August 16, 2020 – Genesis 45:1-15 and Matthew 15:10-28
July 21, 2020 by Rev. Dr. Neal Presa
One of the so-called five love languages is words of affirmation (the others being acts of service, quality time, gift-giving, physical touch). These five are the key ways we express love and how we ourselves know that we are loved by someone. We all express these and receive these to varying degrees but one of these tends to be our primary expression and our primary stimulus.
The two texts this Sunday are about words. As we know, words can bless, but when weaponized, can curse. In our time, the last breath of George Floyd is forever etched in our minds and inscribed in our hearts, “I can’t breathe” as he was subjected to eight minutes and 46 seconds of a Minnesota police officer’s knee to his neck, as another police officer held down his legs, and two other officers stood by. #ICantBreathe galvanized protests and cemented collected outrage at white supremacy and such supremacy armed with the authority, power, and weaponry of law enforcement entrusted by the public to care for the community life. The three words “I can’t breathe” revealed to the whole world the final plea of a dying man underneath the literal weight of hate, and expressed, at the same time, he despair and deep-seated indignation of Black communities suffocated by systemic and historic racism in its pernicious, death-dealing forms. #ICantBreathe are words that spoke of death at that moment, but gave life to a movement that reverberates to this day, and, we pray, will continue until racial equality and racial equity become norms of our every existence, as the breaths we take each day without thinking or without as much as a reflex.
Joseph could have exacted revenge against his conspiring brothers. It would have been understandable if he did, even just a little. He could have berated them for their criminal acts, for causing his separation from their family, for making their father Jacob heartsick. Joseph told them, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Genesis 45:8a). He will tell them at the end of their family reunion, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good.” (Genesis 50:19-20)
Jesus taught the Pharisees, the crowds, and the disciples about words. Words are a window into the heart; words come from inside us and can either bless or they can curse. He referred to the Pharisees as blind guides, not seeing and knowing what they say and what they do. A Canaanite woman sought Jesus’s help to heal her daughter. The disciples, like their response to the hungry thousands, are quick to dismiss her; she’s the wholly other to them – she’s of a different ethnicity, of a different gender, and her communicative passion are not to their liking. They lack cultural humility, gender awareness, a mature emotional quotient, and a vacuous heart of compassion; indeed, their words matched their hearts! Jesus’s word for the woman’s daughter matched his heart and her heart; hers and his hearts are in sync, which is to love, save, and heal her daughter.
Are our hearts in sync with the Savior? Jesus’s words, the Canaanite woman’s words, and Joseph’s words are right: they heal. Bring the healing Good News of God to people. Preach and teach healing for a world that suffocates under the weight of hate, that pits perceptions of political/national/theological exceptionalism at the expense of others. Bring a word of healing that reckons with the truth, that provokes genuine confession and repentance, that paves the way towards true reconciliation and fulness of life.