Out of the Mouth (Matthew 15:10-28)

Lesson preached at All Saints Church of Christ, Nashville, TN, on August 20, 2017 by Taylor Bonner.

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A few years ago I was reliving my high school football glory days on the intramural flag football fields at Lubbock Christian University. This was one of my favorite events to participate in with my social club! There were crowds of fans, about ten people, who would huddle together in the blistering Lubbock wind to come watch the social clubs play. We had just finished a game one night and I was talking with one of my good friends. I do not remember what we were talking about, but I do remember that during the course of this conversation I made a vulgar joke. I do not remember what the joke was about, but what I do remember, quite plainly, was my friend calling me out. I remember my friend asking “Why did you say that?” I did not know why I said it, but I was more taken aback by the fact that I had been called out for saying something that was hurtful and wrong. I apologized to him, told him that he was entirely correct, and walked away feeling convicted. To this day I still remember him calling me out, afterwards telling me that he thinks a lot of me and has the utmost respect for me, and that it was this respect and love that caused him to confront me in the first place.

Did my friend love me in this moment? I believe my friend knew the importance of critically analyzing what comes out of our mouths, and how what comes out of our mouths reflect the nature of our hearts. To put a different way, our voices which animate and give life to our words, are signposts to who we really are. Do not get me wrong actions are important, and it is because of this that I often question the dichotomy we sometimes erect between words and actions, as if speaking or not speaking cannot be seen as an action? Jesus knew this all too well. Jesus knew the action of speech is an indicator of the content of our character.

In Matthew 15:10-20 we find Jesus fleshing this idea out. He says, “It is not what enters into the mouth that defiles the man, but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles him.” In verse 18 and following, after Peter asks Jesus to elaborate because of Peter’s confusion, Jesus explains that the heart is the origin for that which comes out of the mouth. What comes out of the mouth, can say a lot about what is occurring in one’s innermost being. Jesus does not view speech and action as a dichotomy, I believe Jesus sees the two as intertwined, because someone can “do” the right actions; the Pharisees could observe the proper dietary restrictions and ritual cleansing that must occur prior to eating. How do they speak of others, though? How do they witness to others? Are their words burdensome to the oppressed? Jesus is concerned with the heart, who we really are.

It is indeed interesting that right after this passage we encounter the story of the Canaanite/Syro-Phoenician woman with a demon possessed daughter. A story in which I believe Jesus’ prior comments about speech come heavily into play. The identification of this woman as a gentile should not be overlooked and might provide some insight into why Jesus seemingly appears to be so callous. The identification of this woman as a Canaanite would immediately set Matthew’s Jewish audience on edge. This very specific identification would recall, for this Jewish audience, their history and story. Within this story they would remember the tremendous amount of conflict they had with the Canaanites. This group of people were viewed more or less as dogs; looked down upon because they weren’t “fully human”, they were the ones who tried to stand in direct opposition between Yahweh and his chosen people. I believe what we have here in Matthew 15:21-28 is an issue of race, an issue between Jew and Gentile. In this story we have an inferior Canaanite woman who is approaching the Son of David. Yet what comes out of this woman’s mouth is surely shocking. This gentile woman says, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David…” This woman has referred to Jesus as her Lord and the Son of David, a direct identification of his royal lineage. This is hardly something a Canaanite woman juxtaposed with the Kingdom of God should have said, and yet it came out of her mouth.

Almost immediately the disciples enter into the scene. These are the disciples of the Son of David, the living Messiah! These are the ones who were with Jesus in Matthew 8 witnessing Jesus’ affirmation that the Centurion’s faith was greater than anyone he has found in Israel! What will these disciples of Jesus Christ say to this woman whose daughter is experiencing a demonic event?! They came to Jesus and implored him, “Send her away for she keeps shouting at us.” Then Jesus does something incredible, he momentarily adopts the racism of his disciples in order to allow the woman to rhetorically dismantle that very racism. I must make this clear, I am not saying Jesus is racist! What I am saying is that Jesus is bringing out the racism the disciples are operating under. Much like a wound that requires the infection to be brought forth and then cleansed, Jesus himself is exposing the infectious modus operandi of the disciples. What is particularly interesting about this story is that though Jesus brings to light this racist ideology, he will allow the gentile woman to cleanse it. It will not be Jesus who teaches the disciples in this episode; rather, it will be the crying, begging, inferior “dog” right across from them. Jesus says, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel!” I can see the disciples nodding their heads in agreement saying, “This is our Messiah. We are the chosen people, this is our inheritance, the promises of God are for us alone, go back to where you came from!” The woman begs “Lord, help me!” Jesus responds, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs.” The necks of the disciples are suffering from whiplash at this point from nodding so furiously in agreement! “Yes Jesus! We are the children, she is the dog, the promises of God revealed, embodied, and actualized by you are for us alone!” Then this “inferior” woman stops the vehement nodding of heads and says, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.” Even the so called dogs are rightful partakers of the kingdom of God and the promises contained therein. This woman has demonstrated that the Kingdom of God is not determined by geographic location or racial prejudices. This woman has correctly identified what the Kingdom of God and this Messiah are all about. I can picture Jesus smiling when he says, “O woman, your faith is indeed great…” What came out of her mouth? What came out of the disciple’s mouths? How did the disciples respond to this woman? What does this indicate about their hearts? Just as the woman challenged the disciple’s response to her demonic event, a response born out of racism, I believe this woman can challenge us today in our response to demonic events.

Church, our nation experienced a demonic event a little over a week ago. In response to this event we had many things coming out of our mouths. I read and heard of many pastors calling out this event for what it was, hate-filled, domestic terrorism, and a demonstration of the erroneous and devastating belief that some are better than others. Yet I also heard and read of many other things coming from the mouths of disciples. This past week I heard preachers speak of waiting, to allow time for growth to occur and work towards preparing the ground to become ripe for the harvest, as if the most bountiful yield any farmer has ever seen did not at first begin with the difficult but necessary work of plowing and tilling the hard and unprepared soil of potentiality.

I have heard it said, “be like Jesus”, as if Jesus himself did not carry harsh words and critiques towards the oppressive and burdensome religiosity of the Pharisees.

I have heard it said that we must continue to love, as if love is the antithesis of speaking out against those who are striving to strip others of not only their humanity, but also their divine right to daughtership and sonship.

These are not only wrong because they are full of fallacies, but they are wrong because they all advocate for Christians to wait. In regards to the events of last week, there can be no delay in response from the church, there must not be passivity in our voice when it comes to racism and white supremacy. If we wait, if we are passive, and if we do not raise our voice against the evils we witnessed, then we have proclaimed quite loudly who we truly are. If, in response to this event, our sermons sound more like the sermons of white pastors during the Civil Rights era advocating for passivity and waiting for a more opportune time to take action, then we, too, side with the oppressor.

So did my friend love me when he directly called me out for my vulgar joke? Did my friend love me even though I walked away feeling convicted and ashamed. Did my friend love me when he chose to say something then and there, instead of waiting for a more opportune time? My friend loved me more in that moment than anyone else who had chosen to listen to this joke and say nothing.

I have witnessed a teaching that is growing in the church. A teaching that either explicitly or implicitly identifies love as the absence of confrontation. I do not know where this teaching came from, but it certainly did not originate from the very confrontational Jesus of Nazareth revealed in the scriptures, nor did it derive from the early history of the church and its direct confrontation with many of the social norms and policies of the Roman Empire. The problem with this philosophy of love is that if you are able to define love as that space in which confrontation does not occur, love becomes incredibly safe. When love becomes incredibly safe, we as the church and disciples within the body of Christ are able to hide under a self-constructed safety net of pseudo-love. And isn’t it quite interesting whenever we speak of “love” it just so happens, it’s a curious thing really, to by chance coincide with what is politically, theologically, and financially safest for our congregations at the current moment? Love is not safe, love is not in the business of self-preservation and complacency. Christian love is a dagger cutting through our natural instincts to protect ourselves and an outright challenge towards our timidity in risking ourselves for others. And what we love, how we love, and how we respond to what is happening in our country and the domestic terrorism instigated by white supremacists will show others the contents of our hearts and with whom we really identify. So who are we Church, what are the contents of our hearts? What will we say to these events and the events that unfortunately seem as if they are bound to follow? Will we be passive, or will we love? Will we wait, or will we love? Will we be silent, or will we love? For to do nothing, to say nothing, to call for waiting instead of action is to look into the eyes of the incarnate Christ and say to him “you were wrong.” What will we say? What will come out of our mouths?


One Response to “Out of the Mouth (Matthew 15:10-28)”

  1.   Jack and Kelley Scott Says:

    What an awesome sermon Mr. Taylor. The wisdom beyond your years should echo throughout the land. Miss you guys!
    Jack and Kelley

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