If you meet a God who is racist. Call it out.

Content Warning. This gospel reading contains scenes which some viewers might find disturbing.

Content Warning. Viewer discretion is advised.

Content Warning. This exegesis contains strong language which some listeners may find offensive.

Content Warning. The language used in this interpretation of the gospel contains expressions which were in common use at the time which may sound derogatory and disrespectful to modern ears.

Content Warning. The kind of language that can be heard in today’s gospel remains in use today. And it remains just as offensive as it always was.

Those of us who watch the television or listen to the radio in this country are probably all accustomed to hearing what are called content warnings.

You sometimes get them at the theatre these days too, pasted up on the doors before you go in.

This morning’s gospel probably needs a content warning to go with it when we read it these days.

But maybe it always did.

And maybe that’s the point of it.

I have to be honest. Matthew’s gospel is my least favourite of the four canonical gospels. I always have to take a deep breath when we start the liturgical year in which we read mostly gospel readings from Matthew’s gospel. For Matthew’s world always seems so much more clear cut than the world in which I live. Everything is black and white. It is all about the sheep and the goats, the wheat and the weeds, the wise and the foolish, the saved and the damned.

And I find all this rather tiresome. “What about the goats!” I want to cry. What about the weeds? Are they not God’s beloved flowers too.

And if forced to choose between spending the night at a party with the five wise virgins or the five foolish ones, well, I might not chose to go to the party that Matthew wants me to choose to go to.

But just now and again, something that Matthew writes slaps me across my presumptions and makes me take notice. The Beatitudes and the rest of the sermon on the Mount make it worth putting up with a whole lot of parables I find myself not liking. And then… and then there’s this.

First Jesus says that righteousness isn’t about what goes into a person but about what comes out of a person.

Someone is defiled not by what they scoff but how they scoff at others.

Matthew paints this picture of Jesus caring much more about what people say than about the way in which they are keeping certain religious laws.

And in a careless way, I want to cheer him on.

Yes! Go Jesus. Disturb the righteous. Bring down the mighty. Talk about people’s motives. You got it from your mother! Yay for Jesus.

And then right after telling us that Jesus cared more about what came out of people’s mouths than what went in, Matthew has Jesus saying something that is downright offensive with unignorably racist undertones.

And it is that which makes me love Matthew. The sheer theatre of this is astonishing.

Shock tactics – that’s what keeps you on your toes.

Shock tactics from a master storyteller who will not simply let us get away with simplistic interpretations about what his gospel is all about.

Even our English translators find this a bit much to translate honestly.

Someone asks him for help. She’s a foreigner.

He says.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”.

But that’s not really adequate. That word dogs is a diminutive in the Greek.

Glaswegian might help us here.

“It’s nae fair to take the bairns’ food and throw it to the wee dugs”

Or even better, “It isnae fair to take the bairns’ food and gi it to the wee bitches”.

There is a glaring nastiness about Jesus’s words that I think are unmistakable.

Sometimes I’ve wondered whether there was a twinkle in his eyes and a snort in her response but I’m far from sure of that.

It seems to me that he did say something that was offensive then and would be offensive now and was called out on it.

This foreign women firstly cries out to the Son of God that she is in need. Then she cries out that she’s not accepting his answer and not accepting no for an answer either.

She’s not going to let racism have the last word.

And I think the gospel suddenly becomes fascinating and compelling as a result.

What you expect to happen doesn’t?

We don’t know her name but she is magnificent.

She is one of those deprived of a name by history. But one of those who cry out “Not in my name” when she encounters something which is offensive to her ears.

And I love her for it.

There was a very popular book a few years ago called “if you see Buddha on the road, kill him”. The basic idea was that you didn’t need someone to enlighten you – you had it in yourself to provide all the enlightenment you would ever need. The idea was that you didn’t need a guru to be enlightened.

I don’t entirely hold by that. I’ve found it necessary sometimes to learn from others.

But this woman makes me think of a similar kind of sentiment.

If you meet a God who is racist. Call it out.

If you are told about a God who is homophobic or sexist or bigoted in any way, don’t rest. Resist.

And if you encounter a God who doesn’t seem to care about the poor and the needy and the dispossessed… then fight him.

Wrestle with him as Jacob of old wrestled with God the whole night through.

Don’t be surprised if you come away limping, but don’t think you won’t win.

Content warning – Love wins in the end.

Love always wins in the end. In the face of this woman’s cheek, Jesus himself seems to suddenly understand his mission to the world in new ways. More expansive, generous, comprehensive, extensive, wide-ranging and unreserved.

Content warning. It isn’t just Jesus who can see a whole new vision of loving the world. We are the body of Christ so, so can we.

Content warning, it isn’t just the Canaanite woman who can insist that she too is made in the image and likeness of God.  That description applies to everyone here-present. And everyone who has ever lived. And everyone who ever will.

Content warning. The goodness of God’s love is for everyone.

Content warning. The goodness of God’s love is for you.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.


  1. Rosemary Hannah says

    As you know, I think Matthew is truly Jewish in that there is more to unpack in many of his parables than the facile take. The growing wheat that is to be sifted is, I think, us. Our mix of good and rotten cannot be properly untangle while we live. All we can do is help our good stuff and wait. One day we will be truly free. And almost nobody has ALWAYS given that cup of water or ALWAYS refused it so we are (likewise) both good and bad. What convinces me this is a plausible reading is how well it fits with Jesus’ demands we forgive others and let ourselves be forgiven. But yes, this story of the woman and the dogs is remarkable.

  2. Rod Gillis says

    “It isnae fair to take the bairns’ food and gi it to the wee bitches”. I love this in all it’s stark verisimilitude. Those of us who have lived on the glebe in the rectory/manse/parsonage know the variations on this theme as we have met people at the front door. It is the demand of gospel in a phrase. Thanks so much! Content warning for seminarians, you shall serve all sorts and conditions of God’s people.

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