20th Sunday of Ordinary Time

by Rev. Corein Turbak

For the last few weeks we’ve been traversing the middle of the Gospel of Matthew. We are thick in the middle of Jesus’ healing ministry. Crowds are gathering and stories about his miracles are spreading like wildfire.

As more people seek him out, we see an amazing bravery among them. Once when Jesus was inside a house, a group of friends somehow hoisted their paralyzed friend on to the roof, tore open the roof and lowered him down to be healed by Jesus. Another woman swiftly got behind Jesus and grabbed his robes, believing that if she only touched his robes she would be healed. She was right. Blind people called out his name and they regained their sight. A tax collector, riddled with guilt, climbed up a tree to just get a glimpse of Jesus. Jesus saw him, healed his heart and the man left to devote his life to others.

The crowds got so big, and they were filled with both so much hurt and hope, that they would not leave Jesus even when they were hungry and tired. And so Jesus stopped once again, broke bread, and fed thousands with just a few loaves.

Can you imagine what this must have been like, all this hurt, this hope, and this healing?

For a moment, I want to put ourselves, not with these crowds, but with Jesus’ disciples. There’s something odd about the disciples during Jesus healing ministry; they always want him to send the people away. You’d think, as Jesus’ followers, they would want to learn about his healing, but they don’t.

Jesus, please send these crowds away.

Jesus, send this woman away for she is crying out to us.

Don’t they understand that this is Jesus’ mission and ultimately, it is their mission as well – to heal the sick, to welcome the stranger, to lift up the oppressed?

Why did the disciples do this?

First, they did this because of their own hurt and need. I’m sure each of us has experienced the feeling of being deeply connected to someone, and we become protective of that relationship. We don’t want to share that person because we worry it might lessen their love and attention toward us.

The disciples also had a lack of awareness as they tried to discern Jesus’ identity. Was he a prophet, a teacher, a revolutionary or could he really be the Messiah? If he is the Messiah, then the disciples may see their role as just waiting for him to become king. He is going to make everything right, so they just needed to do their best, to stay close and wait.

But more than anything, I think the disciples lacked an awareness of the importance of their own faith, power, and authority in the world. They were really good followers but didn’t realize that following was going require them to act. They didn’t know that faith was going to ask more of them than just saying, “I believe.” They didn’t know that Jesus’ power was going to become their power.

And so when they saw a crazy woman yelling, a blind man shouting, or a hungry crowd, they responded in the most sensible way, “Send them away, Jesus. Tell them to go home. They are getting in the way.”

We are often like the disciples. We have our hurts, agendas, and needs. And so we say to Jesus, “Please send these people away.” Like me, maybe you want to stop paying attention to the news, turn on your favorite Netflix show and binge for hours. Maybe you wish there weren’t any “Black Lives Matter” signs, “All Lives Matters” sign, or “Blue Lives Matter” signs. Maybe you wish we could just move on. Isn’t there something better we could be doing with our time? Jesus, please make this stop. “Jesus, tell her to go away. She won’t stop shouting at us.”

Like the disciples, we must remember that it is not about me and Jesus, or me and my church, it is about us, Jesus and this world. Jesus did not come that we might have a better prayer life, or feel more inspired over our morning coffee. He came so that this world might have life abundantly, so that the sick might be healed, the stranger welcomed, and the oppressed lifted up. And he came to show us how to do it, to send his disciples out to “do even greater works” than him.

But how do we do this? When a young woman is killed by a white supremacist in Virginia? When a bomb is thrown into a mosque in our own backyard? When our President says there is blame on many sides? What do we do?

We do what this woman did in our Gospel today. We do what the blind man did. We do what the tax collector did. We do what the group of friends did.

We shout. We beg. We climb up trees. We open up roofs. We take risks. We get creative.

And we do this because we know who we are, people of faith, people of power, people of authority.

The woman in our Gospel today didn’t give up, not even when she was called a dog. Jesus hurled the common slur of the day at her. It was not to send her away, but to show the disciples, for the millionth time, who he was and who they were called to be. Jesus opened wide the doors of Israel, showing that all belonged under God’s care and love. And through people like this woman, he showed the disciples what real faith, what real devotion, what real belief looks like – it is persistent, it is creative, it is risky, and it drastically changes reality. The injured are healed, the blind have sight, and the hungry are fed.

Today, we are called – not to be like the disciples – but to be like this woman, cut so low, but still so strong. She knew who she was and she knew who her God was. She was unstoppable. Her faith saved her.

In just a few minutes we will gather our bodies and voices around this altar and we will make this proclamation,

By our faith, our prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit,

These gifts of bread and wine have become the Lamb of God…

What happens here tonight, simple bread and wine becoming the body and blood of Jesus, the presence of God moving in this space, bringing about a miraculous transformation – it happens because we show up, it happens because of our faith and our prayer. It happens because we speak out to God. Our faith and the action that springs forth from that faith is absolutely necessary for this miracle to happen, and for the miraculous in this world to unfold.

Each and every one of us this week is being called to act from our faith. We must not be like the disciples, wishing that things were otherwise. Instead we must be like this woman and the hordes of others who let their faith guide them and not their fear. We must shout. We must beg. We must climb up trees. We must open up roofs. We must take risks. We must get creative. It is only then, through our faith, our prayer, and the power of the Holy Spirit, that there will be healing in us and in this world.

– Rev. Corein Turbak

Photo Credit: Alex Johnson, “Bread”.  Some rights reserved. Available at www.flickr.com.