n our text we see Jesus teaching his followers, and us, a critical new lesson that is basic to this Church that he was establishing. If we are to function according to his principles we must keep true to his image of who we should become and how we should live.
This snippet from the life of Christ ties together two incidents in his ministry. The first, verses 10-20, records a sermon, or lecture, about the source of evil in human lives. The second part, verses 21-28, preserves an encounter between Jesusí traveling group of disciples and a Canaanite woman who was doubly discriminated against. She was not only a gentile, but was a hated Canaanite, and a woman. Godís Chosen People of the Old Testament were taught to keep their distance from those people, to never touch them, and to never enter into business or conversations with them.
We will look at Jesusí New Testament/New Covenant way of dealing with outcasts in a moment, but first letís look at his chastisement of his disciples.
Remember that he was dealing with a historic community that had for centuries lived according to a long list of commandments and laws from God. Jesusí mission was to bring the fulfillment of the laws by introducing: grace, faith, love and mercy. This new revelation was to be, not so much about outwardly keeping health and community laws that kept others out, but about living in peaceful relationships with all people. Understandably, this was a difficult new way of thinking for the people of the Old Testament to grasp. Jesus had to utilize dramatic, attention-getting words, to shock his followers into opening up their hearts to his new precepts.
In verse 14 he refers to the ultra orthodox Pharisees as, ...blind guides of the blind. His seemingly disrespect for the ancient leaders of the Household of Israel has long troubled Christian people. Most politicians would have tried to win the established leadersí support; but instead, Jesus called them blind guides.
Jesus goes on to explain that it is not so important that we avoid certain kinds of food with our mouths; but it is the words that come out of our mouths that matter most. What we say and act out is an expression of what is really in our hearts. Out of our inward psyche can come evil intentions, thoughts, and premeditated actions such as: murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile. (v.19 & 20, NRSV)
In Jesusí explanation of the source of evil, we moderns might get a clue as to how a smiling, normal looking, churchgoing father could bludgeon his wife with a hammer, kill his two precious children, murder nine business associates, seriously wound many others, and then use the same gun to murder himself.
Scott Peck calls these intentionally evil individuals, The People of the Lie, in his book by that same title. Karl Menninger, the founder of the Menninger Psychiatric Clinic, wrote a lay-oriented book some twenty-five years ago, addressed to preachers and religious leaders, entitled, Whatever Became of Sin?. Both books have as their foundation the words of Jesus spoken in our text: Evil issues from the heart and if anything is going to curb evil, there needs to be a change of heart.
Thus, we have a record of Jesusí preaching with his actual encounter with a Canaanite woman who needed a change of heart; not so much a change of: lifestyle, diet, hand washing, and customs. Her meeting with Jesus was used as a powerful expression of the New Covenantís central focus on faith and the merciful grace of Jesus. Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon. (v.22). Although she was a Canaanite, or as Markís gospel explains, ...a Greek, a Syrophonecian by race. (7: 26), she called Jesus Lord, and had possibly been following along with the crowds listening to his sermons and learning more about the mercy that the Apostles had yet to comprehend. However, the main reason that she is isolated by two gospel writers is that she represented an extreme case of an outsider being brought into the new Church, by her proclamation of a simple act of faith through which she experienced Jesusí mercy.
The point is that today each of us have this new way of coming to grace. Not by family heritage, not by our own righteousness and goodness, but by faith and pleading for mercy. No matter how good and kind we appear to be outwardly, we all must receive our change of heart through a similar coming unto Jesus.
I can think of no more appropriate example of mercy and grace than that of the life of the famous Georgia Methodist preacher Sam P. Jones. He had been an attorney in Cartersville, who in todayís Atlanta could have feigned an acceptable lifestyle; but, in a small town nearly a century ago, everybody knew of his drunkenness and sinful life. However, in his early 30ís he received a change of heart, he pleaded for mercy, and by faith, received grace and immediately entered into a life of preaching that took him around the world. One day he was back in Cartersville walking down a city street with a Christian friend and toward them came a drunkard, weaving as he staggered along. Rev. Jonesí old friend said something sarcastic about that sorry old town drunk, and Sam Jones uttered his much quoted expression, But for the Grace of God, there go I!
This story can become a great source of comfort when we next need a hand up. And we all will need His help along the way. Our security is often compromised, the old doubts resurface and we wonder why things turned out wrong and if God will rescue us once again. And then we hang in there and pray, and we hear His voice, we catch a glimpse of the Christ in the crisis, and we know that beyond all odds, we will survive, again.
In my most treasured Bible, presented to me by a family of four generations who all joined my church on the same Sunday in 1973, I have pasted two pictures in the inside front cover: One is of me standing beside the tomb of my hero Sam Jones, and the other from my familyís trip to Calvary, the hill upon which Christ died in order to give the Canaanite woman, Sam Jones, Bob Allred, and everybody everywhere, who will cry for mercy, a new heart.
a sermon synopsis
by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor