God Doesn't Have Favourites (Mathew 15. 10-28)

Preached at Evensong, St Peter Mancroft Church 
It has been a disturbing couple of weeks. With mudslides devastating Sierra Leone and the enormous fascist demonstrations in Charlottesville. It can sometimes feel like things are out of control. There are no easy answers and I’m not going to patronise you by trying to neatly package it up, but what I will say is that God does not have favourites.
One of the many things that disgusts me about fascism is the notion of white supremacy. It’s an ideology that those of us who are white are the master race, that we have the right to enslave other people wo are not like us, because we are better than them. As Christians it is our role in society to condemn these ideologies in the strongest possible terms, we shouldn’t just be anti-fascist but anti-hate and anti-discrimination. These ideologies are not compatible with the gospel or with being a Christian. Being a racist is a sin because it violates one of the two primary commandments, love your neighbour as yourself. It’s sinful because it dehumanises other people and fails to see the image of God in the other person.
But then this. This passage tonight suddenly made me stop in my tracks. Jesus talks here about election, that he is sent only to Israel and refers to someone of a different ethnicity from him, a Canaanite, as a dog. Referring to someone as a Canaanite at that time was like us referring to a Scandinavian person as a Viking. Canaanites represented everything that the Jews were not, Pagans, Idol Worshippers. She was likely to have been Syrophoenician.  Is it true that we mean less to God if we’re not Jewish? Does God have favourites? Does Jesus make out that Israel is superior to other people?  

 No. What this passage is about, is not election but God’s mercy which overflows to all people.

Matthew is quite a Jewish gospel, and it’s very likely that those from a Jewish background would have read and written it. One of the themes that runs through Matthew very strongly is that the mercy we show, will indicate the kind of mercy that we will receive. Those who are merciful will receive mercy. God doesn’t have favourites, but the mercy we show will have consequences.
It is because of the greatness of God’s mercy that the Jewish religion existed, looking at the Old Testament, it’s made abundantly clear that Israel is no better or worse than any other nation. They do bad things, they do good. They are God’s chosen people, not because they’re superior to anyone else, but because God is in covenant with them, he makes a special promise to them. Moreover, through their way of life and actions they were supposed to be a light to the nations, a guiding star for all people to come into relationship with God. At this time the religious authorities had got so bound up in the rules, that they had forgotten the spirit of mercy, and the mercy that God had shown to them.
Twice in previous clashes with the Pharisees over questions of obedience to the law, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6 “I desire mercy not sacrifice.” Mercy is the cornerstone of Jesus’ critique of their religion and life choices.
The Syrophoenician woman is pleading for mercy, but this time, like a juxtaposition, it’s Jesus who is standing in the way of that mercy. Not the Pharisees, but Jesus himself who initially says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” This woman however is persistent, she understands that the basis of God’s election is mercy, she knows of Jesus calling him ‘son of David.’

Women at that time in Jewish and Syrophoenician society were expected to be quiet, demure and not make a fuss, so it must have taken huge amounts of courage to shout like she did. Audiences would have been shocked to hear of her behaviour when they read this in the 1st Century.  Perhaps Jesus didn’t initially respond, not because he did not care or was ignoring her, but that he was so shocked by her behaviour. A Canaanite woman, with a sick daughter was incredibly marginalised, even more so when her behaviour breaches the social norms of the time, as it does when she shouts at Jesus.
Then there is the dramatic shift, in which she pleads with Jesus, throwing herself at his mercy, this would’ve changed the audiences view of her from affront to sympathy.
This narrative is yet another example that is found throughout the Gospels, of Jesus doing the unexpected, he seems to change his mind. Perhaps the woman does change his mind through her argument, or perhaps this was Jesus’ intention all along, to use this woman as an opportunity to demonstrate what God’s mercy is like, the means are not what is most important.
The most important thing that this shows is the wideness of God’s mercy, even though this woman was a gentile, she broke the social norms, she disregarded the rules, God still has mercy on her, because He loves her. God doesn’t have favourites. Her unshakable belief in God’s mercy towards her is what Jesus calls ‘faith’.

 We mustn’t forget the greatness of God’s mercy that he shows, that the labels that we choose to put on people are not necessarily the way that God sees us or them, men, women, black, white, it doesn’t matter. We are all elected and called to relationship with God, and we are all made in His image.
This passage indicates just how wrong those fascists who gathered in Charlottesville are, Christians should not believe that we are any better than anyone else, nor that anyone is more or less chosen to have faith in God. God doesn’t have favourites, but seeks to form a relationship with all people, of all races. The lamb of God, who died to reconcile the whole world to God, calls us into peace, to proclaim that message of his mercy, and to utterly condemn ideologies who have no perception of mercy, because it is what comes from within a person that defiles, it is hate towards others that poisons and destroys society.  Let us seek to love those who hate others, so that they will come to know that God doesn’t have favourites, and neither should we.


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