WOULD the Ministry of Wokery allow Jesus to say the words in the Book of Common Prayer’s Gospel reading for today, the 2nd Sunday of Lent?
The passage from Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 15, relates Jesus’s conversation with a Canaanite woman in the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon, about 50 miles north of Galilee. Her first words to Jesus, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David’ (v22), showed that she had already defected from paganism. By calling him ‘Son of David’, the woman was acknowledging that Jesus was the Messiah (or Christ), the God-appointed King of Israel, as King David had been around 1,000 years previously.
Already aware of his divine power, she begged Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. But Jesus told her: ‘I am not sent, but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (v24).
Speaking to a descendant of the pagan people who had lived in the land of Canaan, renamed Israel after Jesus’s forebears had conquered it on the Lord God’s command in around 1,400 BC, Jesus made no apology for his Messianic focus on the salvation of his own people, ‘the house of Israel’, the Jews.
Jesus then made an even stronger statement of his Jewish priority: ‘Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said: It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs’ (v25-26).
Fortunately for the woman’s daughter, there were no woke police to report a ‘hate incident’ to. But even if there had been, this woman would not have gone to them. She resolutely refused to take offence at Jesus’s use of a term by which Jews in the 1st century AD often referred to Gentiles. Instead, she turned ‘the dogs’ to her advantage: ‘Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table’ (v27).
This woman’s persistent faith in the Jewish Messiah greatly impressed Jesus (v28): ‘Then Jesus answered her and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.’
The Canaanite woman’s story features in the Prayer of Humble Access in the Prayer Book’s service of Holy Communion:
‘We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy . . .’
The Lent 2 Gospel reading makes clear that in God’s plan of salvation Jesus is wonderfully the Saviour of the whole world and of everybody who comes, like this Canaanite woman, to worship him but unless he is the Jewish Messiah first, he is the Saviour of nobody.
Significantly, Matthew’s Gospel ends with the risen Jesus Christ’s Great Commission to his Jewish disciples to go out into all the world with his message of eternal salvation from sin and death: ‘All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the very end of the world’ (Matthew 28v18-20).
The Lent 2 Epistle reading is from the Apostle Paul’s 1st letter to the Christians in AD 1st century Thessalonica. It contains this command to the Church: ‘For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God’ (1 Thessalonians 4v3-5).
That too is surely a passage that would be very unlikely to get clearance from the Ministry of Wokery.
The Lent 2 Collect is a beautiful prayer for the Lord’s protection of Christians’ souls and bodies in their mortal weakness: ‘Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies, and inwardly in our souls; that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’