Trinity 20: What does belong to God?

Trinity 20

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
Matthew 22:15-22

How are you with handling tricky situations? We can all find ourselves in them; hopefully not too often. Some people are quick on their feet and can get themselves out without much fuss. They have an ability to say or do the right thing just at the right time. Many of us probably fudge our way through, praying the situation will end quickly. If you are like me, you will think of a brilliant rebuttal after the situation is over and then wish you had said whatever it is when you had the opportunity.

It is one thing to watch a politician squirm on breakfast television as they get pressed for an answer and something else to be on the receiving end of a trick question. This is where Jesus finds himself in the Gospel reading this morning.

Last week’s Gospel reading was a parable of Jesus; the wedding banquet for the king’s son, where none of the invited guests attended. This week’s reading is a real-life situation. Matthew sets these parables and events in the final week of Jesus’ life as chapter 21 has the palm-waving, triumphal entry into Jerusalem on a donkey. These are some of Jesus’ final messages; understanding this helps us to experience the urgency in the tone. This story also appears in the Gospels of Luke and Mark as well. When accounts and parables appear three times and even four – you know that these are significant!

On its face, this passage from Matthew’s Gospel is about taxation. A very exciting topic! It is also a divisive topic as there are likely many different opinions on the subject in the church this morning as there would have been 2000 years ago. The Pharisees and Herodians were looking for ways to expedite Jesus’ arrest and devise their clever question to him, ‘Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?’ History tells us that this was a trick question.
The Jews of the day were deeply unhappy at paying taxes to Rome; it was a hot topic. Imagine how you’d like it if you woke up one morning and discovered people from the other end of the world had marched into your country and demanded that you pay them tax as the reward for having stolen your land! (Tom Wright, Matthew for Everyone, volume 2).

This question puts Jesus in a lose-lose situation; He knows that this question comes not from curiosity but from malice. In his very typical Jesus way, he responds to a challenge with an even greater challenge. Jesus takes a Roman coin, bearing the image of the emperor, and answers, ‘Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.’ This is not the answer that was expected.

Jesus is not saying there are two distinct realms, the religious and the secular, and that both require equal loyalty. Jesus is saying that the hated coin already belongs to the emperor, his face is stamped on it; so give the emperor what is his. There is a much harder and more complicated question to answer: What belongs to God? Everything.

From the very beginning we were created in God’s image. Go back to Genesis. As we were created by God, his image is stamped in us, we are God’s image bearers. Like the coin with the emperor’s face that belongs to him, we belong to God. We are far more valuable than an old Roman coin. This also means that we owe God everything, our whole and entire selves. It is a fairy tale to think that we can divide up the sacred and the secular. We cannot separate them when everything already belongs to God.

God knows how much tax you pay, he knows down to the last pence what is in the bank or under the mattress. More frighteningly, God knows how and on what you spend your money; along with your attitude towards it. This is not a Stewardship sermon, I promise! However, you will hear me say this more than once but the most honest document you have is your bank statement and/or credit card bill. Think about that for a moment.

These statements are recorded proof of how you spend your time and your money. If you really want to know someone, ask to see their bank statement! This is also true for a church. If I want to know what the priorities of this church are, the bank statements are very helpful.

What does it mean to give to God what belongs to God in these challenging times? How can we be God’s image bearers while families and communities are struggling, while war wages in the Middle East and Ukraine, poverty is on the rise and all the other things that are troubling us? If everything does belong to God, then our spiritual, Christian lives and our secular (political, work, social) lives must agree.

How we behave at work, must be the same as we behave at church. How we love our neighbours, as difficult as they can be, must be the same as how we treat ourselves. Whatever we render to Caesar must always take second place to what we render to God.

What is God asking of us? The words of the Shema from Common Worship sums it up rather well: Our Lord Jesus Christ said; The first commandment is this: ‘Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

In Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians (modern day Thessaloniki in northern Greece) he expressed his relief that the church had survived some recent attacks. Paul is trying to encourage and reassure the church family to continue to stand firm in their Christian faith.

Paul lists all the things that he is thankful for; their faith, all the labour done in love, steadfastness of hope in Jesus. The Thessalonians have faced some hard times, as had Paul and Jesus. Paul is clear that there is more to the story, Jesus is trying to convey that in his parables and teaching in the last days of his life.

When the questions are tricky and the future seems bleak and the weight of the world is bearing down we can find our refuge in Jesus. He is everything. Love God. The emperors and their reigns in this world are temporary; we are to give the emperor what belongs to him. So yes, pay your taxes. Remember that God’s reign is eternal and encompasses everything. Give to God what is God’s. Give God everything. He gave everything for us.

Trinity 19: First Sunday in New Parish! Important Invitations


Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14

Good Morning! It is wonderful to finally be with you! Thank you to everyone who has made me feel very welcome since I moved to Charlwood and especially at my licensing service on Tuesday. Many of you will know that I am also the Lead Chaplain of Gatwick and that started this past week too. The plates are already spinning!

Part of moving and starting something new usually involves invitations. My airport email has received a steady stream of invitations to various events and meetings. I have also been extending invitations to the Church Wardens and some key volunteers to meet with me. I did notice that party invitations have been lacking – but that too will be rectified.

When we invite someone to an event, we expect a response. Preferably yes and yet ‘no I cannot attend’ is an acceptable answer. To receive no response is generally unacceptable and often seen as rude. It is often more painful to have our invitation ignored or dismissed than an honest ‘no I cannot’.

Some invitations are more serious than others and have farther reaching consequences. I received a letter this week from the Diocese of Southwark inviting me to participate in a couple of events in the first year of my incumbency. There was a lovely description of one event; I would meet new colleagues and get some core skills training on a residential course at the lovely Diocesan retreat centre. They even have two potential dates to attend, whichever suited me better.

The invitation ended with the following: The Bishop of Southwark has a firm expectation that all new incumbents will attend this programme. This is an invitation with expectation and consequences.

Our Gospel reading this morning is one of those parables of Jesus that is not so easy to understand and certainly less easy to preach about! That does not mean that we can avoid or ignore the bits that we find difficult. The parables of Jesus are meant to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. This one certainly does. Parables are also meant to show us who God is and who God is not.

Many people would read this parable as God playing the role of the king. Jesus is the king’s son whose wedding it is and the Jewish people are the guests that are invited but do not show up and then get killed for it. The people who are rounded up at the last moment, the unwashed good and bad, are us Gentiles. This understanding, while neat and tidy, flattens this story and avoids looking at what it is really about.

The other problem with this flat reading is what it says about God. Is he really a tyrannical king who kicks out the guests when they turn down his invitation to be killed in the streets while the city burns? I think not! If we believe that God is our loving Father who ultimately wants what is best for us, the idea that He is like this king is wrong.

Where does that leave us?

Jesus is comparing the invitation to the kingdom of heaven to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son and the invited guests did not come. Maybe we have invited family or friends over for a meal or a party and they did not turn up. Maybe they forgot, or there was a falling out or they got a better offer.

Both of these invitations have consequences; for good and for bad. This is what we do not like. I volunteered as the Police Chaplain for Thames Valley in Slough for the past 5 years. It was a fascinating role! Ultimately the police are dealing with the fallout from the consequences of people’s actions; generally the wrong ones. People resist arrest, do some crazy things not to get caught; all in a bid to avoid the consequences of their actions.

If you invite someone over and they don’t turn up; there are consequences. You have wasted your time cleaning and cooking; you have spent money on food and drink that might go to waste. Likely your feelings will be hurt at the lack of consideration and respect shown. While annoying, these consequences are not life threatening, salvation and eternal life is not at stake.

The consequences to the refusal of the invitation into the kingdom of heaven are far more severe. There is a sense of anger and urgency in Matthew’s story (maybe this is what makes this parable hard to understand). Part of the anger is generated at the beginning of the scene.

The King is throwing a party for his Son, it will be glorious and spectacular, a big celebration, people would beg, borrow and steal to get an invitation. Yet the invited guests do not seem to care about their current and future King. What should have been party time turns into a war zone. This rejection of him is both personal and corporate; they not only reject him but their share in the future nation he represents. The murderous response to the king’s slaves shows the depth and nature of human hostility towards God.

The second point of anger comes out of the sense of urgency in that the banquet is ready to start. The food is on the table and the drinks are poured. There are some cultural considerations here: invitations would have already been sent and accepted. Prior to email invites, calendars and clocks, second invitations to a feast were usual. They took a long time to prepare so it was helpful to be notified again.

The customary second invitation, this time with a specific message, is sent and on this occasion the people would not come. The people will never again get invited to a royal wedding. The invitation has been rejected. Not only do the people not come, they do not care.

The King, however, does not give up. He throws open the invitation to all. It is unconditioned, but it is not unconditional. Consequences remain. Just as the wedding guests must dress in an appropriate way for the feast; repentance and faith are needed to enter the kingdom of God.

In telling this parable, Jesus is warning his disciples against a naïve underestimation of the power of sin. Some people will experience ‘the outer darkness’ for failing to accept the invitation. Throughout the parables in Matthew 21 & 22, Jesus wants his audience that they are in real danger of passing up their chance to share in the kingdom of God. Jesus and the kingdom of God go together and cannot be separated.

If you reject the Son, you reject the Father, the King. Many of those listening to Jesus, like the invited guests, did not want to believe this.

Do you believe this? How are the churches of St Nicholas and Emmanuel handling the invitation to join in the kingdom of God? Are we extending the invitation to both the good and the bad? I ask this both as individuals and worshipping communities. Will we accept it? Will we put on the right clothes and attend?

St Augustine reflected on this passage, ‘the garment that is required is in the heart; not on the body.’

We should consider the words of St Paul in his letter to the Philippians when extending invitations: let your gentleness be known to everyone, do not worry about anything, pray and ask God with thanksgiving.

As I begin my ministry here and at Gatwick, I want everyone to know that they are invited, are welcome. Not only to church but into the kingdom of God. No one is beyond God’s reach or falls so short of Jesus’ love – despite what they may have been told or believe about themselves. I do not want anyone to be thrown into the outer darkness, neither should you.

Let us not be deceived. The invitation is there, we are all on the guest list. We need to be dressed and ready. Ready to be changed into the people God made us to be, ready to celebrate and share in the Good News. The banquet is set and ready. Are we?

My Final Tour of the Hambleden Valley

This past Sunday was my final day in the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches. I have loved the last almost 3 years there. It was a joy and privilege to serve the people and the churches of this beautiful place. I now take a 6 week break – starting with some time at Mucknell Abbey.

Final Hambleden Service

Romans 12:9-end
John 15:1-12

To all God’s beloved in the churches of the Hambleden Valley, who are called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

First, I thank God for all of you because of your faith, your love and dedication to the churches, villages and Valley. I have abided with you these last (almost) 3 years and I love you. Sometimes you were very easy to love; sometimes it took a little more effort! I know that many of you would have liked me to abide longer. This was not an easy decision to make, but in the longer term this was the best decision for you and for me. Even if we cannot see that yet.

My interim period in the Hambleden Valley has been extremely valuable to my ministry. I take many lessons with me; I learned some hard ones and that is a good thing. I leave something of my heart with you.

Part of my role here was to remove some branches and prune the trees for a fruitful future. I wait in hope and anticipation to see what fruit is produced in the years to come. I pray that God will be gracious and let me have a look or an update every once in a while.

Pruning is never easy. It is often painful and needs to be done with careful attention. I tried. I know that I did not always get that right; I pruned with blunt secateurs and little too close to the bone. I can only apologise. If there is any consolation, I too was pruned in this role by God. His pruning was much more efficient and gentle. Please leave any future pruning in the hands of God. He is so much better at it than we ever can be.

We can be tempted to prune each other with our looks, our words and our deeds. Resist the temptation! Abide with each other, keep on keeping on. Bear with one another. We are all bearing with you! Love what is genuine.

My only caution to you is this: do not be tempted to look backwards or romanticise the past. The Church cannot and does not live in the ‘good old days’ if in fact they even were. The next few months before Andy is licensed will be busy and challenging. You have been here before; watching your thinking. Do not make space for negativity or crustiness. This is not a vacancy. Call it minding the gap. Hope is on the horizon – look ahead with optimism. Abide with each other.

Jesus’ call for the disciples to abide with each other in John 15 was part of the Last Supper discourse. There is an urgency in the tone of this writing. He was going to the cross. We are not! Wait patiently in this next short while. Love one another and hang in there. Keep the commandments. Love your neighbour.

These are your instructions.

Here are your love letters…

To the angels of the church at Fawley: Fawley is special to me as you were the first people I got to meet in person when I started in January 2021. Your tenacity to keep meeting every Friday at noon, lockdown restrictions or not, week in and week out, rain or shine, warm or cold is truly inspirational.

Your care for friends and neighbours has been, and continues to be, unstinting. Fawley is also a place of convivial hospitality all done to impeccable standards.

I cannot wait to see the building once it is reopened. Please invite me! You should be commended for the desire to put the church back in the centre of the village.

Bless you dear Fawleyites.

To the angels of the church at Fingest: You might be small but you are fierce! You like to do things your own way and take great pride in doing just that. The devotion to the church, village and pub is admirable.

Fingest is also the first and loudest to remind us that we are a Group in the Hambleden Valley. This is not to be forgotten or put to the side. Keep on banging the drum!

Fingest has a speciality for Evening Services. There is nowhere more peaceful than the 6 pm in St Bartholomew’s on a Sunday evening. When the busy world is hushed and the fever of life is over, even on a cold winter’s evening, the radiators in Fingest are ablaze. I highly recommend attending.

Bless you dear Fingestites.

To the angels of the church at Frieth: You might be the daughter of the bigger church down here in the valley – thanks to those do-gooders of bygone days who thought the fine people of Frieth needed to go to church more regularly – but you are your own woman!

Your welcome to the students and staff at the school is noted. They love coming to visit even if, in the words of a reception student, it smells old. Nothing is ever too much trouble or fuss. The choir turns up on time (you smell just fine), sing beautifully and manage to do many other tasks in your choir robes; flitting around the church like little blue angels.

The spirit of Frieth is gentle and welcoming. My prayer is that more people will come to experience that.

Bless you dear Friethians.

To the angels of the church at Hambleden: In the heart of the valley, in the heart of the action. Things just happen in the church as though by magic. You are a graceful swan gliding down the humble Hamble Brook. Yet underneath is some mad paddling. People who visit are constantly amazed at the beauty of this building. The more astute know that it is the beauty of the people who care for this place that shines through. Your dogged dedication is what keeps the roof literally on this place.

The care and attention for wedding couples and baptism families, the sensitivity for bereaved families is renowned. Nothing is too big or small, no detail overlooked. Thank you to the choirs, bell ringers and flower ladies for making these events even more special.

To the grand-dame of the organ loft – thank you for sharing your immense gifts with us and so many for so long. We are now on to the 3rd generation of some families that you have played for.

Bless you Christine.

Bless you dear Hambledonians.

To the angels of the church at Medmenham: Oh Medmenham. You have certainly kept it interesting! You are on the cusp of a brighter future as a church; I really believe this. The pieces to this puzzle are almost certainly there; just needs some time to come together. The dedicated core keeps things moving; even when very few show up. Your gracious attitude means that it is always worth it. The village is slowly waking up to the gem of the church in their midst. We are to preach the gospel in season and out of season. Keep on going.

Brothers and sisters, please keep helping Medmenham. Just a little support will go a long way and help to encourage the villagers.

Bless you dear Medmenhamittes.

To the angels of the church at Turville: Dibley. It was a pleasure to be your Priest-in-Charge! Not Vicar. You wear the mantle of that with grace and nonchalance despite the attention it brings you. It does not go to your head. I will not let it go to mine either.

If you are at a loose end on a Wednesday morning, please do stop in at the 10:15 Communion service. It is beautiful! There is sometimes Bazil the cat, often a sweet toddler, highly esteemed elders from across the Valley bearing the local news and a very warm welcome. We break bread and then have biscuits. This is the ideal midweek oasis.

There are plans afoot to spruce the place up. Prayers for this journey. There are people rooting for you and desire to see this come to pass.

Bless you dear Turvillians.

To the angel of the church that is Jenny Neagle. You might not know Jenny. You should. She is a big part of the brains of the organisation. She helps Sue & I and the Church Wardens immensely. Always willing to learn, correct our mistakes, make contact with people in a compassionate and professional way.

Bless you Jenny.

To the angel of the church that is Sue Morton. I have so enjoyed being part of The Sues with you. You are a gift to the church and the Hambleden Valley. From you I have learned the value of giving things time and space. You are a fount of much knowledge that you share with consideration and grace. Thank you for your support and encouragement – especially when neither of us were sure. Your faith is an example to us all.

Bless you Sue.

And that, my friends, is my farewell tour of the Hambleden Valley. Abide with each other. Go gently, go patiently. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Go in the love and peace of Christ.

Trinity 12: Remember Who You Are!

Frieth 9:00 P&P
Trinity 12

Isaiah 51:1-6
Romans 12:1-8
Matthew 16:13-20

Growing up, I would say that I was a pretty good kid: a reasonable student, polite, well behaved, didn’t get into much trouble, etc. This carried on largely into my teenage years with the odd scrape, of course. Becoming a teenager means doing things independently of one’s parents and exploring nightlife. I grew up in a small town, so it did not take long to explore! Once curfew times had been negotiated and I got ready to go out, my Dad would almost inevitably say ‘Susan, remember who you are.’

Man! Sometimes it really bothered me! Especially if I had not fully disclosed where I would be going or what I would be doing that evening. This was my Dad’s way of telling me to behave, to remember how I had been raised and what was acceptable behaviour.

There were times when that sentence would pass through my mind; and I believe steered my behaviour. As I grew up and matured, I have come to realise that ‘remembering who I am’ is a very valuable thing to know.
In the Gospel reading this morning we are asked to consider who Jesus is. This is a pivotal moment in Peter’s life and in the lives of the disciples.
Why is Jesus asking this question?

Over the last few weeks in the lectionary we have been talking about weeds, wheat, pearls, treasures, mustard seeds, bread and fish. These are all stories about Jesus taking very little of something and making it very, very big. The miracles displayed in these stories show us God’s power displayed through Jesus in the provision and generosity given to those who choose to follow. These stories are pointing to the person of Jesus and who he is.

One of the recurring themes throughout these readings is Jesus having to continually prove himself to the disciples and the crowds. They are still doubting as they do not yet understand who He is and what he came to do in the building of the kingdom of God.
Up to this point Jesus has been seeking to prove his claim of messiahship through words and deeds. Now it is time to see if the lesson has been learned. Jesus starts with a ‘public opinion’ survey: ‘Who do people say the Son of Man is?’

It seems like a bit of a random question. Might have seemed that way to the disciples. No doubt that Jesus already knew the answers but wanted to hear it from them. Jesus is given a variety of public opinion answers and this opinion is divided. Some say he is John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets.
These answers are interesting; people did not think of Jesus, meek and mild; not the cosy friend of little children. He is categorised as one of the wild prophets of the Old Testament. One who stood up spoke the word of God fearlessly and against the rulers of the day.

Then Jesus cuts to the heart of the matter: “Who do you say I am?” Suddenly there is no public opinion to hide behind. They must make an intelligent, personal choice based on the witnessed miracles and heard messages.
Take a moment now and consider that question for yourself. Jesus is asking you ‘Who do you say I am?’

This is an answer with not only eternal consequences but with consequences for the everyday trials and triumphs of walking around on this planet.
Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God’. An answer which gets him some serious praise and blessing. The importance of Peter’s answer is that he acknowledged that Jesus was not just God’s mouthpiece against injustice and corruption, but that Jesus was God’s Messiah, God’s king.

Who is Jesus to you? A good moral teacher? Jesus meek and mild, the baby in the manger that seems to stay there? Jesus on the cross who doesn’t seem to get down. Jesus the Prince of Peace, wonderful counsellor, Mighty Saviour, Name Above all Names.

Jesus had a word for Peter after his announcement. Tom Wright said: ‘if Peter was prepared to say that Jesus was the Messiah, Jesus was prepared to say that, with this allegiance, Peter would himself be the foundation for his new building. Just as God gave Abram the name Abraham, indicating that he would be the father of many nations, so now Jesus gives Simon the new name Peter, the Rock.’

Peter went on to do just that. This was not without trials and tribulation for Peter. As we know he denied Christ before the crucifixion and had to live with that guilt and shame. Never forget that Jesus restored Peter on the beach.
This is really helpful for as and when we forget who Jesus is. We, like Peter, can be restored to the body of Christ. We need to take ourselves to Jesus, ask for forgiveness and start again.

It is through God’s grace that we have been restored and redeemed and it is also through grace that we have been given the gifts of God. Anyone need to hear this today?

In the Romans reading we are reminded that we are one body with many members and being members of one another.
We have been given gifts: ministry, teaching, exhortation, giving, leading and compassion. This list is by no means exhaustive and there are many, many more gifts of the Spirit. As I begin to reflect on my time in the Hambleden Valley, I am astonished by the diversity of gifts and talents across the parish. I am so grateful for the generous sharing of these gifts.
These are the gifts that we need, our families, friends and the wider world need us to use. The body of Christ is desperately needed! This is why we need to know who Jesus is: we are part of his body. Therefore best to know something of the person in whom we dwell and dwells within us.
By knowing who Jesus is we can have a clearer picture of who we are. We can remember who we are and who we were made to be when we know who Jesus is. The beloved children of God.

Trinity 11: Crumbs

Trinity 11

Isaiah 56:1,6-8
Matthew 15:21-28

How is everyone doing this morning? Let us check in with one another. Are you doing okay? Is anyone bothered by anything or anyone? I will spare you the list of things that could be potential bothers at the moment.

If you are in a state of bother, fear not! You are in good company with our Gospel reading as Jesus seems hot and bothered too. Bothered by travelling around, the Pharisees and scribes are on his case in an attempt to catch him out, the disciples are slow to understand, hungry crowds that keep following him around! And now a Canaanite woman with a sick daughter has turned up and is shouting the place down with her demands.

What is up with everyone?! A question we might be asking ourselves about others these days too. I want to focus on Jesus and the woman for a few minutes. I think that we see Jesus at a point in his ministry where he is trying to test his disciples in their reactions (one explanation for his response to this woman). We also see something of his humanity as Jesus comes to understand his own ministry more deeply as well as the frustrations that being human brings.

The woman is looking for some good news, some help and relief in a deeply troubling time. At the outset, she does not receive the welcome that one might expect from Jesus! Anybody else a little short of love and goodwill these days?
We are living in a world that is hungry for good news, maybe even starving for it. It seems like all the news is bad; wild fires threatening homes and livelihoods in many countries, the economy, the climate, migrants are washing up on our shores, students are struggling with their grades, racism and injustice blight far too many lives. Where is the good news?!

As Christians, we are to be the bearers of, not the hoarders of the good news of a God who loves and cares for us. In every situation, no matter how bad and terrible it seems, we must share the promise that God’s liberating, saving and reconciling power is available for all people, in all places, all the time. This is a hard calling. It is easy to proclaim it theoretically, much harder to live it out in real life, which is the exact place where it is needed most. I think that in this complex and often confusing Gospel reading, we can find some hope in working out the call to share the Good News.

Jesus, like us, seems to be working out his calling. Jesus and the disciples have been sharing the message mainly with the Jewish people. They were God’s chosen people from the beginning, and this does not change in the New Testament. Israel had to hear the message first. Along the way, other people like the Roman Centurion, the Samaritan woman at the well, hear the message of Jesus too. The future is breaking into the present and it seems to take Jesus by surprise.

I wonder how this poor mother heard about Jesus. The news of Jesus was spreading. Who told her about Jesus? Maybe someone who had been at the feeding of the 5000? Or at the Sermon on the Mount had told her and the neighbours about this Jesus? Clearly this woman has heard about Jesus even though she is a Canaanite – a Gentile, an outsider to the good news. Whatever she had heard obviously had made a deep impression and gave her some level of faith.

Jesus’ first response is silence and then when the disciples urged him to send her packing, Jesus refused to help her. She does all the right things, she addresses Jesus by his Messianic or Jewish title – ‘Son of David’ – so she acknowledges his Jewishness. When he finally does answer – it seems harsh. ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’

It helps to remember that Matthew is the most Jewish of the four Gospels and he is trying to get his first readers – Jewish Christians to know and believe that Jesus really is the Messiah they have been waiting for. Jesus is trying to explain that he came for Israel first.

Then the exchange about taking the children’s bread and throwing it to their dogs. The children here mean the Jews and the dogs are the Gentiles. I don’t think that many people would take kindly to being referred to as a dog! This would have been a derogatory remark, suggesting that she and her children were inferior because of class and race.

Yet she presses on and gives a brilliant rebuttal; ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Here she is saying that even if Israel were to be first, the promised people, then the Messiah (Jesus) will ultimately bring blessing to the whole world.

The Isaiah reading: (v6-8) ‘and the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord, to love the name of the Lord, will be accepted on my altar’. This woman is joining herself to the Lord. Jesus’ countenance seems to change in her answer, he sees her faith and grants her request.

What is also so great about this answer: if we think back to the feeding of the 5000. What do the crumbs of Jesus look like? 7 full baskets! This woman wants so badly what she believes Jesus can do, she will take the crumbs off the table to help her daughter. She just wants a few crumbs, not the whole loaf bread. And for a few crumbs she is joining herself to the Lord. This is the faith that she is rewarded for. Back to mustard seeds and pearls, small things that get made large in the hands of Jesus. This is good news!

Sometimes we need reminding that even God’s crumbs can satisfy us completely! Her daughter was healed from that very hour. In our hot and bothered states, we too can lose sight of the bigger picture, the good news that we are meant to share, the promise which we have been given in the great love of God. What do we need to be reminded of today? What do we need a crumb for? Take a few moments to bring those things to the Lord and ask for some bread!

Lord God, we thank you that you hear our prayers and feed us with your bread of life. Thank you for your abundance of love and grace. Help us to have faith in every situation that we face – today and always. Amen.