A wideness in God’s mercy

9th Sunday after Pentecost (August 14, 2011)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 56:1, 6-8; Ps. 67; Rom. 11:1-2a, 29-32; Matt. 15:21-28

We enjoyed a week of vacation, touring Jordan and Palestine with Daryl’s sister Cheryl and her husband Mark who were visiting from Grottoes, Virginia. We had a great time sharing childhood stories and catching up on family news. In Jordan our travels took us to the Citadel, the Dead Sea and Petra. In Palestine we visited sites in Bethlehem and the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cheryl and Mark Keeler enjoy a cool drink while visiting Petra

While the ancient sites in the Holy Land offered a sense of awe, it was the encounters with local people that provided the richest memories. We listened in silence as the call to prayer echoed in “surround sound” from minarets encirling Amman’s Citadel. We shared in the celebration of Muslim families breaking their Ramadan fast with the evening Iftar meal. Bedouins in southern Jordan told us how they gave up their cave homes so that people from around the world could enjoy the stunning sites of Petra. We watched with wonder as a shepherd led his flock of sheep across parched fields to a pool of water outside Bethlehem. Shopkeepers in Beit Sahour described the challenges of running a business in an occupied country. A priest at St. Anne’s Church in the Old City told us how a visiting pastor from a “Bible-believing” church in the U.S. marched his choir out of St. Anne’s — in the middle of their rendition of “Amazing Grace” — when another Christian group arrived to sing. They are “not saved,” the judgmental pastor said of the arriving group of Christians. “Let’s leave that in God’s hands,” the priest at St. Anne’s gently responded.

Making falafal at Afteem's -- Manger Square in Bethlehem

In the region this week, Jordan’s parliament cleared the country’s prime minister, Marouf al-Bakhit, of all charges related to a casino deal during his first term of service in 2007. The action will not be popular with demonstrators who have been calling for Bakhit’s resignation. Israel approved an additional 1,600 settlement homes in East Jerusalem, which most nations recognize as occupied Palestinian land. One Israeli analyst this week wrote that the ongoing upheaval in Syria is likely to spark a regional conflict.

A Bedouin vendor in Petra talks about his old coins and pottery

The Common Lectionary readings offer reminders that God does not play favorites but honors faith wherever it is found and shows mercy to all.

The Old Testament promises that God’s house “shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.” (Is. 56:7c) Indeed, God declares: “the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord . . . (and) all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain.” (vv.6-7a)

Ruins of the Temple of Hercules at the Citadel in Amman

The psalmist writes that the earth’s peoples should praise and revere God (Ps. 67:3, 5,7) for God guides the nations (v.4) and God’s saving power will be known among all nations (v.2).

In the Epistle reading Paul writes that both Jews and Gentiles have been disobedient. In spite of human wandering, God has been merciful to all (Rom. 11:29-32).

A dip in the salty Dead Sea

In the Gospel reading, a Canaanite woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter. “Have mercy on me, Lord . . . for my daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matt. 15:22). Initially, Jesus ignores her, but she persists, “Lord, help me.” (v.25) Jesus’ answer seems harsh: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (v.26) But she is not deterred. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” (v.27) Jesus responds: “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (v.28)

So much of the world’s conflict and suffering is rooted in human attempts to turn God into a tribal deity who favors one community (ours) over another — and thus justifies our mistreatment of “the other.” The Lectionary readings this week offer powerful testimony to the fact that God’s mercy and favor rests on all peoples who turn to God in faith. Indeed, there’s a wideness in God’s mercy. May we learn to embrace those who are different than us as we embrace this timeless truth.

The rose-colored rocks of Petra against a dark blue sky

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