I have begun to wonder how to protect my soul from the sound bytes of our culture. Television now broadcasts news 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. FACEBOOK has become the political engine to share our individual views with our friends. Online news sources send email prompts to open their latest byte of information. And the list goes on. How does one stay informed, and still sustain a love for all people, regardless of their political positions?
It is unfortunate that our news commentators continue to align our political freedoms with terrorists and murderers. I call this lazy reporting, where the driving force to sell advertising is held in greater value than sharing the basic facts with their listeners and readers. I can’t change the multitude of sound bytes entering my little world, but I can change what I do with that information. I can begin to listen.
I can LISTEN TO SCRIPTURE. I can LISTEN TO THE STORIES OF PEOPLE. I can LISTEN TO MY OWN HEART.
LISTEN to our Scripture lessons today. To gain a context to our scripture lessons today, we must start back in Matthew 15:1, where you find the Pharisees and scribes challenging Jesus about Jewish norms and rules. Jesus handles them with ease, quoting the prophet Isaiah, “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” Jesus doesn’t try to argue with the Pharisees over Jewish dietary laws, instead, he strikes to the core of the issue, and tells them that their hearts have strayed from God. By pointing out that the real problem stems from a wayward heart, Jesus gives us a clue on how to live with our neighbors, those we like, and those we don’t like. Jesus tells the Pharisees and scribes, along with his disciples, to listen to their hearts.
Jesus does not mince words with the Pharisees and scribes. He bluntly tells them they are blind guides leading the blind. The words of Jesus are dangerous statements, and the disciples themselves challenge Jesus by asking him, “Do you not know that the Pharisees took offense when they heard what you said?” Jesus finally explains to the disciples, “But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles.” It’s not eating the right food or living in a certain way that informs a person about a true measure of their holy life. Jesus is asking a more rooted question, “Do you know what lies in your heart?” Are you listening to your own sound bytes? Don’t be surprised if you struggle to answer this question for yourself, because Jesus, himself, wrestles with knowing his own heart in later verses of our Gospel lesson.
JESUS LISTENS to the Canaanite woman. I think most of us believe that when Jesus emerges from the waters of baptism, he has it all together, that his seeking, questing, yearning, and struggling moments are behind him. But the story of the Canaanite woman shows us that Jesus still struggles with his spiritual life. We get a glimpse of the human Jesus, where a woman’s plea for help reveals a healer who becomes bogged down in cultural restraints he has yet to break out of. We see two healers, the woman and Jesus.
In Matthew his disciples’ response to the Canaanite woman’s plea is to beg Jesus to send her away. Then Jesus announces to the woman, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Can you believe Jesus really said this? But it gets worse. The woman kneels before Jesus and pleads, “Lord, help me.” Jesus answers, “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” We find from reading this Scripture text there isn’t a way to make Jesus look like the wise, loving healer. The true healing takes place in Jesus when the woman quickly responds, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Can you imagine what must have shot through the heart and mind of Jesus? Frustration with this pesky gentile; embarrassment that he was being upstaged in front of his friends; anger that he was losing control of the moment; probably all these feelings and more … but I believe he also experienced a rush of incredulous amazement which overwhelmed his Jewishness and his maleness and his cultural restraints, causing his eyes and heart to respond to the plea of this mother. “O woman, great is your faith!” Jesus finally hears the soul of this woman, her faith and her cry for help. JESUS LISTENS to her story, and heals her daughter.
LISTEN TO YOUR HEART. If you need to choose between these three categories of listening, then please choose this one. During this last week I have found myself listening to the words of others as they tried to make sense of the tragedy in Charlottesville, Barcelona, and Finland. I thought if I listened to more people, there would be a way to make sense of what happened. But I was seeking my answer in the wrong place.
The truth is, I need to listen to my own heart to find those places that still need healing within me. I need to feel the pain of those families who were struck helpless by people who want to do harm to others. I need to call these tragedies what they really are, “hate-filled murder.” Why hedge our words in meaningless rhetoric. I imagine that Joseph, at the age of 17, spent many years searching his own soul, or he could not have broken down in tears before his brothers. Joseph suffered, but his suffering turned into love for others. The passage in Genesis says, “He kissed all his brothers and wept upon them.” After feeling betrayed, sold into slavery, sent to prison, and feeling the unending loss of family, Joseph, somehow, learned to listen to God and his heart. He broke out of a family system that supported lying, secrets, bullying, hatred, and special treatment. It doesn’t say how he broke away from those character traits embedded in his family dynamic, but somewhere along the line he learned to forgive.
When you enter a circle of suffering with God and others, and if you are not broken by it, you will be made holy by it. You will find the presence of a God who is waiting to heal and hold you close. If you are willing to listen to your own failings, and point to your own doubts and mistakes, you will encounter the holy in your suffering. If the failings of mankind have not brought you to tears, then begin to listen more carefully. Jesus will be found in the midst of your tears.
So we listen. We listen to Scripture. We listen to the stories of our friends. We listen to our own hearts. Jesus says, “Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” We must choose our words and actions carefully, knowing that ultimately it is right and good to denounce violence and hatred and idolatry. To do otherwise stops love from having power over evil. Amen.
I don't know what the future of the church is, but I know that we will continue to be a place of sanctuary and hope, working towards healing in the world.