Before coming here to Kew, over 3 years ago now, we lived in a small village with a church that was part of a Benefice with 6 other rural churches. I have, I am sure, mentioned this before. Although we were one Benefice there was very strong local feeling in each of the 7 villages towards their own churches. So I suppose that I should not have been surprised when I became part of Father Peter’s team, to find that there was not always great cohesion between the Barn Church and St. Luke’s, divided as they are by a railway line. I believe Peter told me when I once asked that it was ‘historical’.
It is both interesting and perhaps reassuring, that in today’s Gospel reading from Matthew, that even Jesus at the outset of his ministry was selective with whom he wished to deal.
For when the Canaanite woman called on Our Lord for help to cure her daughter who was ‘tormented by a demon’, Jesus did not even answer her.
When she persisted he said to her, “ I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, I am here to save the Jews, my own people, and as you are not Jewish then you do not qualify. Gasp, shock, faint in disbelief, this cannot be our Lord Jesus Christ speaking? … Matthew must have got it wrong. Well actually if he did get it wrong, then so did Mark who tells much the same story in his Gospel, Mark 7 verses 24 to 30.
The truth is, that in fact it even took Jesus a little time, and encounters, like the one we have just heard with the Canaanite woman, to come to understand that his Father’s purpose for Jesus’ time here on earth was to be the saviour of all peoples, to be as his Father, a loving and inclusive God of all who called upon His name.
It is a lesson that is so very important for all of us here today and for the world we live in at this present time. Not always being able to see ‘eye to eye’ with our fellow church, or churches, is something of importance to guard against during a vacancy. However, this actually falls in to insignificance when we are unable to see ‘eye to eye’ with our neighbour, be they Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Seiki, Buddhist or even Roman Catholic, or any other creed or race.
But then it has been a well-known fact for years that God is white, British and after the Queen the head of the Christian Church, or was that before Her Majesty? I only jest in part, for it is a failing of us all that we too often envisage our God to fit our own specifications, and even Jesus had to understand that God is not like that. Jesus very quickly turned from a mission of saving just “the lost sheep of the house of Israel“, to saving all who turned to him and followed his path.
The Apostle Paul was for most of his life and in all of his letters, as with today’s letter to the young church in Rome, at great pains to hammer home the point that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God was available to all peoples without distinction, even those who once rejected Him.
“For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all.”
God does not call people in order to dismiss them later, and he does not give gifts and then ask for them back. If people do not at once respond then He always lives in the belief that if they see the joy and love in others who have accepted His gifts then they to will want to share in that joy and love as well.
We as Christians too often try and tie God into our own small parameters, fit Him into our life styles and even our own faith. God is so, so much bigger, so, so much more inclusive and expansive. Yes, our faith is important, our church, be it the Barn or St. Luke’s, is important, but only as a very small part of a much, much larger and encompassing belief and faith that has room for all peoples and for all of God’s great and mighty creation.
So perhaps in the weeks and months ahead we all need to remember that we are working for an inclusive Maker, who never rejects but always accepts, even if at times that requires great patience and love, and dare I even say compromise.
M J Tonkin