same advice to his readers. The differences we can see between people don’t matter – they are not what is important in God’s eyes. James criticised the church for kowtowing to the rich – and ignoring the poor members of the church community. For his church it wasn’t a difference of race, but social standing that had become noticeable and affected the way people treated each other.
In each generation, in each time and place, there are differences between people which are used to judge some as better or more worthy or discerning than others. People have been given preferential treatment on the basis of race, gender, age, sexual orientation, wealth, education, or any number of other issues, while other people have been left out. That’s the way the world works. In James’ letter he made it clear that it wasn’t the way the church should work.
God’s grace, as shown in the story of Jesus’ encounter with the syrophonecian woman, is available to everyone: no matter who they are, no matter what their past, no matter what they look like, no matter what their age.
Hymn Together in Song 618 What does the Lord require
Prayers of the People
Holy God, we pray for the church, your holy people,
we pray that throughout the world, we may be one community of faith,
that through us your grace and love might be shown to the whole world.
We pray for this world of yours. Too long, it has suffered war and violence.
Too often, families have received back bodies of loved ones who have been sent out to fight.
Too often, people have been forced to flee their homes and everything they have known to escape violence.
Too often the people most in need have been met with too little compassion.
For too long, this world has suffered a lack of love.
Be with this world of yours. Soften our hardened hearts. Teach us to care.
Passing the peace
Hymn Together in Song 508 Jesus, we thus obey
Hymn Together in Song 531 Sent forth by God’s blessing