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August 15, 2008
Today's eMo is really two different meditations on texts that will be read in many churches this Sunday. The fist is the usual sermon preparation eMo. The second, intended for preachers who wish to focus their congregations' attention on the Church's ministry to the poor and those who suffer as a result of war or natural disaster, reflects upon the work of Episcopal Relief and Development. As with all the eMos, preachers and teachers are welcome to borrow, with the usual attribution, No further permission is necessary.
Jesus Learns the Hard Way

Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon." But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, "Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." He answered, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."
Matthew 14:22-27

This not a story for people who need to think that Jesus always had it together, so if an important part of Jesus' messiahship to you is that he never made mistakes, you'd better skip this one and go on to the second meditation. Because it does look like we've caught him in one, here in Matthew 15: Jesus is being mean to a lady on the basis of her ethnicity. At first, he ignores her cries. Then he refuses to help her because she isn't Jewish. Then he compares her Canaanite people to "dogs" -- and, while we may dote on our beloved doggie friends, the ancient Israelites did not: dogs in scripture are viewed in a uniformly negative light.

Maybe he was just teasing? Well, maybe. But even if he was, I don't think we could say that this was Jesus' finest hour.

But look what happens: he reacts stereotypically to the lady, and she argues with him. She challenges his prejudice. And he listens to her challenge and grows in response to it. He ends up granting her request for her daughter's healing. What we may have here is an important moment of self-discovery in Jesus' life, an enlargement of what it will mean to be who he was. Maybe we are seeing Jesus understand his universality for the first time.

I'll take that. I'll follow a savior who grew the way I have grown, in the main: by making mistakes and correcting them. I'll follow him more willingly than I would follow a superman who knew everything.

Pentecost 14, Proper 15, Year A
Genesis 45:1-15 or Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Psalm 133 or Psalm 67
Romans 11:1-2a,29-32

And here is one about Episcopal Relief and Development:

Clean Conscience, Clean Water

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.
Matthew 15:10

This is another one of Jesus' little jokes -- he often taught by turning conventional wisdom on its head. The people who listened to him certainly knew their own dietary laws -- there were things they couldn't allow to pass their lips, or they would become ritually unclean. Jesus knew all that, too: he observed those laws himself. But he made a joke about this thing that everybody knew and obeyed: It's not what you eat with your mouth but what you say,/i> with it, that compromises you.

They all got it immediately, of course. People probably laughed, because the stuffed shirts in the crowd sniffed their disapproval. But even they must have gotten it: it's not being correct that commends us to God and one another. It's being kind.

That said, here is a good example of an instance in which we're not supposed to take what Jesus says literally. He's not saying that it doesn't matter at all what we put in our mouths. Human beings can injure ourselves profoundly by eating or drinking something unclean. We can die from it.

In most parts of every developing nation, obtaining and maintaining a dependable supply of clean drinking water is a constant challenge. Maria and her husband Juan are a good example: their school-age daughter used to have to carry all the water for the family of seven from a stream ten minutes away. Cattle stood in the stream as she drew from it; they used it as a place to drink and cool themselves. It was not clean. The younger children were constantly ill with diarrhea, and the older girl was falling behind in school as a result of her early morning and early evening treks to and from the polluted stream. "We always worried about her walking alone in the dark of the early mornings and evenings. There are poisonous snakes around here,” said Maria.

The village of Bijagua, Nicaragua, where the family lives, sought help from El Porvenir, a Nicaraguan organization dedicated to helping poor communtiies like theirs in many ways, including developing safe sourcing of water. El Porvenir is a partner of Episcopal Relief & Development in the delivery of these structures, as well as in the education of poor communities in keeping the water supply clean and safe.

Jesus was right: spiritually, what you say matters more than what you eat. But the health reality is this: the food and water we eat must be clean, or our bodies will sicken and even die -- diarrhea is a major killer of children under five throughout the developing world. They deserve the chance to get old enough to learn the spiritual distinctions of which Jesus teaches in today's gospel.

To learn more about Episcopal Relief & Development, or to make a donation, visit or telephone 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
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