It was God
A meditation on Genesis 45: 1 – 8 and Matthew 15: 21 – 28
Rev. Cathy C. Hoop Grace Presbyterian Church August 20, 2017
While driving to Nashville on Friday, I listened to pod casts of a favorite NPR quiz program, “Says You.” “Says You” is approximately 50 entertaining minutes for word lovers, self-described as “a game of bluff and bluster, words and whimsy.” Their motto is this: “it’s not important to know the answers…it’s important to like the answers.”
One episode featured a game requiring panelists to identify famous literary works which had been boiled down to a 140 character Twitter summary. Let’s try our hand. (answers at the end)
- Coming of age tale says “Boo” to racism
- Sports fishing contest strains nerves
- Frenchman in frame-job seeks justice, revenge, and inspires tasty sandwich
Which made me wonder if anyone had tried doing this for the Bible, or for the individual books of the Bible, and of course, they had. There are a number of variations, including The Twible (The Twitter Bible, which I have ordered from Amazon.). Let’s play a few more rounds and see if you recognize these Biblical texts:
Under numberless stars an old man stands amazed; his wife cries out in the pain of childbirth, laughing.
The invention of antiphony: when my heart broke in two, I taught both parts to sing.
And a couple more just for their beauty, not for guessing:
Deuteronomy: I love you, I love you. Not because you are so good or great, but because you are so lost and little.
2 Corinthians: O how I love you, you darling scalawags, you dear sweet blockheaded scoundrels, you infuriating puppies!
Equally as impressive is The Bible in 50 Words, which has been around for a number of years. It reads like this, and I have no idea of its authorship:
It’s quite beautiful in its simplicity. Although it has some pretty glaring holes, such as omitting all women. Still, pretty amazing. You can’t include everything if you are trying to recap the Bible in 50 words.
But where is the bread? Other than “Adam bit,” which isn’t exactly a “happy” story about eating, there is not a single reference to feeding, and God, we know, loves to feed the family. God loves to be known in the breaking of the bread. Whether it is Sarah & Abraham entertaining three holy visitors or a hurried Passover meal, God meets us at the feasting table. Whether it is manna gathered on a wilderness morning, or grain gleaned by those in need, God is present in the gifts of the earth.
And Jesus continues this pattern, feeding multitudes, joining an outsider – like Zacchaeus – in his home for a meal, and sharing a last supper with dear friends. After the resurrection, what did he do? He fed his friends with a fresh catch of fish, cooked over a campfire on the beach. It doesn’t get much better than that. And after that? The early church was rooted in the celebrating of communion, which went hand in hand with ensuring that the hungry were fed.
You can’t summarize the Bible without using the word “feed.” God has created us as hungry beings. Our stomachs rumble. Hungry for love and acceptance, ravenous for forgiveness, starving for answers, longing for the bread of heaven. It is hunger which links the two stories we heard read this morning. Hunger for grains; the hope of bread that is yet to be, and hunger for crumbs; the evidence of a savored meal. In the midst of all this hunger, a search for truth, and a question: how do I find the face of God?
In the Genesis story, we meet Joseph and his brothers at the end of a very long saga. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, which didn’t make him popular among his 11 brothers. Sick of his boasting, they sold him into slavery and pretended he was dead. Joseph’s life was a roller coaster ride of highs and lows, but eventually, he landed on top, serving as Pharaoh’s prime minister. Through his wisdom and planning, he saved the Egyptians from starvation when famine struck the land.
Joseph didn’t save only the Egyptians; he also saved his own blood kin. Driven from their home by the food shortage, his brothers came to Egypt seeking supplies, not knowing they would have to purchase them from the brother they no longer knew existed. Unable to recognize their own brother, they stood before Joseph and put their lives in his hands. Joseph had a choice, and he made a rather strange one. Instead of lashing out at them, unleashing all the hurt of the past, he put them through a series of tests. But each test took a toll on him, leaving him weeping and lonely. Finally, when he could no longer keep up the charade, he broke down and revealed himself to them.
Although Joseph didn’t pay back evil for evil, he certainly paid back mischief for mischief.
Joseph held the power of life or death in his hands. He could provide them with the grain they needed to survive or he could let them starve. He could do to them what they had done to him. He could play “God.” When he looked at their faces once again, after so many years apart, did he see them all gathered together, sharing a meal? Did he hear both the teasing and the laughter? Did he recall the moment when his father and his uncle, also torn apart by sibling rivalries reconciled? The moment when Jacob said to Esau, “because you have received me so kindly, seeing your face is like seeing the face of God.” (Genesis 33:10) Aren’t those the stories we need to feed our children? Teaching them love, rather than hate? Forgiveness rather than nursing a grudge?
Joseph chose to feed his brothers, body and soul, grain and mercy, and in that moment, they, too, saw the face of God.
Kimberly Russaw, writing for the Huffington Post’s religion column, offers this perspective on Joseph: This story begs modern readers to question, “What if each of us has been divinely positioned for life-giving, sustaining or reviving purposes?” Who might we be standing in front of such that our actions — big and small — could save or preserve their life?
That The Divine — not you — puts you where you are supposed to be: in front of people for life-giving, sustaining, and reviving.
Which leads me to believe that God placed the unnamed Cannanite woman right where she was supposed to be. God doesn’t place her in front of just anyone. God places her in front of Jesus for life-giving, sustaining and reviving, since that is what Jesus needs.
It’s a strange thing to say, but if we truly believe that Jesus was human, then he too, occasionally needed reviving. There is some comfort in discovering that even Jesus needed someone to name his not so very hidden biases. This woman approaches Jesus with honor and respect, and pleads for the healing of her daughter. She wants nothing for herself. She kneels before him, throwing herself on his mercy. The Jesus whom we love, who shows us how to live, lets us down with his cruelty. He ignores her, he dismisses her and then he equates her with a dog.
From her vantage point on the floor, with crumbs scattered around her and maybe even a canine lurking in the doorway, she speaks truth to power. “We let the dogs eat the crumbs!” Was her voice shaking or strong? Did she hold her breath waiting for a back hand? God had placed her here for this purpose. This outsider, this woman, this no-name had been sent to Jesus to revive him. How long was the silence until Jesus spoke? “Woman, your faith is amazing. Your daughter is healed.” And God’s face shone through, defeating the prejudice. The face of God shone brilliantly through this woman’s countenance and Jesus’ humbled face gazed back at her with a new sense of compassion and welcome. What a feast for the soul.
She could have walked away angry. She could have laughed at him or spit at him. Or written him off. But she didn’t do any of those things. She chose the harder path. She chose to do revival work. She spoke God’s truth back to God’s flesh. She had a “come to Jesus” meeting with Jesus!
Two brave souls, Joseph and an unnamed woman, who held another’s life in their hands and offered mercy.
Whose life is in your hands? To whom will you offer full sacks of grain for empty ones? Bread in exchange for crumbs? It is a divine purpose that places you right where you are. Open your eyes to it and you will see the face of God. Thanks be to God. Amen.
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
- Moby Dick by Herman Melvill
- The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexander Dumas