Before we begin this morning, a word about the music. Yesterday was the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary and so today we are very fortunate to carry themes of that feast into our Sunday morning service. Every year, we have a Summer Festival of Sacred Music here at the Cathedral and this year Rupert Lang and Jacob Gramit have worked really hard with our sound and video team to adapt the festival under the COVID 19 restrictions. Now, what makes this year’s festival even more remarkable is that about a month ago I got an email from Jacob asking how we could make sure that we highlight female composers. So Jacob searched high and low and for this Sunday, found not one but two 17th-century female composers: Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and Élisabeth-Claude Jacquet de La Guerre. You can read more about them on page 13 of your bulletin. Many thanks to Jacob and Rupert and to Lucy, Marc, Natalie, and Christina for this morning’s music.
Let us pray. Lord, make us masters of ourselves that we may become the servants of others. Take our minds and think through them; take our lips and hands and speak through them; take our hearts and set them on fire. Amen.
In her book, Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Shaping Worlds, adrienne maree brown has this to say about dandelions and mushrooms:
My favourite life forms right now are dandelions and mushrooms—the resilience in these structures, which we think of as weeds and fungi, the incomprehensible scale, the clarity of identity, excites me. I love to see the way mushrooms can take substances we think of as toxic, and process them as food, or that dandelions spread not only themselves but their community structure, manifesting their essential qualities (which include healing and detoxifying the human body) to proliferate and thrive in a new environment. The resilience of these life forms is that they evolve while maintaining core practices that ensure their survival.
The exchange between Jesus and the Canaanite woman in our gospel reading, this is a dandelions and mushrooms kind of an exchange. Their conversation has some toxic substance to it, and as it unfolds, there’s a healing that takes place: the toxic stuff gets processed as food, as it were, as something nourishing and this healing takes place not only at the individual level, but in the very
community structure that binds them together. And by the end of the story, we find that Jesus and this woman, they’ve evolved and they go away resilient and transformed.
The gospel writer does not hold back when it comes to the clarity of identity of Jesus and the Canaanite woman—telling us exactly who they are and where they come from. They meet on the street in the district of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus has come from out of town; the Canaanite woman, she’s from there. One is local, and the other an outsider and they meet on this border between their two worlds.
The Canaanite woman calls out to Jesus, “Lord, Son of David”—a Jewish title that would have been familiar among Jesus and his relatives. She’s claiming family ties with Jesus, ties to his Canaanite ancestors Ruth, Rahab, and Tamar. The Canaanite woman also knows something of Jesus’ fame as a healer and with the reputation he’s gaining throughout the Roman Empire, she also knows he’s seen as a political threat. It is both to her advantage and to her disadvantage to approach him: she wants her daughter healed and there’s risk in coming to Jesus to get it done; if she’s seen with him, she could be further compromised socially, economically, and politically.
The dialogue that ensues between Jesus and the Canaanite woman is probably one of the more uncomfortable portraits we have of Jesus in the Bible. Jesus calls the woman a “dog”, which in this context is a racial slur. It means something along the lines of, “there are those of us who are pure, and then there are half-breeds.” And it’s interesting that Jesus says this, given he’s just lectured his own disciples about lording their “pureness”, their ability to keep certain food laws, lording this over people who don’t have the privilege, the same opportunity to do so. And then we find Jesus in this scene with the Canaanite woman telling her she’s not Jewish enough. It’s a great example of how you can be a teacher of change and it can still be a work in progress in your own heart.
So Jesus uses this racial slur, and it kind of comes out of him in that way that you don’t think you have racist attitudes until you find yourself using this language and it’s like, “Where did I learn that? I thought I was progressive!” And the Canaanite woman, she takes this toxic word and like a fungus, like mushrooms, she processes it as food, using it to both of their advantage. Jesus says, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” and she replies: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Meaning, don’t you know that fair treatment of the outsider, the “half-breed”, is pretty high on the list of laws Jews are expected to keep? So if you’re really one of those “pure” types, my wellbeing and my daughter’s wellbeing should actually be pretty important to you.
Jesus answers her and he says, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish,” and we’re told that her daughter is healed instantly. And there’s a very clear sense that this detoxifying, this healing encounter is not just about the daughter, but about the reconciliation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman as well. There’s a kind of new community structure
that’s built through their conversation and it’s this structure that like dandelions, will proliferate and thrive in the environments they find themselves in from here on out.
The resilience of dandelions and mushrooms. I shared this image with the Cathedral’s healing prayer team this week when we gathered on Zoom, as we do in this time of COVID 19 to pray for our communities. It struck me as we were praying how there are really very few places in our common life that this virus hasn’t touched. And, there are all kinds of people who like toxin transformers are adapting our community structures in ways that show us to be really quite resilient.
The communities that we belong to, both within the Cathedral and within Vancouver (whether it’s school or work or our families), these communities are evolving in order to respond to the impact of the COVID 19 virus. As we change, we’re figuring out what are our core practices, our core values. Things like: hospitality; mutuality (taking part in decision-making together); music (finding new venues for creativity and expression); sacrament (we really miss the Eucharist); and outward-facing service (that we exist not only for ourselves but for others, too).
It’s interesting, adrienne maree brown, in her book, she talks about her parents who were this interracial couple who fell in love in the deep south in the mid-70s, and she talks about them as these two individuals who “had to be able to see something impossible (based on the families and society they’d been born into) as not only a possible way forward, but as the best way forward.” That’s really what we see here between Jesus and the Canaanite woman and I think it’s what we’re seeing in our communities as we realize that if we want to survive COVID 19, we have to change, and that adapting is not just a possible way forward, but the best way forward. And we have to choose this way together in order for it to work.
Jesus and the Canaanite woman—they need each other. They participate in each other’s liberation. In order to be liberated from the toxic imprints this virus is leaving on our communities, we have to choose each other. We are called to evolve without losing what makes us who we are at our core. So in this season of tremendous change, tremendous adaptation, let us not lose our clarity of identity and let us take responsibility for it. Toxin transformation is weed and fungus work – it’s not the kind that gets done overnight; it’s the sort that spreads. Toxin transformation is sustained work of the Christian life. Together may we be willing to do our part.
Mitzi J. Smith, “Commentary on Matthew 15:[10-20] 21-28” found online at Working Preacher https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=4542.