Based on Genesis 45:1-15, Romans 11:22-31, Matthew 15:10-28
It is said that in life there are only two irrevocable truths…death and taxes. This is a good thing because that leaves a whole lot in between that can be changed, repaired or revoked. When I was growing up I played a fair amount of golf; my grandparents and great grandfather taught me the game. In my teenaged years my friends and I would go out in the late afternoons in the summer and see how many holes we could get in before dark. Some days my friends and I played really well and some days not so much. On the latter days, it was common for one of us to hit a poor shot and then drop another ball and play a “mulligan” a do-over. Don’t you just love do-overs?! Wouldn’t it be great if everything in life allowed you to have do-overs?
Do-overs are part of all of our lives – it is what practicing musical instruments, playing organized sports or doing homework is all about. If you made a mistake, you stopped and did over whatever action you got wrong. You repeated this process until the thing you messed up was done correctly in the estimation of the teacher or coach. A life filled with do-overs is a great way to learn from your mistakes because consequences are low and so is the stress that comes with trying to learn something new or do something for the first time. During practice time, nothing was set-in-stone or irrevocable; everything could be done over again and perfected.
Our scriptures today speak to us about the need to realize that there are very few things in life that are irrevocable. Whether it is Joseph forgiving his brothers and saving his whole family or Jesus helping the Temple leaders understand and hopefully fix their errors in the interpretation of scripture or Paul who posits that God intends for Jews and Gentiles to all be together as one family of faith. The irrevocable love of God means that all who have been gifted and called by God can, if they choose to, live into God’s preferred future. Let us go to God now in prayer and thanksgiving that God’s love will never leave us…
Much has happened to Joseph in the chapters between when he was sold into slavery by his brothers and when he reveals himself to them as their savior during a prolonged famine. Through many twists and turns, Joseph is now the number two person in all of Egypt – only Pharaoh had more power and influence. Joseph had organized the saving of grain over seven abundant years and thus all of Egypt was able to live well during seven famine years. We are two years into the famine as we pick up the story with the brothers of Joseph coming to buy food. Joseph had made them jump through hoops before agreeing to sell them grain and finally he cannot hide his love anymore. He forgives them, they all have a good cry and he begs his brothers to bring his father and come and live with him in the land of Goshen. Pharaoh, once he hears, makes certain that all of Joseph’s family comes and lives in the best lands of Egypt.
Jesus is confronted by the Temple leadership about why the Disciples are not following the 613 mitzvot (the rules). Jesus interprets for the leaders what was wrong with their understanding of the laws of Moses. Jesus points out that the laws are not irrevocable – that they must be flexible enough to allow for people to live fully and well. After all, it is what comes out of the mouth from the heart that defiles – not eating God’s provision with dirty hands. Hard upon that message, Jesus is confronted by a Gentile woman who begs for mercy on behalf of her possessed daughter. Jesus initially tells her he is only sent to care for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and that he can’t waste food meant for the chosen people by giving it to the dogs. The woman changes Jesus’ mind and heart by showing him that his reasoning was faulty and that God’s irrevocable love covered her and her daughter too. Jesus, having been convinced by her logic and great faith, grants her wish for mercy.
Paul has been writing about the premise of salvation for all and that this includes the Jews who didn’t follow the teachings of Jesus. Paul writes that the Jews will be “hardened” until the “full number of Gentiles has come in”. Thus, they are currently “enemies of God” with regard to the gospel of Jesus, yet they are still beloved because they were first chosen and set aside by God through their ancestor Abraham. Paul notes that no matter what, the gifts and calling of God once given are irrevocable – they cannot be taken away or made inactive.
Joseph’s brothers probably thought that once they sold Joseph into slavery that they were through with him – for slavery was known to be irrevocable. They killed a goat, spread the blood on Joseph’s prized robe, and invented a story about Joseph being torn apart by wild animals to tell their father. Israel was heartbroken when he heard the news that his favorite son had been killed – and he mourned and was inconsolable for many days. Many years passed and Joseph who was a slave in an Egyptian house was falsely accused of having an affair with a married woman. The husband of the woman had him thrown in jail where he would surely die. Yet, the Bible tells us that the LORD was with Joseph through all of these events – and because of this, even in jail did he thrive.
Ultimately, because of the presence of the LORD in his life, Joseph was given the opportunity to be useful to Pharaoh and all of Egypt. Similarly, because all of Israel was given the presence of the LORD through the covenant with Abraham and the laws of Moses, even if they did not believe in Jesus they are still gifted and called by God forever. Time and again in the New Testament we see that people from all places are entered into the presence of God when they choose to recognize God at work. This is true of the Syrophoenician woman in our gospel story today. She sees the presence of the LORD in front of her and she believes that God will cure her child of demonic possession. The only ones who can’t see this are the Temple leadership whose hearts and minds are hardened by their own needs/wants and desires and they ultimately seek to rid themselves of Jesus by the irrevocable act of murdering him.
The thing that we see time and time again in the Bible is the way in which the presence of God – that is the Almighty love of God, turns what in humans minds appears to be unchangeable into a new creation. Joseph was dead as far as Israel and his sons were concerned, but through God’s love he becomes the savior of his family and the continuation of the promise of Abraham. Many generations later, Jesus is crucified unto death for heresy and other false charges by the very people who should have recognized His divinity. The powers believe they have irrevocably rid themselves of this troublemaking rabbi, only to have him resurrected via the love of God. What we come to understand through immersing ourselves in the stories of the Bible is that nothing is impossible for God. What is it in your life that seems to be irrevocable – unalterable? Is it a decision or action that you made or mindset that you had that you now regret? Maybe it is a secret that you hold that would be detrimental to you or one’s you love if it came out? Maybe it is an addiction, dependence or other “possession” that you are struggling with your power alone to overcome? Whatever the issue in your life that you feel is irrevocable, God’s love is powerful enough to allow you to live into your gifts and calling from God. Once the Gentiles (all of us non-Jews) were deemed to be cut-off from the covenant of God with Abraham. Through the power of God’s love, this charter was expanded to include all of us so that through our belief in God the Son, we were made as children of God and heirs to God’s kingdom (to paraphrase Paul). What was once inconceivable and beyond us is now within our grasp through God’s irrevocable love and mercy. I’ll let Paul speak to how nothing is beyond the power of God’s irrevocable love…he writes, “…Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their (the Jews) disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you they may now receive mercy….” Nothing is irrevocable to one who stands firm in the belief that the presence of God can redeem every life. Thanks be to God, amen!