Saturday, June 30, 2012

Finish the Job

It is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means. (2 Corinthians 8.10-11)

Worlds Away

My city, Chicago, is a very sad place. It’s been sad for quite some time, but it’s grown even sadder of late. We’re in the grip of a gun violence rampage that makes the Capone years look like a holiday. Years of ignoring the deprivation in “less desirable” neighborhoods have exploded on our streets. On weekends, the city averages 60 shootings, with many victims being minors caught in the crossfire. Last Wednesday, seven-year-old Heaven Sutton was gunned down while helping her mother sell sno-cones in front of her house. Gang members spotted a rival in line and fired into the crowd. Heaven had just returned from getting a new hairstyle for a long awaited trip to Disney World. Friday night’s news ran footage of our mayor, Rahm Emanuel, consoling Heaven’s mother, after attending the funeral of a 14-year-old who’d been killed the previous weekend. Since 2008, over 650 young people have been murdered in our city. When you add the adults, survivors, and victims in outlying areas infested by gangs and drug lords, the number reaches several thousands.

This is not news to Chicagoans, which places blame on all of us for not rising up against this scourge sooner. To our shame, we’ve done little to correct the social dysfunction that gave rise to the Capone era and racial discord of 1960s. Chicago has always been less a city than a collective of ethnic enclaves. For many who live in predominately white neighborhoods, African-American and Hispanic areas might as well be worlds away. The wailing mothers on the nightly news might as well be Sunni moms shrouded in burkas. Bombed-out streets five miles away might as well be Afghanistan or Syria. The barrage of heartbreaking images is finally starting to move those who’ve ignored their neighbors. Yet if we’re going to end this grotesque crisis, we have to overcome our aptitude for pity. It’s not enough to feel sorry for Chicago’s gun violence victims. It’s not enough to wring one’s hands and wonder what can be done. The time for pointing fingers and assigning blame is long gone.

Thankfully, churches across the metropolitan area are starting to mobilize. For the most part, they’re liturgical congregations, which means this weekend’s readings will be heard in their services. And I pray that the Holy Spirit will leap out of the texts to grip their hearts with renewed vigor and determination. Because this weekend’s message to us is very clear: it’s not enough to want to do something. A big start isn’t enough, either. Good intentions mean nothing if they’re not realized. All that we think or say, believe or do comes to naught if we don’t finish the job. That’s the moral in Sunday’s texts.

A Question of Fair Balance

The Old Testament reading (2 Samuel 1,17-27) puts before us a poignant scene. David’s lifelong nemesis, Saul, has committed suicide on learning the Philistines have killed all of his sons, including David’s dearest friend, Jonathan. The removal of Saul’s heirs clears David’s ascendance to Israel’s throne. What should be a triumphant moment is wreathed in sorrow. David leads the nation in a mourning hymn built on a recurrent theme: “How the mighty have fallen!” Although David won victory for Israel, its king, sons, people, and land have been laid waste. There is much to do to restore the violence-tattered nation. The devastation caused by Saul, a maniacal monarch and father, burdens the new king. The weight of the work ahead is genuinely felt in the poetry as David surveys all that must be done to finish the job.

In the Gospel (Mark 5.21-43), we meet another father who could be Saul’s polar opposite. Jairus is a synagogue leader whose 12-year-old daughter is sick unto death. In a bold move, he throws himself at Jesus’s feet and begs Him to come heal his little girl. Jesus agrees and a clamoring crowd follows. Along the way, a woman who’s been housebound with menstrual hemorrhaging for 12 years—as long as Jairus’s daughter has been alive—pushes through the throng, confident if she can touch Jesus’s cloak she’ll be cured. When she reaches Him, He stops. “Who touched Me?” He asks. The woman reluctantly confesses and Jesus declares, “Daughter, your faith has made you well.” Without going into specifics, this healing surpasses a physical miracle; it remediates centuries of social and religious stigmatization of women. Given its groundbreaking significance, one might expect Jesus to call it a day. But His work isn’t finished. Though news arrives that Jairus’s daughter has died, Jesus committed to see about her. “Do not fear,” He tells the father. “Only believe.” He proceeds to Jairus’s house, touches the little girl’s corpse (another breach in Judaic code), and speaks life into her. He finishes the job.

Finally, in the New Testament text (2 Corinthians 8.7-15), Paul expands on this principle in a most illuminating fashion. He tells the Corinthians, “I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.” (v8) It’s a subtle, yet unmistakable, distinction. Earnest people empathize with others’ woes. Genuinely loving people do something to end them. He points to Jesus. “Though He was rich,” Paul writes, “yet for your sakes He became poor so that by His poverty you might become rich.” Paul tells the Corinthians—by far the most privileged readers of any epistle—never to forget they too are recipients of genuine love. Then Paul says, “It is appropriate for you who began last year not only to do something but even to desire to do something—now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.” (v10-11) Ever the wily pastor, Paul backs his challenge with wisdom that cancels all excuses for not finishing the job. “The gift is acceptable according to what one has—not according to what one does not have,” he says. “It is a question of fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance.” (v13-14)

A World Out of Balance

Chicago’s sorrow is but one instance of rampant grief currently visited on a world out of balance. A pernicious spirit of “Me, My, and Mine” has overtaken us, warped our minds, and laid us to waste. We are at war with nations, cultures, neighbors, fellow believers, and ourselves. Violence is our lingua franca, whether articulated with a trigger or sprayed across pulpits, felling innocent souls with heresies of hatred and inequality. Though perched on seats of power, the mighty—be they elected officials, corporate princes, media moguls, bigoted pastors, or drug kingpins—are fallen and our streets are strewn with corpses of every kind. Christ has deeded us the gift of life, life that exceeds the paralysis of earnest intentions, new life that activates in us the gospel of genuine love, true life that not only compels us to do something, but also inspires us to follow Christ’s example and commit to finishing the job.

“We can’t fix the world’s problems” is no excuse. It’s not about what we lack, but what we have—voices, hands, feet, and hearts overflowing with conviction and urgency that drive us out of our comfort zones to defeat the spirit of violence and hatred holding us hostage. Our presence is sorely needed in a berserk world beholden to evil powers. Earnest empathy won’t do it. Pitying victims won’t correct the imbalance that deprives us of the abundance buried in communities under fire. The instant we say, “Something must be done to end this madness,” is the moment we confess there’s something we can do. In Ecclesiastes 9.10, we read, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol [the Land of the Dead], to which you are going.” Each of us regularly confronts injustice, abuse, and aborning tragedies we can combat—in a word, a gesture, or a sacrificial act of defiance. Find those opportunities. Commit to them for as long as you live. And don’t stop until you’ve done everything in your might to finish the job.

(L-R) Heaven Sutton, 7, felled by gang warfare in Chicago on June 27, 2012; Brandon Elizares, 16, gay El Paso teen felled by suicide on June 2, 2012; Ahmed, age unknown, mourning his father felled by a Syrian Army sniper on March 18, 2012. 

Podcast link:

Friday, June 29, 2012

Love Is a Test

So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4.16)

If It Were Easy

I came home from school one weekend with the dark cloud of an economics midterm bearing down. I’d attended the lectures, taken detailed notes, and done the reading. Yet it seemed like a thick sheet of glass stood between the material and me. No matter how hard I banged on it, it wouldn’t budge. On Sunday afternoon, I stole into a tiny room in the far corner of our basement, praying for some kind of epiphany that would send me into the exam—less than 24 hours away—primed to pass it with flying colors. There was no epiphany, at least not the kind I hoped for. Instead, my father pecked on the door to see how I was doing. I burst into tears. “I don’t understand why I can’t get this,” I sobbed. “Why does it have to be so hard?” Dad let me cry myself out. After sitting in silence for a minute or so, he said, “If it were easy, everyone would do it. And if everyone did it, then it wouldn’t be worth your time, would it?” That gave me a new brain cramp. Before I could ask him to explain, he said, “Think about it.” Then he left.

We never spoke of the incident again and chances are Dad doesn’t recall it. It was one of many father-son moments that shaped my life, yet probably didn’t seem like much to him at the time. Still, I’ve thought about this particular afternoon many times. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what Dad meant. But here’s what I got. I’d been handed this problem to learn something about myself. The exam would prove I could be tested. Absent a miracle, I wasn’t going to ace it. It would come back with all sorts of red ink and an unflattering grade on the last page. Was I ready to admit I wasn’t up to snuff? Could I be strong enough to accept other people were better than I at mastering the material? Could I bring myself to realize doing my best would be its own success—one more valuable than proving my comprehension of bell curves and supply-and-demand theory? If I could work through that, it would be worth my time no matter the grade. At first, I didn’t see it that way. But my incredibly wise father did. When the test came back with a C+, I got it. I’d done my best. No, I didn’t get everything right. But I passed.

Sometimes and Some Days

I often hear my father’s counsel when struggling to honor Christ’s command to love God completely and our neighbors as ourselves. Sometimes it’s easy, even though it’s hard to say why. Sometimes, love for God and others flows unabated. Sometimes, circumstances make love come naturally. Sometimes, it’s the people; some are more easily loved than others. Sometimes, it’s nothing more than waking up on the right side of the bed, of being in the mood for love.

Yet there are just as many, if not more, times when loving God and others is hard work. Some days I’m convinced I don’t know how to love God that much. Some days asking me to love my Maker above all else asks too much. Some days I don’t want to love my neighbors as I want to be loved. Some days I bang my head against a thick sheet of glass that feels as though I’ll never break through and reach a place where I can love God and everyone around me to the degree Jesus requires. That’s when I hear my Dad say, “If it were easy, everyone would do it. And if everyone did it, then it wouldn’t be worth your time, would it?”

Power to Love

Love is a test, and passing it depends on our willingness to be tested. “We have known and believe the love that God has for us,” 1 John 4.16 says. Mastering the knowledge of God’s love is hard, since God’s love surpasses all the love we’ll ever give or receive. That’s why John inserts “and believe” in his statement. Sometimes raw faith that God loves us is all we have to shatter the glass curtain that prevents us from loving. But summoning the courage to trust that we are worthy of love equips us with power to love as Jesus teaches. If God loves me without condition—whether I’m an A-student or a floundering failure—how can I not love God boundlessly? How can I not love those around me, regardless if they’re “as good,” better, or worse at loving than I am?

The key to passing love’s test is refusing to drop out. “God is love,” John writes, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.” If love were easy, everyone would do it. It's because not everyone is able (or cares) to meet Christ’s standard that loving is worth our time. We won’t ace every test. There will be times when we cry salty tears of frustration, thinking we’ll never comprehend God’s love or do it exactly as Jesus teaches. Nonetheless, we can’t drop out. When we abide in love, God becomes our home and God makes a home in us. God finds us when we retreat to a quiet corner, trembling and teary at the prospect we won’t pass the test. We want God to make a miracle, to break through our reservations, and—presto-chango!—turn us into perfect lovers. But God’s not going to do that. Instead, God’s Word will come to us in the gentle honesty of the Spirit, reminding us not everyone is as loving as Jesus commands and that’s why submitting to love’s test is always worth it.

When we abide in love, God becomes our home and God makes a home in us.

Postscript: Happy Anniversary!

Four years ago today, Straight-Friendly inched into the blogosphere. For a while, it was a lonely little place—just me and the keyboard, banging out a few lines a day, hoping to reach someone who'd been told that God has no use for them because they don’t fit the "acceptable" mold. But the God Who does love us, every one of us, as we are made to live out God's purpose, is faithful. Friends, old and new, found this place and the conversation took on a life of its own. Along the way, we grew steadfast in love for one another, stumbled onto many surprising truths in God’s Word, and upheld each other in hours of weakness and sorrow. In the course of 900 posts, 2241 comments, more than 78,000 discrete visits, and over 100,000 page views, I’ve been blessed beyond measure to share this experience with you—to learn from you, to pray with you, and to count all of you as dear friends.

What a gift of grace you are to me! And how grateful to God I am that you’re here, pushing this little ministry forward, holding it in your thoughts and prayers, and rejoicing in the goodness that God has showered on all of us, jointly and individually.

So I wish you “Happy Anniversary” and leave you with a favorite passage, 1 John 3.1-2:

See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know God. Beloved, we are God’s children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when God is revealed, we will be like God, for we will see God as God is.

Until that day…

Wednesday, June 27, 2012


When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” (Mark 2.16)

Dinner Scenes

One of my favorite things about Jesus is He eats with anyone. We see Him at fancy banquets thrown by Pharisees, at impromptu lunches with tax collectors and other disreputable sorts, on hillsides, sharing whatever the disciples can scrounge up with thousands at a time, and around borrowed tables with only His followers (whose manners aren't the best). In Jesus’s day—much like ours—whom you eat with says a great deal about your social values and position. Indeed, breaking bread is one of the most reliable indicators of what you believe and whom you love. So it’s no surprise that the gospels are filled with dinner scenes. The writers keep driving home the point that Jesus doesn’t care whom He eats with—or, better put, Jesus cares so deeply about everyone that He’s unashamed to be seen sharing a meal with anyone.

In today’s passage, He’s just met and called Levi (a.k.a. Matthew), a tax collector and hence a Roman sympathizer and hence someone despised by ordinary Jews. Levi invites Jesus and the disciples to dinner at his place and, of course, Jesus accepts. It’s a friendly affair—relaxed, informal, and unrushed. The original Greek portrays Jesus reclining at the table, suggesting He’s completely at ease in Levi’s company. When the Pharisees’ elitist class—the scribes—catches sight of this, they find a way to query Jesus’s disciples. “What’s up with this?” they ask. “Why does He eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus overhears and answers before the disciples get a chance to explain. (Odds are that they’ll blow it, as they probably haven’t given it much thought.) “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners,” Jesus replies. (Mark 2.17)

The Irony

It’s a crafty answer, since how it sounds and what Jesus actually says are two different things. It sounds like Jesus is telling them He dines with sinners because they’re “sick” and He’s trying to help them. In a way, it sounds like Jesus is telling the elitists to mind their own business and let Him do what He needs to do. And that’s part of it. But there’s more. Jesus is also telling the Pharisees that they too need a physician—that their disdain for those outside their circle is a sickness. More than a sickness; it’s a sin, and Jesus has come to call them to repentance with the same candor and passion that brings Him to Levi’s table. The irony is lost on them.

Free to Join the Party

In the gospels—and, thereafter, in the rite of the Lord’s Supper—the table is the great equalizing site. It is where Jesus feels most at home and, in being welcomed, He invites any and everyone to dine with Him. There are no seats for elitists, since joining Christ at table requires us to relinquish our sense of superiority and entitlement. You can assume you’re better, richer, holier, and more worthy than the rest. But the instant you sit down, you surrender those fallacies and confess you’re the same as anyone else. Misconceptions about your merits are dispelled. Your self-inflated sickness is cured. You’re free to join the party, to eat until you’re filled, and to know the sweet pleasure of communing with Christ.

Elitists delude themselves into believing they’re insiders. Yet, based on everything the gospels tell us about them, they’re really on the outside, looking in. Their obsession with class and status confuses them. They can’t figure out what’s happening. While they’re all worked up about what that is, the feast goes on. All they have to do is join Jesus and the disciples at Levi’s table. But that’s beneath them—or so they think—and, as a result, Jesus’s subtle rebuke flies right over their heads. Christ’s invitation stands to this day. Come to the table. There are plenty of seats. There’s always enough for everyone.

Elitists may think they’re insiders. Yet the gospels reveal they’re really on the outside, looking in.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012


Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before Him. Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” (John 8.9-10)

Not Her Story

The story of the adulterous woman reminds me of Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), in which a young bride cowers in the shadow of her husband's late wife, for whom the movie is named. Here, the adulteress is the title character, but the tale isn’t about her. She’s the reason the scribes and Pharisees collide with Jesus. And by the end, they too cower in her shadow. Yet she doesn’t really do anything. She’s brought to Jesus to tempt Him—not in the carnal sense, but to see if He’ll exert authority He technically doesn’t have. It’s supposed to be a lose-lose for Him. Either He condemns the woman to die by stoning, as the Law dictates, or He pardons her, with both judgments exceeding His right. But there’s a third option His adversaries never consider: He can throw the whole mess back into their hands and challenge them to condemn her. He invites anyone who’s never sinned to throw the first stone, tying their hands and sparing the woman’s life. After they slink away, Jesus asks her, “Has no one condemned you?” She answers, “No one, Sir.” Three words—that’s all we hear from her. “Then neither do I,” Jesus says and sends her off with a gentle warning not to sin again.

It's not her story. But we want it to be. We want to identify with her in some way because, however that is, we come out ahead. If see her as unjustly accused—which she’s not; she’s been with someone other than her rightful spouse—maybe we won’t feel so bad when we’re caught doing something contemptible. At times like that, Jesus’s “nobody’s perfect” answer proves mighty handy. If we see her as a victim—which she’s not; she voluntarily exposes herself to condemnation—maybe we can fall back on a victim mentality when we fail. We’re able to empathize with the woman because she’s a cipher. Beyond her infidelity, we know nothing about her. Is she a sex addict? A home wrecker? An unhappy wife looking for love? Did she actually commit this sin? John tells us she was “caught.” But caught how? Did someone burst in on her and her lover? Maybe her neighbors noticed something unusual going on, put two and two together, and what they concluded isn’t what it is. Knowing so little about her, we’re free to project anything we like on her.

Eagerness to Accuse

One supposes that would be okay if the story were about her. But it’s not. It’s about her accusers. To get to the story’s kernel, we have to enter it from their side, which we’d rather not, because they’re a reprehensible lot. They don’t consult Jesus privately about what should be done with the woman. No, they drag her into the Temple where He’s teaching and charge her openly. Remember, they’re gunning for Jesus, not the woman. Her feelings and reputation—her very life—are inconsequential to them. She’s simply a prop in their filthy little drama. Then, when Jesus throws a wrench in the works, they wander off, one by one. They’re humiliated by their arrogance, yet no more sensitized to it than when they started. They don’t apologize to Jesus or the woman. They don’t ask either’s forgiveness. They don’t acknowledge that in their haste to prove a point, they’ve sacrificed their dignity and credibility. They’re trapped in this woman’s shadow and the best they can do is walk away. John offers no hint they’ve learned their lesson. Which, apparently, they haven’t. They’re back at it in the next chapter, trying to twist a blind man’s healing into proof that Jesus isn’t from God. (John 9.16)

This story is about our eagerness to accuse. We can read all we’d like into it. Yet no matter how we spin it, we won’t come out looking good. It speaks to every impulse we have to polish our reputations at others’ expense. We may try to throw Jesus a curve ball that (we think) gives Him no option besides agreeing with us—proving our point, as it were. We may think nothing of hauling those we don’t like into the court of public opinion, assuming the crowd will side with us and ratify our self-righteousness. We may try to put words in Jesus’s mouth to justify our arrogance and deceit. But in the end, we will fail miserably, because Jesus always finds a way to bring our motives to light. The issue never revolves around whether our accusations are accurate or deserved. The question is whether we’re exempt from blame for wrongs we’ve committed. Jesus need not tell us we’re no better than anyone else. After He tosses the whole mess back into our hands, we can figure that out on our own.

When we accuse others of wrong, Jesus tosses the whole mess back into our hands.

Monday, June 25, 2012


The LORD is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh—my adversaries and foes—they shall stumble and fall. (Psalm 27.1-2)

Yesterday Walt and I, along with many members of our Lake View Presbyterian faith community, joined more than 60 churches to walk in Chicago’s Pride Parade. There were hundreds of us—so many that our entourage stretched longer than a city block, far longer than any Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches parade entry ever had. It was thrilling, and our joy was made full by the ebullient response we received. Thousands of spectators cheered, thanked us, high-fived us, and more than a few embraced us with teary eyes. As we turned the corner for the parade’s last leg, we spied the Westboro Baptist crowd, a small clutch of people from the infamously homophobic Kansas church that turns up each year. And something marvelous happened. We began to rejoice! Those on the sidelines added to our chorus. The roar that went up overpowered the invective hurled our way through Westboro’s loudspeakers. Not one hateful word could be heard.

Last night, as I reflected on the event, it occurred to me that we witnessed exactly what David writes about in Psalm 27. We saw our adversaries stumble and fall. And there was an important lesson in that, I think. When we embrace God as our light and salvation—as the very stronghold of our lives—we have nothing to fear. There is no reason to suppress our joy and confidence. In fact, facing those who would denigrate our making and beliefs is cause for joy. It incites rejoicing that we are free from gnawing hatred and hollow piety. We are at peace with our God, our neighbors, and ourselves, And out of that realization flows rivers of joy that drown out those who condemn us—especially those who, like the Westboro folks, go out of their way to diminish the wonder of our making.

Our joyful antidote to the bilious attacks was the last hurrah for this year’s parade. No doubt there will be repeat engagements at future marches. Yet our number will continue to increase, and with it our joy. We will rejoice even more vibrantly in the coming years—not to prove a point, but because joy is the point. As I closed the chapter on 2012 Pride, it struck me that this year’s parade ended just as it began. Our service preceding the march closed as the choir sent us out with the “Everybody Rejoice” chorus from The Wiz:

Can you feel a brand new day!
Can you feel a brand new day!

“They shall stumble and fall,” David reminds us. And on we march, into the light, salvation, and stronghold of God’s new day.

The Chicago Coalition of Welcoming Churches prepares to step off at this year’s Pride Parade.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Say "Yes" to the Yes

He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith!” (Matthew 15.26-28)

Not His Kind

Today, Gay Pride is traditionally observed around the world, marking the 43rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that gave birth to the LGBT rights movement. While many communities opt to celebrate Pride on other dates throughout the year, the last weekend in June touches a global nerve. With or without parades and festivals, we pause to consider how far we’ve come together and the distance we’ve yet to go.

In light of today’s celebrations, we’re going to break from the Sunday lectionary to consider a truly amazing event in Jesus’s life and ministry. In fact, it’s one of very few times when we witness two altogether extraordinary things: someone whose needs are too great to countenance rejection and Jesus, the Great Teacher, learning an invaluable lesson that changes how He sees and thinks. The story, told in Matthew 15.21-28, is deceptively simple. A mother, whose daughter is tormented by an evil spirit, seeks Jesus out. Expecting to be ignored, she makes a ferocious squall that disturbs the disciples. They urge Jesus to send her away. He agrees, not because she’s too loud and obnoxious to merit attention. Jesus wants nothing to do with her because she’s not His kind. She’s a Canaanite from the pagan tribe Israel conquered to claim the Promised Land. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus says matter-of-factly—as if the woman should know better than to ask Him for anything.


The Canaanite woman will not be ignored. She kneels before Jesus and prays, “Lord, help me.” We imagine her desperation and humility will touch Jesus. Given the racially charged climate of her day, she is, after all, making a fool of herself to prevail on the kindness of a Jew. But Jesus’s reaction is unimaginable to us. He rejects the woman’s plea in a most degrading fashion. “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” he says. For all practical purposes, He tells the woman she’s worse than a beggar; she’s a thief, an ill-mannered mongrel trying to steal what doesn’t belong to her. Where is the love that Jesus is so famous for? Where are the compassion and acceptance He’s always talking about?

Surely the insult wounds this woman to the core. Surely her hopes crumble and the pain of hearing her daughter won’t be helped slices her in two. Still, in the face of outright bigotry, she refuses to be refused. She grants Jesus His point. Her request is unorthodox and, in the eyes of Jewish traditionalists, indefensible. She really has no right to ask, or expect, Jesus to intervene. But none of it matters. Her need is too urgent, her agony too real. So she absorbs the insult and then turns it on its head. “Yes, Lord,” she says. “Yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Her simple statement takes Jesus aback and compels Him to rethink His position. He’s stunned into a new understanding of what God requires of Him, and everything God wants to do through Him to eradicate religious, social, and cultural boundaries that deny God’s grace to all but a select few. Suddenly Jesus is moved on a level far more profound than merely accommodating an anguished mother’s request. The woman’s belief that Jesus will help her constrains Jesus’s belief that He must. He declares, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Matthew finishes by informing us, “Her daughter was healed instantly.”


This is the Gospel in action—the good news of God’s kingdom that calls us to repent from narrow-mindedness that seeks to limit God’s grace to people of a certain kind, namely, our kind. And our astonishment with this episode springs from witnessing Jesus repent from the exclusionary mindset of His faith tradition. God vests the Canaanite woman with holy boldness to teach Jesus that God’s grace is too big for labels and boundaries. The time for religious bigotry and rejection has ended. God is doing something new that debunks members-only myths about faith and acceptance. Up to this point in Matthew, Jesus has been pushing the envelope by healing Jewish outcasts and performing miracles on the Sabbath. But this precious Canaanite mother presses Him to go all the way—to ignore all the rules and include her among those whose lives are forever changed by His power. And perhaps the most thrilling aspect of this event emerges in Jesus’s immediate response. He doesn’t tell the woman to come back after He’s had time to consider whether or not He should honor her request. He doesn’t consult the religious establishment about what’s “right.” He doesn’t poll His followers to see if they’ll be comfortable with His decision to help the woman. He answers her prayer with an all-inclusive “Yes.”

Christ’s all-inclusive “Yes” is the Canaanite mother’s legacy to us. And she has much to teach us about laying claim to it. We may have to come to Jesus in a big way, making a lot of noise that disturbs His inner circle. We may have to endure social and religious humiliation caused by our insistence that Jesus take notice of us. We will have to humble ourselves before Christ and beseech Him to help us. But God vests each of us with holy boldness to believe that God’s grace is too big for labels and boundaries. Great is our faith—so great that Jesus will reward it without hesitation. Jesus will never ask us to come back after He’s considered our worthiness. No traditions or powers need be consulted to ensure our acceptance. Christ will never poll His followers to get their approval of His decision to hear us and do amazing things in our lives. Regardless who we are, where we come from, and how others label us, Jesus answers us with an all-inclusive yes.

On this Pride Sunday, I pray that LGBT and alienated believers everywhere will summon the courage to overturn every hindrance and boundary attempting to deny their right to believe. I pray that we all will say, “Yes” to the Yes.

Christ’s all-inclusive “Yes” is the Canaanite mother’s legacy to us.