‘It’s not fair’ – 16th August 2020 – 10th Sunday after Trinity

The Readings

Genesis 37.1-15

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, “Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honoured in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’ Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

Matthew 15.10-28

Then Jesus called the crowd to him and said to them, ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ Then the disciples approached and said to him, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees took offence when they heard what you said?’ He answered, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted. Let them alone; they are blind guides of the blind. And if one blind person guides another, both will fall into a pit.’ But Peter said to him, ‘Explain this parable to us.’ Then he said, ‘Are you also still without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles. For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person, but to eat with unwashed hands does not defile.’

Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.’ But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ He answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.


Scripture Quotations are from The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.  Used by permission.  All rights reserved.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Reader at St. Mary's

“It’s not fair”

The exams were abandoned, but the results are in. And the students aren’t happy. There has been much hand-wringing and u-turning, dismay and protest. It was always going to be difficult working out a fair system for grading our school leavers this year, but pretty much everyone thinks that it could have been handled so much better. Students feel that their grades have been arbitrarily lowered at the whim of an algorithm. Schools which have not performed as well in previous years feel that this year’s more able cohort may have been penalised. Students who might have pulled out all the stops at the last minute feel that they have not had the chance to show what they’re really capable of. And so the cry goes out “It’s not fair!”

“It’s not fair” is a complaint that every parent will be familiar with. “Why was my brother allowed to go out when I wasn’t?” “Why was my sister given more pocket money than me at the same age?” “Why is my friend allowed to have a mobile phone and I’m not? It’s not fair!”

“It’s not fair” was a sentiment felt keenly by the 10 older sons of Jacob. As we were reminded in last week’s reading from Genesis, Joseph, was the favoured son, the golden boy who could do no wrong, the apple of Jacob’s eye. Joseph was honoured with a fancy coat and given only light duties while they had to go out all day and look after the sheep. And we were reminded of the outcome of such unfair treatment. The jealousy felt by Joseph’s brothers had dreadful consequences. At first they threw him in a pit, intending to leave him there to die. Then they relented slightly, deciding instead to sell him into slavery, and pretended to Jacob that he’d been savaged by a wild animal. And in doing so, they broke their father’s heart.

It’s not been fair for this year’s school leavers. Life often isn’t fair for children growing up. Things definitely weren’t fair for Joseph’s brothers. We can see and understand this easily.

But then in our Gospel reading we find Jesus saying “it’s not fair”. And it’s rather puzzling. A Canaanite woman is begging him to heal her daughter of a demon. And Jesus’ reaction is somewhat strange, considering we generally see him happily healing anyone who asks for it. First he ignores her. Then he says that he’s only been sent to the lost sheep of Israel. When she kneels before him, he seems to insult her, calling her a dog. And he says “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. We’re left asking why exactly isn’t it fair to heal the woman’s daughter?

Earlier in Chapter 15 the religious authorities have been criticising Jesus’ disciples for not performing the ritual hand-washing before they eat. They are implying that if you don’t wash your hands in a certain way, you are unclean. Jesus has rebuked them, accusing them of passing off human practices as religious doctrine. What’s the point of washing your hands if your heart is full of evil intent?

Jesus knows that his mission is primarily to the people of Israel. He hopes to bring them, and their leaders, back to a right relationship with God. He continually offers them the chance of healing and renewal. He isn’t ready to give up on them and offer God’s grace to others instead. They are God’s special people. It isn’t fair to give to others what God declares is theirs.

But fair, or not fair, they aren’t responding. And the Canaanite woman points this out: “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”. She is open to Jesus, receptive to any scrap of God’s healing grace that is left over or discarded. She will welcome with open arms what the religious authorities of Israel have rejected. Jesus sees this, and so her daughter is healed.

It wasn’t fair to sell Joseph into slavery and break Jacob’s heart. Understandable, maybe, fair, no! He must have felt rejected, unwanted and abandoned. But God was with him in Egypt, and he thrived. He found favour with Pharaoh, and his foresight and administrative skills helped Egypt to prepare during the years of plenty for the years of famine. Food was stored to be fairly shared, not only among the people of Egypt, but also with the refugees from neighbouring countries. And then when Joseph’s brothers came in search of food, he was able to show them God’s abundant grace, calling the whole family to move to some of Egypt’s best land where they too would thrive.

Life often isn’t fair. And this year’s school leavers are feeling it most keenly at the moment. We all suffer from unfairness from time to time. And yet, even when life is treating us unfairly, God continues to be with us. Let us pray that God is close to all the students who feel let down. And let us strive to be instruments of God’s justice, love and grace in this imperfect, unfair world.

The Prayers
Prepared by Hope

In the power of the Spirit and in union with Christ, let us pray to the father.
Dear Father in Heaven bless all those around us who are struggling today, especially as a result of the pandemic.
Bless those who face soon having to lose their jobs, as government support runs out
Bless those who are so short of money now that they don’t know how they are going to cope
Bless children and teenagers who have had no school since March, and have needed it so much
Bless the young people who have received A Level results in England yesterday
Bless those who have had their exam grades adjusted by a complex system.
Bless especially those students who now fear that their life plans are crumbling around them
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Bless those in our own country who are suffering from the effects of violent storms and flooding.
Bless those affected by the derailment of the train from Aberdeen: the injured and the bereaved.
Bless those whose home countries are ravaged by war, as well as the effects of climate change.
Bless those who are so desperate that they struggle to reach this country in overloaded small boats.
Bless all those from this country and around the world who are most directly affected by Covid-19
Bless the people of Beirut. Grant them a better future for their city and their country
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

Dear Father in Heaven
Grant us… Faith, in your power to redeem your creation
Hope, for a better future for those who are suffering
Love, which is a part of your everlasting love.
Show us how to understand better the needs of others
Help us to meet those needs, through prayer for guidance and by giving and sharing
Help us to live day by day with awareness of your presence with us in Jesus Christ.
Grant us, day by day, wisdom and strength in the Power of the your Holy Spirit
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We ask your blessing on all those who are living with anxiety and fear at this tough time.
We give thanks for the health workers, counsellors, carers, friends and neighbours who have given unselfish support when it is most needed.
We give thanks for the work of all our local church leaders in this time of digital support and services
Bless them all and be there for them
Lord, in your mercy,
Hear our prayer.

We remember all those who have gone before us in the Peace of Christ.
That great cloud of witnesses who have inspired us and with whom we rejoice in the Communion of Saints.
Merciful Father,
Accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is included in these prayers, is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000