'Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith!’ Matthew 15:28
I’m going to keep asking you this question today and I hope that that’ll help to keep us grounded. My question is: Who did Jesus come to save? When I read today’s Gospel reading I raised an eyebrow because it’s actually a very challenging and, it could be said, radical reading. So much so that I actually looked at the epistle reading to see if I might preach on that instead but that one’s talking about sexual immorality so I thought I’ll stick with the Gospel reading. In our gospel reading we have quite a simple story. A Canaanite woman, a woman who was not only not Jewish, but was also carrying family shame for a possession and so would have been seen as twice unclean, comes before Jesus. She asks Jesus for help but she is so lowly and unclean that the disciples turn her away. Jesus tests the woman’s metal when she asks again and says “I’m only here for God’s people.” And then this lowly woman, this lower than low woman, this unclean gentile – a gentile being someone not of the Jewish faith – demonstrates more faith than many of the people of Israel. She humbles herself and yet asks that she be treated as the least in God’s family and then Jesus reveals his radical manifesto. He says “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Even she is included in Jesus’ plan.
Who did Jesus come to save? Now, if I were to ask someone on the streets “what do we think of when we think of a ‘good’ Christian, or what do we think of when we think of the sort of person who Christ calls to be his disciples today”… I guess more often than not, they’d probably think of somebody pretty well made-up. Someone with their life together in a big way. Probably their first thought wouldn’t be, if asked what a good Christian might be, someone who grew up on a housing estate, I’d guess. They probably wouldn’t think of an alcoholic. They probably wouldn’t think of someone on the margins of society. They’d imagine someone with skills, someone with property someone with money and who can blame them. That’s sort of the advertisement that the Church has been broadcasting for the past few decades. When the Church thinks of the sort of people God might want, for the past few years we’ve thought of the things we would want in our own lives. Skills would make life easier. Property probably would too and definitely money would, right? Who would say no to a bit extra money? Yet, in the Kingdom of God, wealth is meaningless. Now, generosity is a different matter, we’ve got a really important appeal at the moment and I think we should be making that appeal on the basis of generosity, not because we want to be wealthy and well-off but because as a community we are called to be generous. I’m not sitting here condemning acts of generosity, which we ought to be more generous at lent if we can be. Give generously and with a generous heart, please! How much better would the world be if we were all generous with one-another. What I’m condemning is the idea that only people who have money are worthwhile to God; that Jesus only came for those with wealth and power.
Think of that Canaanite woman and think of whom the equivalent would be today. Perhaps a struggling immigrant. Perhaps an addict. Our Faith is not about creating a middle-class community of polite Englishmen and women; our faith is about bringing the Gospel to the people that, by the standards of the world, had no chance. Jesus wasn’t just there for the people of Israel, he was there for the lowest of the gentiles too. He came to save them. He came to save us. So what would we do if a homeless person came and sat in Church today? Or an addict or an alcoholic. What would we do first, hide our purses or welcome them? You know, I think God would rather have 10 homeless people who believe in God in this room than 100 people who have their lives all sorted out but that don’t care about Him. So maybe we should reach out to these people with joy? The only reason I’m a Christian is because I received that welcome first, when I was an addict. As people who have been saved despite our constant turning away from God, we don’t have the luxury to pick and choose who we proclaim the gospel to and, where we’ve tried to do that, we’ve only probably really shown that we don’t fully understand what Jesus did. He came for the Canaanite woman, for the leper, for the sinners, not just for the people of Israel. That’s a radical thing to believe about God. And it means that we can’t be content to be a social club for the well-off, because we’ve been saved from so much. In reality, I can think of a thousand better things I could do in a social club, than come here and listen to myself and Father Mike or Father Peter talking on a Sunday morning. If we’re a social club then we need shutting down. If we’re a community who are here to share the Gospel with, not just the people who are socially advantaged but, everyone, then we are actually a radical group of people with a message that is going to absolutely change this town to its core. If we are proclaiming the gospel to everyone, then God is on our side and no power of hell could shut us down.
Who did Jesus come to save? Who do we want in this place? Well I’ll leave it up to you to decide. But this Lent, why don’t we commit ourselves to reaching the lost. Why don’t we commit ourselves to turn away from the ways of the world and to live our lives like Christ. Why don’t we hope and work towards a world in which all people can come before God in this place, equal? And if something in this has touched you today, you could speak to Rachel Gilkes and ask to help with CAP as a part of your lent devotion, or ask if you can help deliver food parcels for the local food bank. Or perhaps we could do something entirely new?
No matter what, let us not become a social club for the well-off. Let us always seek, like Christ, to love and proclaim the gospel to those who the world rejects. The last, the least and the lost. Amen (from Fr Jordan).