Also on the 14th our Church celebrated the feast of Jonathan Myrick Daniels. Jon was The Rev. Judy Upham’s boyfriend , my long-time companion, when they were in seminary. In response to Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to witness the inhuman treatment of the freedom demonstrators in Selma, Alabama in 1965. Jon and Judy stayed in Selma that spring. Jon was murdered by a deputy sheriff that August. He, too, was a 20 something man, who was doing what God had called him to do, to call for the just treatment of others. It was the death of Jonathan that helped galvanize the Episcopal Church and the hearts of the Northeast to bring about the legislation that has helped to bring about the strides that have been made in race relations over the past 50 years. Strides which have even included the right to aspire to any office in the land And there has been a dramatic change of attitude throughout our world. Those of us who are a bit long in the tooth have seen it. . But we still have a long way to go.
The show of force by the Ferguson police in the face of death of a young man of color in 2014 at theThe use of swat teams against demonstrators was déjà vu for all of us who worked for civil rights in the 60’s and for all Thankfully, the President of the United States was willing to step in and draw a halt to the impending race war that was being precipitated in MO. An act no President has ever done in our nation’s history. Granted, the situation is still quite problematic. But the change in attitude was dramatic by Friday night. And no more lives were lost due to confrontation with police. A change in attitude by law enforcement will be the answer to what happens to the community of Ferguson.
The reading from Sunday’s Gospel is an example of a change in attitude. A Canaanite woman with a sick child prevails upon Jesus when he is visiting in the Canaanite regions of Tyre and Sidon. She cries out to him. The Greek word for her cries is the word for the call of a raven. A colleague saysIt is obvious that the woman was one of those obnoxious women who refused to be excluded, who refused to be shut up because she knew her cause was right. She just wanted healing for her daughter.
Jesus knew what his call was: He was to go to the lost sheep of the House of Israel. He was supposed to minister to his own people who had been displaced in the Greco-Roman divisions of what had been greater Israel. But this Canaanite woman, this woman who was squawking after him knelt before him and all but prostrated herself before him begging for her child. And Jesus says such an uncharacteristic thing: “It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." Most of us hear this and are scandalized by what he says. But I doubt if was scandalous to Matthew’s readers as they read it in the latter part of the 1st century. It was the way that most of them understood their position in the Church.
The Synagogue of the First Century was badly divided as the Christian movement. The Jews were divided by various sects following the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD. Synagogues also had incorporated many non-ethnic Jews who followed the Law of Moses. In addition to this, the various incorporation of the followers of the various rabbis, made for a vigorously diverse type of Judaism that was having a hard time holding center. Toward the end of the centuries some synagogues were expelling those who followed Jesus. So there developed a split between the Greek speaking Christians and the Aramaic or the Ethnically Jewish who followed Jesus.
Matthew’s Gospel was decidedly written for those who were familiar with the customs of Judaism. He knew that the kind of comment of “the children’s [of Israel] food, would be understood as whatThis passage comes right after the feeding of the 5,000 when the abundance of God’s mercy is shown in the breaking of the bread. That was a reiteration of the story of how the Children of Israel survived the wanderings in the wilderness, on the generosity of God’s mercy.
The uppity woman of Canaan reminded Jesus of the wideness of God’s mercy, too. His mission to the lost sheep of Israel would have ramifications for those far beyond his ministrations. And in this moment Jesus saw the truth of the woman’s pleas: God’s mercy is unlimited. God’s mercy is not just for a few. God’s nurture and mercy is not for certain populations—it is for all. There was a change in attitude for Jesus---at least in the Gospel of Matthew.
If our era has any common theme over the past 50 years, it has been changes in attitude. We are beginning to see the genuine changes of attitude all over the world. There are watershed momentsThe saints of our Church are often linked to those moments. Jon’s life and death certainly is one of those. But the hard work of living into those changed attitudes is much more difficult to do. I can draw a causal link from Jon’s death to what we have seen in Ferguson this week. But can I see the shifts toward seeing the immigrants trying to cross our boarders in the same way that we see Jacob’s sons coming into Egypt to escape the famine in their land and finding the mercy of their brother Joseph? Can we see in the police brutality at a gay bar here in Ft. Worth, a link to Ferguson, MO? Can we see in the words of the Canaanite woman that the crumbs are to be enjoyed by all the world? Can we too know the universality of God’s mercy even if we aren’t part of whatever ‘in’ crowd that we are not a part of? Can we too be assured of the protection of the God’s love just as surely as the wealthy, the powerful, the comfortable, the young and good looking, or the cultured?
Judy went to Harvard as an economics major hoping to figure out how to feed the world. She found in her first class that the earth had the capacity to feed all of creation, but she was taught it was not expedient to do so. That is when she realized that after her cum laude degree in economics, she
So what is in the events of this week and the sinfulness of our age? What allows us 50 years after Selma to continue brunt force options to gain control when we are afraid? What allows us to become more than what we were 2000 years ago in the face of a squawking mother calling out for deliverance for her child? It requires a change of attitude. It takes a willingness to see our own fear healed in the light of God's mercy and know it profoundly. It takes the willingness to pay attention to squawks of those calling out for justice and nurture. It requires of us, both individually and corporately, to change attitudes so that God's mercy can be seen.
Jesus found it in the faith of the Canaanite woman. I saw it in the act of a President. Where do you see it? We need to be willing to proclaim that mercy of God to the world--it is what we are called to do by all that is Holy.