A God’s Eye View (Isaiah 56: 1-7; Matthew 15: 21-28)
Greetings from the prodigious mountain tops of New Hampshire. Greetings also from the purported “home state” of West Wings’ President, Josiah Bartlett – even though there is reason to suspect President Bartlett has never actually been to New Hampshire yet. Have you noticed how he refers to our state capitol? He pronounces it, “CON CORD,” like the transatlantic aircraft. Folks who have been to New Hampshire, or even visit in New England, know that our state capitol, and the city where I live is really “Concord” (read conk_urd fast). There really is only one way to say it.
God’s people thought there was only One right answer. They had it memorized and knew it by heart. They knew who belonged and who did not. There was one way of being faithful, one way of being clean, one way of worshipping.
One right answer over and over became a pattern of behavior. Patterns of behavior became traditions, and traditions could not be broken.
A surprise comes tucked in the scriptures for today when we hear that God’s intention is not to have just one right answer, but to have many right answers. Isaiah is speaking to people who know the answer. They know that those who were born into the faith belong to the household of God — the first right answer. Isaiah then announces that God’s intention is to include those who were not born into the faith but who came to it later — a second right answer. He then stretches his listeners beyond their edges by adding that God plans to include people who can’t even make a contribution to the future heirs of the faith- a third right answer. Now we have three right answers. But Isaiah obediently plows forward, telling us that God’s house will be a house of prayer for all people — multiple right answers. In case there is any doubt, Mark makes this idea abundantly clear in the 11th chapter where we hear Jesus declare that God’s house is called a house of prayer for all the nations.
Dewitt Jones, a photographer with the National Geographic Magazine, has developed a wonderful video called, “Everyday Creativity.” In it he talks about how often life does not have just one right answer, but holds many right answers if we are patient and open enough to look for them. I call that gift God’s Holy Spirit alive and moving through us. Jones names it creativity and says “it is the ability to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary. It’s an attitude, liberating and exciting… it needs an open mind and a willingness to venture beyond what is expected.” ”Thinking creatively”, Dewitt says,” is like falling in love with the world.”1.
A certain readiness is required for this kind of experience. According to an old Zen story, a student went on a pilgrimage to visit the Master. In his exuberance to meet the Master and share his experiences, he began at once to speak of his newfound insights. Meanwhile, the master poured tea for his guest. The student continued talking and the Master continued pouring. When the tea overflowed the cup and flowed onto the table, the student became uneasy, and finally, no longer able to contain his anxiety, he exclaimed, “Master, do you not see the cup is already full?” The Master responded, “Yes. You see that when the cup is full, it can hold no more. So it is with us. While we are full of our own knowledge and eager to share it, we have difficulty learning anything new. Approach your life as an empty cup, with plenty of spaciousness to receive. Only then will true wisdom make itself known to you.”
In Matthew’s story we meet Jesus in the midst of a new situation. He leaves his familiar Jewish territory, and for the first time ventures out of the country into Canaanite land, enemy territory. Immediately there is a problem. A Canaanite woman begs Jesus to help her suffering daughter. The people in the story know the right answer. They are full. They know that those who have been born into the faith are part of the household of God. They also know that the Canaanites, their enemies, are not of the faith, not clean and must be avoided at all cost. The answer is simple. The answer is NO. The story takes an interesting turn when the outsider, enemy woman does not take no for an answer. She insists that there is another right answer: her daughter is indeed worthy of Jesus’ compassion. Jesus stands in a new place, enemy territory, and struggles, pondering, “Is there only one right answer?” Then he sees another right answer. He sees in this outsider woman an extraordinary faith and something new happens. The suffering daughter is immediately healed. The impossible becomes possible.
Kelly is someone I met this summer. The cute, short-haired, sixteen-year-old greeted our assorted mission team ranging in age from 14 to 70. Cuddling a puppy in her arms, she showed us around the property. There was her home, a shed, an animal pen, and a scattering of dead cars, trucks, and appliances. Armed with tools, we were ready to spend a week building an addition to their cramped mobile home. When we broke for lunch, Kelly joined us. The day was hot, so we found a shady spot to sit and eat sandwiches. That’s where Kelley’s story tumbled out.
“When I started high school and the teachers learned my last name and asked where I live, that was it. They made up their minds. You just can’t have a last name like mine and get a fair chance.” The teachers knew the right answer. The answer was simple. In their minds Kelley was “white trash.” The answer was NO. They were misled by the tongue-in-cheek philosophy on the Salada tea bag: “Prejudice is a time saver. Obtaining the facts is not necessary.” This spring Kelly was suspended from school for fighting with someone who ridiculed her. She never went back. For Kelly there was no “Canaanite woman” who would not take “no” for an answer. My heart aches for all the Kelleys of our world.
Changing perspective offers the potential of seeing way beyond ourselves. The White Mountains of New Hampshire are great for that. Recently I was sitting by a waterfall admiring the majesty of surrounding mountains when a new awareness suddenly washed over me. Tremendous upheaval and tumultuous change always precedes the birth of mountains. Change comes with a price. The old topography is not recognizable. What once was known is completely transformed.
From this place, God’s house of prayer for all the people, may the Word invite us into a God’s eye view of the world, that we may fall in love and be ever transformed.
1Jones, Dewitt. “Everyday Creativity.” Star Thrower Distribution Company, St. Paul, MN, 1998. </P