What don't you understand?
The Rev. Jon Roberts
Calvary Episcopal Church
Indian Rocks Beach, FL
10 Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen and understand. 11 What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.” 12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?” 13 He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides.[a] If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” 15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.” 16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Woman of Canaan at the Feet of Christ, Jean-Germain Drouais, 1784
It is not what goes into your mouth that defiles you but what comes out of your mouth. What don’t you understand? 
Best of friends, Rabbi Schwartz and Father O’Malley were at a diner enjoying lunch. Father O’Malley put down his ham and cheese sandwich and commented, “This sandwich is so good! Kosher dietary restrictions made sense in ancient times, but when are you going to join the modern age and eat delicious, wholesome food like this? Without missing a beat, Rabbi Schwartz replied, “At your wedding.”
There is another story, told by the great “Preacher-Teacher”, Fred Craddock who was a highly acclaimed homilectical and New Testament professor at Emory University in Atlanta. Fred is an excellent story teller and he talks about this one time when he was called by one of his ex-pupils, to fill in for him one Sunday at his Church. It wasn’t any ordinary church. It was the well-to-do, affluent Riverside Church in NYC. The pastor was the revereed Dr. William Sloane Cotton and he was in need of a break. He called out to his mentor and asked Fred if he could stay in his apartment; so he left Atlanta and flew up for the assignment. Taking a cab into the city, looking up he saw huge, tall skyscrapers everywhere. He went into the pastors’ modest apartment and looked around. It was way up, and he could see Riverside Church, just below. It was late and he was hungry so he went to the fridge and noticed there wasn’t anything inside except a note. It read, “Fred, so sorry I didn’t have time to stock any food. Tomorrow morning you can have breakfast at the church. They feed the homeless at 7. Love, Bill.” He rose early and took the elevator down to the lobby. He walked across the street, around the back of the church and noticed a long line of people waiting to enter so he took a place. While he was standing in this line of homeless men and women waiting to be fed, he made conversation with the person beside him. “Well, what put you in this situation?” “Well,” he said, “it’s alcohol. Might as well be honest with you, it’s alcohol. But I’m dry now. I’m dry now.” “What put you…?” “It was a woman. She took it all.” “Really?” “Yeah.” “What put you here?” one them asked me. “I was invited,” I said. I didn’t know how to answer them. I didn’t want to create any distance, so I just ate what they ate, talked with them, then went back to the room.
When it came time for church, he vested in his typical robe, putting on all the sashes and tassels. Given every sort of warm hospitality, he was escorted to the procession and made to feel like he was going to meet the king and queen. At the moment when he was to preach, he was led to the pulpit while listening to the most gifted and beautiful chorus from their large choir. He climbed up into the pulpit, looked down at hundreds of people worshiping and there was quietness, the expectation of what he would say next. At that moment he was in one of the most revered churches and he thought. What did I do to deserved this. “Who am I?”, he asked. I am an invited guest.
Whether you sit down to eat your favorite deli sandwich with a friend, pull up a chair beside a homeless person, or presented the seat of honor before the feast, you are an invited guest. Be careful what you are about to say so that you do not cause offense to the Lord most High nor those you are called to serve. Remember it is not what you put into your mouth that defiles you but what comes out of your mouth. This is common sense, so why don’t we understand? Why do we assert our opinions so quickly about another person’s ritual or custom? Why do we disparage over those less fortunate than ourselves or go so far as to make them into a disease, to be avoided? Why do we expect first class treatment? Could it be what we put into our mouths or is it something to which we process, invest and transgress? How do we get so set in our own ways that we fail to see the bigger picture? What don’t we understand?
In the story of Jesus being approached by the Canaanite woman. Here is an example of words defiling a person. It appears that Jesus is the one who is defiling himself as he rebukes the woman who cries for help, telling her she is a dog and not worthy of being offered food, even the crumbs of food. He even goes to refer to her as a dog. Now, in the ancient Jewish purity laws you were not supposed to touch anything that was dead. A dog, roaming the street or slipping through a crack in the wall of Jerusalem, to go outside and scrounge for food on the heap of carcasses that were rotting, along with the trash, was a most dispicable creature. It is not fair that your children are barely finding enough to eat, when you give a scrap from your table to a begging dog. Who knows where they’ve been? “What don’t you understand” is the tone of Jesus’ message.
This, however is not what he is teaching the woman, but rather his disciples who have prompted him with the problem of the Pharisees who have challenged his feeding of the thousands, just a chapter earlier in Matthew. To make the point clearer, the evangelist will repeat the story in the next pericope of verses following this parable. The parable must be explained about what Jesus says to the religious leaders who said we must avoid people like the Canaanite woman. She is our blood-sworn enemy. Her people were the ones we fought to gain the Promised Land. Like the Egyptians who endeared the talent and vision of Joseph, they would have revered the dog, thinking it was a cherished family member, rather than a scavenger. Such differences of two cultures unsettled by a constant battle of giving and withholding. “It is not fair,” said Jesus. But who was he sent to save? Was it the lost children of Israel, as he refers. And those who believed that God came only for Israel are like the plants to which God did not root. Those who teach God’s tent is inclusive to only a set group of undefiled people, when their words do not match their actions (adultery, fornication, murder, false witness and slander), are going to be uprooted. They are the blind leading the blind. They will fall into a bottomless pit and wash out to the sewer.
To be defiled is to “unpurify” oneself, turning away from God’s message. Therefore we must become like the Canaananite woman who begs for mercy and forgiveness, because most of us behave like the Pharisee, or caught in between with the unknowing of what to do, like the disciples. What we put in our mouths is more than a statement of food selection as it is on inward digestion, choosing either the nutrients or the detriments of what we express from our hearts. If our hearts dwell in anger, we will be defiled and do things that are not becoming of being a Christian. We must be careful in what we say and do to avoid being consumed by our self. Perhaps the demonic daughter, to which the mother begged for healing symbolizes the worst case scenario of what happens when we are absent of God’s presence. These are the ones who stand in the line, asking for help and mercy. These are the ones who we, in our exalted positions may subconsciously or intentionally avoid. When we examine our lives, we see what led us to this situation so clearly.
When God calls us to serve His will, we are invited guest. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under His table, but if he would speak the word, then our soul shall be healed. The Gospel has a happy ending for the woman. Jesus, after questioning her motive, restores and heals her. “Great is your faith. Let it be done to you as you wish. And her daughter was healed immediately.”
Dearly beloved be alert and remember, it is not what goes into your mouth that defiles you, but rather what comes out of it that revokes God’s promises of mercy.
What don’t you understand?