A wideness in God’s mercy

Proper 15 (August 17, 2008)
Common Lectionary Texts:
Is. 56:1, 6-8; Ps. 67; Rom. 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matt. 15:21-28

This week MCC and the Middle East Council of Churches sponsored an East-West dialogue conference in Amman for some 30 young adults from Canada, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria and the United States. The event combined practical training in dialogue skills with conversations about issues of concern to Christian and Muslim young adults in the eight countries.

Participants share a laugh at the MCC-MECC conference that brought together young adults from 8 countries

Such dialogue does not happen quickly or easily. A four-day conference is inadequate to achieve deep-level conversation. But is was an important first step and provided an opportunity to experience and practice good listening skills, patience, respect and tolerance in day-to-day interaction.

Young adults converse during coffee break at East-West dialogue conference in Amman

In the region this week, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that the United States is putting the brakes on any Israeli effort to attack Iran militarily. According to the article, the United States has “warned Israel against attacking, saying such a strike would undermine American interests.”

This week’s Common Lectionary texts focus on the breadth of God’s family and the wideness of God’s mercy.

The prophet Isaiah says that God will gather outcasts (Is. 56:8), bring faithful foreigners to God’s holy mountain (v.7a) and that God’s house “will be called a house of prayer for all peoples” (v. 7b).

So, too, the psalmist says that God’s saving power will be made known “among all nations” (Ps. 67:2) and that God guides “the nations upon earth.” For this reason, “all the peoples” are to praise God (vv. 3, 5) and “all the ends of the earth” are to revere God (v.7).

Paul says that, just as God has shown mercy to the Gentiles (Rom. 11:30), God will now show mercy to the Jews (v. 31). All peoples have been disobedient and God will be merciful to all (v. 32).

In the Gospel reading, a Canaanite woman pleads for Jesus to have mercy and heal her daughter (Matt. 15:22). Jesus ignores her, but she persists in pleading for help. Perhaps in an effort to draw attention to the woman’s faith, Jesus seems unusually hard on her. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” he tells her (v.24). “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v.26). But the woman is not to be deterred. She reminds Jesus that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the masters’ table. (v.27). Jesus is moved by the woman’s incredible faith and heals her daughter.

How easy it is for us to try to turn God into a tribal God who only loves and blesses people like us. We are quick to condemn and even threaten those who are different than us. The clear trajectory of Scripture is that God’s mercy extends to all nations and that God is gathering a family from all peoples.

Indeed, in Scripture, the greatest examples of faith often come from unexpected places – the foreigners and outcasts. It is a powerful reminder that we do well to live with humility as we interact with people from different cultures, faiths and nationalities.

We were blessed this week to witness this firsthand as we observed young adults from eight countries meeting face-to-face in Amman.

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