Revised Common Lectionary Readings: Genesis 45:1-14 AND Psalm 133:1-13, Psalm 56:1, 6-8 AND Psalm 67:1-7, Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32, Matthew 15:10-28

We were suddenly graced this past weekend with two visits in two days. The visits meant inviting our guests to sit down at our table. For the first visitors, a cousin and his wife who insisted on only a “light” lunch, I made a turkey (leftover) and brown rice soup laced with carrots and celery. We served blueberry bagels with cream cheese and a strawberry vinaigrette salad. It was plenty, with some leftover. Margie and I finished the salad later as part of our dinner.

We took our Sunday guests, a granddaughter and her boyfriend, out for a good German meal at noon. Our Sunday evening tradition is to sort of forage for our meal. This time we foraged and put together a dinner for four---small bowls of the leftover soup, sliced turkey (from the earlier leftover source) to be used with leftover cream cheese and bagels, some leftover pineapple from our dinner the night before, and another salad which had been held in reserve if needed for lunch the previous day. All that served us well and there were still leftovers.

We eat a lot of leftovers at our house!

So what does that have to do with the lectionary readings this week?

The Gospel lesson includes a strange encounter between Jesus and a Canaanite woman. She shouts to Jesus, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter has a demon.” (Matthew 15:22) Jesus seems to reject her request because she is not a Jew, implying that she is a dog---a harsh insult. (vss. 23-26) One can try to explain the seeming harshness away by suggesting that Jesus was sort of “joking” with her, or even testing her faith. One can even attempt to connect the incident with the earlier part of the reading, a teaching in which Jesus talks about words coming out of one’s mouth being more defiling than “unclean” foods one might take in---Jesus sort of saying, “See how hurtful words might be in my response to this woman whose faith is obvious.”

The Canaanite woman is strong and insistent. She challenges Jesus by noting that even dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table. (vs. 27) Jesus recognizes her faith “and her daughter was healed instantly.” (vs. 28) My attention today is turned to the fact that there were crumbs---leftovers if you wish.

Now I’m not pleased with any implication that some people deserve only leftovers, but even leftovers sustain life. Sometimes leftovers are enough. “Enough,” in fact, might have been an alternative title for today’s reflections. We’ve been through a series of stories and events, in recent lectionary readings, which lift up the abundance of God’s love and compassion. Remember the feeding of the five thousand? There were twelve baskets full of leftovers! (Matthew 14:20)

This week, and in many other instances, God’s abundant love is linked with, or demonstrated in, “mercy”. The story begins with the woman crying out for mercy. (Matthew 15:22) The reading from Romans, part of a difficult discussion of the place of Jews and Gentiles in God’s love, speaks of mercy several times concluding with God being “merciful to all.” (Romans 11:30-32) Most of the other readings demonstrate the inclusive nature of mercy according to my understanding of the word.

So, what does the word mean? In the New Testament (which is where it appears in this week’s readings), “compassion” might be a better translation. My problem with mercy is the connotation of looking down upon an inferior that we often associate with it, or its application to someone who has done something that makes them undeserving, almost as if one has to grovel to get it. Mercy here is akin to a word in the Old Testament denoting something that arises from deep within, as if from a mother’s womb---the deep affection of a mother for her child, or the tenderness of a father for his offspring, or the intense love between brothers and sisters.

There’s also an Old Testament word for mercy that is sometimes translated as “lovingkindness.” We recently looked at it here in terms of “covenant-love,” but I like the depth of “lovingkindness” better. One writer says, "God's mercy is his tenderhearted, loving compassion for his people.”

One of the marks of mercy is its inclusiveness. There’s enough for everyone to get as much as they need. We don’t have to argue over which sibling is loved most. We don’t have to go through life competing for love. There’s enough and some leftover for more people yet to come.

The Romans reading is about God’s mercy including both Jews and Gentiles. The reading from Isaiah talks about the inclusion of eunuchs and foreigners---although the actual verses designated leave out, unfortunately in my opinion, the part about eunuchs. Eunuchs were excluded from public worship because there were “maimed.” Now, through the prophet Isaiah, God says, “To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” (Isaiah 56:4-5---Notice the pun in the reference to being “cut off”---“castrated”) What a statement of inclusion! What a comfort to those whom some try to exclude because of their sexual identity! Lovingkindness at work in all its abundant fullness---more than enough to go around and then some.

The Isaiah passage begins with God calling us to “maintain justice, and do what is right.” (vs. 1) It concludes its reference to eunuchs and foreigners with the declaration that “my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples”. (vs. 7---quoted by Jesus in Matthew 21:13) The final verse of the reading extends the inclusion into the unknown future: “I will gather others to them besides those already gathered.” (vs. 8)

Earlier I hinted at the kind of sibling rivalry seen in the Joseph stories. The whole story started last week with the jealousy of his brothers because Dad loved Joseph more than he loved them. Today’s reading from Genesis records a moment of reconciliation, with much weeping. (See Genesis 45:1-2 & 15)

Living in lovingkindness means that we can live together in unity, as families, as the family of humanity. “How very pleasant it is when kindred live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) Are we not all kindred? Love is intended to unify, not divide. We don’t have to fight over it. There’s enough for everyone, with plenty leftover, even for those whom we might think of as “dogs.”

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