Sunday 20 August 2017
Reading: Matthew 15:10-28
Reflection: Today’s reading is in two parts, and both parts are surprising and even a little shocking. In the first section, Jesus tried to get his disciples to understand that the most important thing about following his way is the attitude of the heart. Although the Jewish people followed extensive food laws in order to remain undefiled, Jesus instructed his followers to go beyond what they put into their mouths and to focus instead on what comes out – words of kindness or judgement, attitudes of mercy or cruelty, actions of blessing or harm. It is the heart and what it creates through our lives that makes us clean or defiled, and not what we eat. Of course, his disciples were worried about the way these words insulted the religious leaders who upheld the food laws, but Jesus, called these leaders blind guides of the blind and plants not planted by God.
Characteristically, Jesus’ harshest words were reserved for religious people who judged others. In the second part of today’s reading Jesus encountered a Gentile woman who pleaded for him to heal her demonized daughter. Again, his response seems rather harsh and unkind. First he ignored her, then he effectively called her a dog, and finally, when even this did not deter her, he agreed to the healing. Is this a moment of growth for Jesus, in which he learned that his mission was wider than he had believed? Or was he playing a game in order to make a point for his disciples? We can’t be sure either way. But, we can be sure that this woman, in spite of Jesus’ response to her, was completely convinced that mercy would come to her, and she was willing to stop at nothing less.
If only we could learn to purify our hearts by embracing such a commitment to receiving and giving mercy.
Practice for Today: It seems that we are incapable of truly understanding mercy until our need is so great we won’t survive without it. But, once we have truly tasted mercy, we cannot help but share it with others. That’s why confession is such a powerful discipline. It does not just open us to receive God’s mercy and forgiveness, it teaches us that we have no right to withhold mercy from anyone else, and so we become more merciful people. Today, confess whatever is broken in your heart and receive God’s mercy. Then share this mercy with others.
Prayer for Today: As I receive your mercy, O God, I am filled with gratitude and I long to share it with others.