This sermon was preached at Saint Oswald’s Parkside by the Revd Canon Peter Sandeman on Sunday, 5 September, 2021. (Pentecost 15B)

Click here to view the readings in full at the Vanderbilt Common Lectionary

When I’m asked to preach I have learned to first check the lectionary. I’ve been caught too often by Priests inviting me to their church on a Sunday when the set readings are dull, difficult or dud.

That’s not been an issue for today’s readings, when Fr Bill asked me to preach in September, I couldn’t go past the first Sunday.

In fact there is an embarrassment of riches in all the readings set down for today, far to much for me to cover adequately especially with the theological knowledge present in this congregation.

More seriously in the light of Ali becoming our Priest, today’s readings and particularly the Gospel, offer the opportunity to reflect on the radical inclusion at the core of the good news we share.

In anticipation of the ministry of Ali Wurm. I want to focus today on the voice of the Syrophoenician Woman in our Gospel reading.

Have you ever been left out? Do you sometimes feel on the outside?

I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over those moments in Primary School when teams were being chosen for some sporting contest. Being of limited physical prowess, (skinny and not well coordinated), I desperately hoped to not be the last one picked. I always hoped to the chosen somewhere in the middle before the less sporty were reluctantly drafted.

It was really important to be included as part of the team, so in high school I opted for the less mainstream sport of baseball. Rightly assessing that the first reserve of the Burnside Primary school cricket team would have no hope of making any of the Norwood High School teams.

The need to be included and the sting of being left out, excluded, or not wanted is something that never really leaves us.

And in today’s world so many people are left out.

Just now we sang these words:

If the boat I paid for

Was unfit to set sail,

And if seeking refuge

Was now certain to fail,

Would you find a place for me?  

Boat people are feared and reviled within the Australian community today. Led by our federal government and supported by the opposition, refugees arriving by boat are termed illegals and turned back or imprisoned outside of the mainland.

That is not the message of the bible repeated in our reading from James, to really fulfill the royal law according to scripture to love our neighbours as ourselves. 

In loving our neighbours writes James we are not to show partiality.

Partiality is not a word we really use today so I looked it up, it means unfair bias in favour of one thing or person compared with another; in a word favouritism.

We have to love everyone equally, not just the ones we like or only people like us. We must love and include those who are different.

And not only to hold love as an ideal but to practice it in real ways.

What good is it my brothers and sisters,

if you say you have faith but do not have works?

Can faith save you?

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace ; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily need, what is the good of that?

So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

Sadly all too often we fear and dislike “the other”, those who are different from us because of gender, race, disability, age, or religion or those who hold the wrong opinion.

And we know too that the differences that cause us to discriminate against other people are really only skin deep.

Under our skin we are a common humanity, loved by God and inhabiting this one planet together.

Our Gospel today contains a great example of partiality by Jesus himself.

The woman in question was as much as an outsider as it was possible to be.

She was not a Jew but a despised foreigner.

There is no reference to a man in her life, her marital status was at least unknown.

In any case she initiated a conversation with a strange man unaccompanied by a male relative, which was and still is in some parts of the world, breaking a major taboo.

Her daughter was possessed by a demon.

To our eyes Jesus response to the woman’s request is unduly harsh:

Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

Jesus use of the term dog’s is taken by many learned commentators to be in reference to the woman’s gentile race.

Salvation was to be offered to the Jews first. The Gentile weren’t to be included.

This was a common understanding of the Apostles as well.

The very early church was believed to be for the circumcised only.

You may remember in Acts 10, Peter’s vision of the unclean birds and animals descending in a sheet for him to kill and eat[1]. Peter tells Cornelius the Centurion God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean[2].

Peter then understood that God shows no partiality[3] (there’s that word again) and salvation was for the gentiles as well as the Jews.

So many interpretations of this story see Jesus accepting the woman’s argument.

Sir even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.

And salvation was extended to the gentiles, to us.

We see this reflected in the first order of Holy Communion where the Priest prays in the name of all who are to receive communion:

We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under your table

Allan Cadwallader suggests an even deeper meaning, a greater inclusion.

Being left out at school was often made much worse by being called names.

Were you called names? How did it make you feel?

The sting of exclusion made worse by nasty name calling.

Kids are good at finding differences and exploiting them.

One of the names I was called in high school was Tokyo Joe.

I really didn’t understand why until when I was fifteen I searched my parent’s wardrobe and found the adoption papers for John and I.

And yes, I found out we were half Japanese, the other kids knew before I did.

This was a time when Asian kids were a rarity, and the Japanese were still hated because of the wartime atrocities. I can remember feeling this made me a complete outsider.

In his analysis Alan Cadwallader suggests Jesus was calling the woman a dog, then a common association of women with animals.

In the time of Jesus men were associated with reason, women with animals, dog being a term of abuse commonly applied to women.

So not only was the woman a gentile, she was in a lower caste because she was a woman.

Jesus wasn’t responding rudely to the woman, she hadn’t gotten under his skin and made him angry. Jesus was simply applying the traditions and language of his day.

The story is about exclusion on the basis of both race and gender.

So it is all the more remarkable that in response to Jesus argument, the woman turned his argument back on itself in a sophisticated manner.

Alan Cadwallader suggests the language the woman uses is beyond Mark’s literary ability.  We are hearing her words not Marks.

Here then is the authentic voice of a woman echoing down the ages. Arguing on an equal basis with Jesus to secure the inclusion of her race and her gender within the Kingdom, and for healing for her child.

The work of radical inclusion of all within the kingdom continues, here at St Oswald’s we are part of this ongoing work. The ongoing work for the inclusion of all, of women, of people with a disability, of gay and lesbian people, of transgender people, of people of all races.

And here at St Oswald’s we are shortly to welcome as our priest one who a short time ago was excluded from having a voice, who will now speak the word of God from this Parish.

May God bless Ali as she prepares to leave Wallaroo and join us.

May God bless this parish to be a united and inclusive community as Ali joins us.


[1] Acts 10 9-16

[2] Acts 10 28

[3] Acts 10 34