A Clean and Welcoming Heart

Today, at Matthew 15: 10-28, we find Jesus and the Disciples in Gennesart, on the northern shores of the Sea of Galilee, where He is confronted by a delegation of Pharisees and teachers of the law.

Their concern revolves around Jesus’ apparent lax attitude to ritual cleanliness. His response? “What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ‘unclean’, but what comes out of his mouth, that makes him ‘unclean”. (15:11-12)

In that one sentence, He condemned the Pharisees’ ceremonial and ritual-laden teaching and understanding. We are dependent on God’s grace, not our rituals or traditions.

The cleanliness of our heart, our thinking, our speaking is what concerns God. We cannot reflect the love of God in our living, if there is no real love of God in our heart. As Jesus earlier said as part of the Beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. (Matthew 5:8).

And after rebuking the Pharisees and their thinking and teaching, Jesus left the area. He travelled north into Phoenicia and the region of Tyre and Sidon.

While there He is approached by a Canaanite woman, a Gentile, a foreigner who pleads that He help her sick daughter. She cries out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me”. (15:22)

Who this woman was, we have no idea; but by calling Him “Son of David”, she was addressing him as the Jewish Messiah, the anointed one.

He had done wonderful and miraculous things, and she believed that He could heal her little girl.

Yet, at first, Jesus ignored the woman. The Disciples wanted Him to send her away because she was making a nuisance of herself. But still she persisted. She continued to plead her case.

She knew that as a Gentile, she had no right to ask for Jesus’ help but all she sought was a little mercy, a little help.

She was only asking for crumbs. She believed that Jesus could help. She had faith in Him. It was a faith He saw in her persistence.

It was a faith not seen in so many of His own people. And yet, it was seen here, in the face and the persistence of this foreigner, this Gentile. “Woman, you have great faith” (15:28). Her daughter was healed.

This episode is a forerunner of the Gospel being taken out to the whole world. It shows us the beginning of the end of all barriers. God’s love is not exclusive but is offered to all people, in all places and at all times.

God is for everyone; not a select few. We are all different but share a common spiritual heritage. We are all made in the image of God. These verses remind us that the things which honour and glorify God, true worship, comes from within.

It’s the casual words we utter, the words and responses we give without thinking, they show our true thoughts and feelings; our outward response to someone reflects our inward feelings.

What is within our heart is expressed in our words. Kind, helpful words of concern or harsh, hurtful words of criticism. Malicious gossip or encouraging words of support. Words of love and hope or hate and bitterness.

The cleanliness, the purity of our heart and our thinking is shown by the words that leave our lips.

The contrast between the Canaanite women and the Pharisees is stark. For all their focus on purity, the Pharisees are defiled on the inside, while the Canaanite woman, who was seen as impure, is spiritually alive and commended for her faith.

We see there was a persistence in this woman’s approach to Jesus. She would not be put off. Inspired by love for her daughter and faith in Jesus, she continued in her plea.

Perhaps a reminder to us, that in all we do, whether it is in our service, in our prayers, whatever we do for God, we do it with faithfulness and commitment.

For this woman, her only aim was that her daughter got better. What are our aims; for ourselves; for our Church? What are the issues we face?

Whatever we do, we can only do through persistence and faith. Persistent prayer underpinned by faith, coming from a heart kept clean in true worship of God.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, as we come to You in prayer, we come knowing that You are our God, and that we are Your people. With love in Your eyes and with open arms You welcome us. You welcome all who call on Your name, who acknowledge You as Lord, and look to You in faith.

God of Love, no matter our background, no one stands outside the circle of Your mercy and love. No one is excluded or forgotten. All are invited. For that gracious love, we give you thanks.

Forgive us when we are selective with our love, when we decide who is worthy of our care and who is not. Forgive us, when we who are called to bring harmony, bring discord by our words and actions. Forgive us, when we put up walls that cause division and pain when we are called to unite and to care.

Help us listen for Your voice today. Help us open our heart and share Your love with all we meet.

Amen and may God bless and guide us this day and always.

Alan.