When God gets it wrong
Matthew 15: 10-28.
So what do we do when God gets it wrong?
Isn’t that an interesting question?
Now there is a theological answer to that.
The theological answer is really very predictable.
Anyone guess what the answer is?
The answer is of course, God never gets it wrong.
There is only one really big problem with that answer.
It isn't any use to us.
Because the truth is, that even though God doesn't get it wrong, that doesn't mean that there will be times in our life when God doesn't agree with us, or we don't agree with God. And when that happens there is a problem. Because even though God might not get it wrong, we might not be willing to admit that we have got it wrong.
And we might not think that God has got it right.
So what do we do when that happens?
In today's readings we have two examples of that very thing. And thus two examples of what we could do.
In example 1; we have the Pharisees. Now the Pharisees where good people, very religious people. When other Jews had given up on the faith they never did. They were like the example for others to follow. They had set their lives making sure that theirs was a path for others to get in good relationship with God.
They not only thought what was right, they did what was right.
I was listening to radio Ulster last weekend and they had this Methodist minister Rev Harold Good, who was calling for a Day of Acknowledgement in Ireland. This was for the churches to admit to their part in the troubles. Not when they agreed with the paramilitaries or did anything active to keep the troubles going. This Day of Acknowledgement was for them to confess to those times they kept silent. When there was injustice against the other side and they did nothing. When someone from the other side needed help and they did nothing. For those times they didn't raise their heads above the parapet because they were scared they would then become a target.
This Rev Harold Good believed that for evil to flourish good people just need to do nothing. And he feels too many church folk, too many churches did nothing.
Well in the time of Jesus, that wasn't the Pharisees.
Didn’t matter who was running the country; Greeks, Romans, Persians...they stood up for what they believed.
God had given the people a way of life to live by, and they were going to do everything in their power to live by it...no matter what the sacrifice.
And when John the Baptist and Jesus first came along they were very keen followers. Anyone who was trying to get the people to turn from their evil ways and begin to follow the paths of God was good in their eyes.
The trouble was that their faith could be very literal.
If the scriptures said that God said something was bad, then it was bad.
If the scriptures said that something was good then it was good.
Which was good.
Except that sometimes God wasn’t very specific in the scriptures. And the reason God wasn't very specific was that times change. And instead of giving specifics that were rooted to one time and place, God often tried to give principles that could adapt with the changes.
For example; food.
In a time when people could easily die if they ate the wrong food, then God gave principles about what to eat. The good food was called clean, the bad food was called unclean.
That was fine.
But what about categories like ‘fish’? Some fish would be good and some fish would be bad. Now God wasn't going to give a comprehensive list in the Bible about every fish that ever existed, about which ones were good and which ones were bad. What was the point of the Bible saying that the Japanese Kurumi ebi was clean or unclean when the chances of someone from Israel at that time ever seeing that particular seafood was non-existent.
But with all these invaders taking over the country with their new and different ways and new and different foods someone had to say if those new ways and new foods were OK by God or not. Well when people were unsure they would look at the Pharisees, because they knew they would make sure something was right or not.
Unfortunately over time, these non biblical lists became as important as the scriptures themselves.
So Jesus says something that they disagree with, not something from the scripture, but something from one of their lists, and they feel threatened.
‘Did you know that the Pharisees had their feelings hurt by what you said?’
Or in other words, ‘Jesus you need to apologise for what you said, these are important people. You need to explain that what you said was not what you meant to say. Because you got it wrong.’
And when Jesus didn't change his mind, instead explained how the Pharisees were wrong, then the Pharisees turned from being potential friends to being real enemies.
So that’s example 1.
Example 2 comes right after this one.
There is a Canaanite woman. Jews hated the Canaanites, Canaanites hated the Jews. Both people claimed the territory as their own, a bit like Palestinians and Jews today. No great love lost between them. And the way the disciples treat her is the way that any self-respecting Jew would treat a Canaanite.
Jesus politely ignores her, the disciples want Jesus to get rid of her.
Now remember Jesus only has three years on earth to set in motion a path that would change the world. He doesn't have time for distractions. As we have seen over the last few weeks, Jesus was struggling to get the disciples to understand what he was trying to, do let alone get foreigners who didn't even have the cultural background to understand what God was trying to do.
So Jesus doesn’t try. He explains that his work is with the lost sheep of Israel. Then I suspect that Jesus hears one of the disciples describe the woman as a dog, so Jesus uses that and says that you don’t take the meat that is meant to keep the children fed and give it to the dogs.
She replies that even the dogs at the family table get the scraps.
And then Jesus cures the woman's daughter.
Both these passages are about conflict with Jesus.
The Pharisees disagree with Jesus’ stance on food.
The Canaanite woman disagrees with Jesus' stance on healing.
Both believe that Jesus has got it wrong.
Why does this matter?
Because at some point we will be that person.
We will be the person that believes that Jesus' has got it wrong.
And how we react matters.
What if God called me to another church?
Let’s say that I get a letter from the Church of Scotland in Corby. They are really struggling and need a young, handsome minister...but he isn't available so they ask me. And I really think that God is calling me there.
I think Roseanna would be seriously questioning God about this.
Her daughter has just got married her husband isn't going to be about because he is in the police and at a residential course in Tulliallan.
Her other daughter in Falkirk has just had a baby, her granddaughter, and Roseanna fully expected to be looking after that child a lot.
Her wee boy works in Stirling and can’t commute from Corby to Stirling, if she leaves him on his own he will never be able to wash his clothes and iron his shirts or make his sandwiches.
If I tell Roseanna that God has called me to Corby she will tell me that God has got it wrong, and God has to change his mind.
Now that’s a bit of a silly scenario.
But what if it isn't silly.
What if it is someone close to you that is dying of cancer and God isn't giving you any cures?
What if you are given a degenerative disease and you see your muscles waste away day by day?
Or if your closest friend has their life taken away one memory at a time. And one day they don't recognise you?
Now you’re asking God to take those problems away.
But He doesn’t. And you know God is wrong about this.
What if some low-life hacks your computer and the next thing you know is that your bank account is cleared. You have the mortgage people threatening to take away your house. The electricity is cut off and you have no money for food?
Or what if after 21 years of marriage your spouse tells you that they have fallen in love with someone else. It’s no ones fault but you have to leave your home. Or they leave the home but you can't afford to stay in the home you have created?
Or what if, after years of trying you are told that you can never have a family?
Now you are praying to God but whatever you’re asking of God, all you hear is ‘No.’
What do you do?
What do you do when you are sure that God has got it wrong?
I believe the answer to that question is hard.
Because I believe that the answer that we get in this passage is that we stay in relationship. We can shout and we can scream and we can argue, but we do that in relationship.
The Pharisees didn't.
The Pharisees took the huff and decided to have nothing to do with Jesus, in fact they saw him as such a threat that they actively went against Jesus.
They were looking for a saviour, they were looking for someone to come and move the people towards God, but because they cut themselves off from Jesus they never found the peace and the hope that they were looking for.
The Canaanite woman continued to talk. No matter what she thought Jesus was, or wasn’t , going to do, she stayed in relationship with him, and in the end she found the help that she needed.
In this life that is our choice.
We either cut ourselves off from God because we don't agree with what is happening in our life,
or we stick with God and trust that things will work themselves out.
I have to be honest.
There are so many times in my life when things have not worked out the way I wanted them to.
Roseanna and I have both lost our parents.
Roseanna has had miscarriages.
My children have had miscarriages.
We have failed exams that we needed to pass.
We have lost jobs that we really wanted to have.
We have had relationships fall apart that we thought would be forever.
How could God let that happen to us?
And my experience, and it is just my experience, is that God is OK with me being angry, God is OK with me not understanding, God is OK with me screaming at him and challenging him and with me not being happy with him...as long as I stay in relationship. Because as long as I stay in relationship then eventually I will be open to the help he can bring, the comfort he can bring, the strength he can bring.
But every time I keep God at arms length, then I keep his help at arms length as well.
So what do you do when God is has got things wrong and the world is not as it should be?
Well according to the Bible you can either take the huff and walk away, and walk away from the help he offers,
or you can stay in relationship with Him and know that with time things will sort themselves out.
That’s it, the only choices we have, so be careful which one you choose.