Readings: Genesis 45:1-15; Psalm 133; Romans 11:1-2a,29-32; Matthew 15:21-28
“For the love of God is broader than the scope of human mind, and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.”(1) Human beings are very good at building walls. We have built them around our cities, around our countries – just look at Hadrian’s Wall, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, and the Korean Wall. We build them to keep people out and to keep people in. Those who we feel threatened by, or whose ways of life are different to ours. Those who may “take what’s ours and what’s our children’s”. So, we draw into ourselves, fight to protect our interests, defend ourselves from change and the threat to our position. Just as Joseph’s brothers did in the Genesis story. They went out of their way to build permanent barriers, permanent separation from their brother, someone who threatened them, who they saw as a danger to their inheritance, their claims. They threw Joseph out of the group, got rid of him. And yet, he turns out to be the only one who can save them in the end. If he chooses to. And, through the grace and the understanding of the generosity of God and God’s love that he learned through his experiences, Joseph welcomes them, loves them despite their actions. Asks only that they feel welcome, not guilty, or afraid, but loved and welcomed by him. “Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept… and he kissed his brothers and wept upon them.” And then they talked. How many of us could be so forgiving, so loving after what the brothers did to Joseph? But Joseph saw how God’s grace and love held him through all his difficulties, his experiences gave him wisdom and insight, and allowed him to see that for God, justice means reconciliation, not revenge, it means rebuilding broken relationships and breaking down barriers, walls, opening the heart to all, even those who have done us wrong. As the psalm puts it, “How very good and pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity.”
The readings today all speak of God’s nature, of what God wants for God’s creation, God’s created beings. The divisions caused by the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers and Joseph’s own boasting are overcome by the love of God showing both sides that relationship is important, and that forgiveness heals. And it is in unity, in relationship with each other and with God that God wants us to live. And this is repeated in our Romans reading – that God loves all. God does not reject anyone. (2) It is humans who reject each other, build walls to separate one from another, and put restrictions on who is in and who is out. God’s love is for all peoples – as Paul says elsewhere, there are no barriers between people in God’s eyes: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28). We are all united, brought back together through God’s redemptive act in Jesus Christ (3). Through the grace of God in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus we are brought back into the right relationship with God and with each other – or we should be.
But we are human. Something we see in the Gospel today in the actions of Jesus’ disciples, the ones who have listened to him speak of God, of God’s love and inclusion of all. The ones who have learned from the prophets about God’s love for all outsiders, for all who are seen as unclean, unwanted, useless, or just dismissed. The disciples try to persuade Jesus to ignore a woman in need. A woman seeking healing for her daughter. A woman who, despite being a Canaanite recognised the Lordship of Jesus: every time she speaks to Jesus, she calls him Lord. In the previous chapters of Matthew we see Jesus’ Lordship challenged by Pharisees and others who cannot understand, but here, a woman from a despised group acknowledges and turns to Christ. And Jesus is challenged by her to acknowledge that God’s grace, God’s love, is truly universal: the crumbs she mentions reflect the earlier story in Matthew of the feeding of the 5000 where the crumbs left numbered 12 baskets. (4) And Jesus responds by recognising her faith: “Woman, great is your faith!” Then Jesus demonstrates that there is enough of God’s love for all people by healing her daughter, instantly. (5) Through the woman’s persistence, strength and faith, Jesus was able to prove God’s love was universal, that for God there are no borders, no barriers between humans. All people are beloved children of God. It makes me wonder, how persistent are we in recognising the Lordship of Christ and demanding that we be recognised by others as beloved children of God? And in recognising those others are also beloved children of God? Would we turn to Christ so adamantly?
But, of course, that is what happened in our Sunday service when the parents and godparents of our baptism candidate stated, before the congregation exactly that: I turn to Christ. I recognise him as Lord, Saviour and Son of God. I recognise that God’s love is for me, for the baptism candidate, for everyone here, for the whole world. And that they intend to show that, to live as a baptised child of God in the name of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. To be guided by the words and deeds of Jesus, as they are called to emulate them and live them in the world by working with Christ to bring God’s people back into relationship with God and with each other. It is something we have had promised at our own baptisms, that many of us have acknowledged at our confirmation. And that I hope we show forth in our lives. That we too can work to unite and overcome divisions, those walls we build and see around us which prevent humanity from being what God wants. “For the love of God is broader than the scope of human mind, and the heart of the Eternal is most wonderfully kind.” And though we often “make his love too narrow by false limits of our own” (1) each week in penitence and faith we acknowledge this and seek to turn to Christ, to submit to Christ as Lord and to live as Christ in the world, as children beloved of God, recognising that all whom we meet, whom we hear of, especially those crying out for help and reconciliation, are also beloved children of God. Then “our lives will be all gladness in the joy of Christ our Lord.”
The Revd Jackie Sellin
References: (1) Hymn 747 “There’s a wideness in God’s mercy” Anglican Hymns Old and New (2008) Kevin Meyhew Ltd Buxhall Suffolk
2) Andrew Davison in Paula Gooder et al (2016) “Reflections for Sundays Year A” Church House Publishing London p.204
(3) Johanna W H van Wyk-Bos (2005) “Making Wise the Simple” Eerdmans Michigan p. 293
(4) Jane Williams (2004) “Lectionary Reflections Year A” SPCK London p.101
(5) Martin Kitchen et al (1998) “Word of Promise” Canterbury Press Norwich p.99