Welcome to our worship together this morning.
BIBLE REFERENCE: Genesis 45: 1-15; Matt. 15: 21-28
Today’s Bible passages are about power, mercy and the restoration of human relationships. Take Joseph for example his story comes to its climax.
It included greed, jealousy, sibling rivalry, sex, political intrigue. It has all the ingredients of a soap opera.
Joseph has now become the virtual ruler of Egypt.
His brothers who have been so cruel to him are now in desperate need.
Hearing that the government of Egypt had managed a famine crisis so much better and had food in reserve they had gone there in desperation.
I can’t explain why they don’t recognise him perhaps just because they don’t expect it to be him but he certainly recognises them.
The tables are turned.
The one who was at the mercy of his brothers and was so cruelly treated by them is now in power over them; he can choose whether or not to help them.
With one wave his hand he could now take revenge for the terrible wrongs that have been done to him so long ago.
Joseph though is portrayed as someone who was close to God. His actions reflect the ways of God. He cannot exercise his power with cruelty he is compelled to act with the kind of mercy that comes from the very heart of God.
He keeps on telling them how God has been at work in his life. “God sent me before you to preserve life,” he says. “God sent me before you to preserve you a remnant on earth.” “God has made me Lord of all Egypt.”
Their families including their children and their grandchildren will all be secure even their flocks and their herds. And most importantly of all Joseph is concerned about his beloved father.
It’s not always easy to see God at work in some of the most difficult and challenging circumstances of life. And because of that we too often conclude that God is absent from those situations of human suffering and defeat.
Joseph’s story tells us something very different God, the One who rules over the universe never ceases to care
Joseph reflects the nature of God.
He had every reason to reject his family but like God he loves them even to the point of sharing in their suffering.
The Canaanite Woman
From Matthew’s gospel we get an even more perplexing story.
It’s almost impossible for us to understand or even defend the fact that Jesus calls a vulnerable woman a dog. From the point of view of the gospel writer the whole encounter emphasises his understanding that the gospel is first for the Jews before it is passed to the gentiles.
There are plenty of hints that the good news is universal, but that is to be unleashed after the resurrection.
In line with that perception Matthew recounts Jesus telling her that he has not come for her kind of people; he must go to the House of Israel first.
She will have nothing of that. She is persistent and she won’t be constrained by narrow views of God’s mercy.
She is clear eyed in her understanding of her situation. Jesus is the son of David.
He is the one in the position of power. He can choose whether or not to help her.
At first it sounds like he is not going to.
But the woman knows something important. God’s mercy cannot be fenced in or contained. It cannot be limited to a privileged few.
Because of what she says, Jesus changes his mind. He recognises great faith in her and her daughter is healed.
There are so many complex strands to this story.
Jesus is challenged by an outsider. She is on the margins for several reasons partly cause she is a woman and partly because she is not a Jew.
Jesus has to learn from her something that will shape his ministry and it will be of lasting importance to the whole Christian Church. In a very real sense, she ministered to Jesus and in doing so set him free to minister to her and her family.
All of our churches want. to be welcoming and inclusive
This woman’s encounter with Jesus helps us understand what that might truly mean. Jesus was willing to have his assumptions challenged and the way he went about his ministry changed because of the insights of someone who was from the outside. That’s what it means to exercise real hospitality and welcome.
Power, mercy and the restoring of human relationships. The overriding theme in both of our stories is one of mercy.
The mercy of God that we have all experienced in so many ways means that wherever we have any kind of influence we’ve got to exercise it with mercy. That’s the key to building healthy human relationships.
Rev John Hellyer 16th August 2016