Jesus the Snarky?

jesus_laughing21I’m preaching for a bunch of preachers in two weeks, at an event called the Festival of Homiletics, or as many of us affectionately call  it: Homies.

In preparation, I’ve been thinking a lot about the text below from Matthew. I’d love to know what you hear in it, especially as it speaks to our current context. Jesus’ words about “what comes out of the mouth” speak to me about cheap talk, the proliferation of words in a world of cable news and Twitter, and yes, the rise of snarkiness.

And then what’s going on with Jesus’ reaction to the Canaanite woman in the second section? It’s not every day you hear a word from the Lord that makes you want to say “Ooh, burn!” (Yes I’m a child of the 80s.)

What is up with Jesus’ reaction? How do you hear this story?

I’m especially interested in thoughts from you non-churchy types.

Matthew 15

10 Then he called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: 11it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ 12Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ 13He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. 14Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind.* And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ 15But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ 16Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding?17Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? 18But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. 19For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. 20These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon.22Just 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.’ 23But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ 24He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ 25But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ 26He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 27She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ 28Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.

14 thoughts on “Jesus the Snarky?

  1. Jo Ann Staebler

    The Canaanite woman was a church educator! Even Jesus had things to learn about taking scripture literally.

  2. Gayle Schlenker

    Just as God spoke the world into being, it is what comes out of our mouths that start putting something into the world…so better make it good! James’ words on the tongue come to mind…it is small, but like the small rudder of a giant ship, it is powerful.

  3. Gary Swaim

    “”Let them alone. . . .” There was a day when I felt pressed to respond (heartily) to every perspective that seemed foolish to me.” Now, I look at what I understand as foolishness in two ways: (1) Because I have tired of persons running at each other with knives over differing points of view, I quickly turn not only the other cheek, but turn my feet to a walk-away position, or (2) I turn inward to ask myself whether my own position might be foolish. I have changed my mind on many things, after all. Which one was/is “right?” Perhaps neither. I was told, “Always have the courage of your convictions.” I have added to that highly-regarded statement: “Be certain to take your convictions in every 10,000 miles for a checkup.”

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      I always liked the bit of biblical criticism that says a story is more likely to have really happened if it portrays Jesus in a negative or puzzling light, and yet the redactors left it in.

      By that standard, this stuff went DOWN.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      Thanks Marci!

      I’ve preached on Mark’s version of this text before. That version is paired with one of the stories in which Jesus tells them to keep quiet about who he is and they don’t. I talked about it as an example of the gospel getting away from even Jesus: [throwing up hands] “I have *completely* lost control here.”

      It was a fun sermon but that won’t work here…

  4. Laura

    Is it just me or does it seem odd that these two little scenes are paired? I mean, he’s traveled since saying all that about words reflecting the motives of the heart. By running straight from that lesson into this scene with the woman, you have to look at Jesus’ words as closely as the woman’s and try to identify what the heck is going on there. I mean, even without vv 10-20 leading in, we’d wonder what got into Jesus (or if he just needed the equivalent of his morning cuppa). But with this prelude,… please post what you do with it!

  5. Judith Fulp-Eickstaedt

    I always think of this text as an occasion when Jesus caught himself acting badly. He spoke out of instinct, from what he had grown up hearing about non-Jews, foreigners,.. I think this happened early in his ministry and was the sort of thing that made him question the religious ideas that had been handed down to him. Later in his ministry his circle of inclusion gets wider and wider and he cares less what people think about whether he is “orthodox.” This is a familiar movement in the life of faith but people don’t like to think of Jesus as a person who changed and grew through his experiences, they like to think he popped out of the womb with the mind of God. I see him as someone who understood the heart of God more and more as he moved through ministry and toward the cross.

    1. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

      This is great, Judith—
      I think we’re still trying to work out what “fully human, fully divine” means, eh?

      And tying in with the first part of the text–he did the right thing in the end, and came to a deeper understanding of his mission. But those words he uttered about her cannot be taken back. They are out there forever… and it’s interesting to think about this story in light of how quickly info flows today. Sometimes it’s the first part of the story that goes viral, especially if it’s sensational… and we never hear how it all turns out.

  6. MaryAnn McKibben Dana Post author

    Now here is something interesting.

    The Greek word for crumb appears only two other times in the NT. Once is in Mark’s version of this story, The other is Luke 16: Lazarus the poor man who satisfied his hunger by eating what was dropped from the rich man’s table. (He later dies and is taken to heaven, unlike the rich man, who goes to the other place.)

    Both these down-and-out folks must content themselves with the crumbs of society. But whereas Luke’s default position is that this person is beloved of God, an Matthew, Jesus must evolve to that position.

    There’s also a connection in that dogs appear in Luke’s story too–to lick the wounds of Lazarus. Gross…

  7. Susan Allison-Hatch

    What strikes me about the Canaanite woman is that by her refusal to go along with Jesus’ limits, she moves him to extend the boundaries of his ministry. She shifts his understanding of himself much like Mary does at the Wedding in Cana. Interesting how outsiders/outlyers change jesus his notion of himself (I’m thinking here of the woman at the well too). For me the text leads me to wonder how outsiders/outlyers change my notions of who Christ is and who I am in Christ.

    This Saturday I’m doing a blessing (the current Episcopal “solution” to same-gender marriage. I had wanted to start the homily with the words “Happy Valentine’s Day.” I called the couple to ask how they celebrated Valentine’s day. They don’t. It has always been a hard day for them. An example of outsiders/outlyers changing my understanding.


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