Let's hear it for the Gospel according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, Dr. Seuss, and Mister Rogers!
Matthew's Gospel is first. There is a story arc in this Gospel that fascinates me. I don't think it gets very much attention, but it should. It's about how Jesus grew a bigger heart.
And maybe the idea of Jesus growing a bigger heart makes the guardians of orthodoxy nervous. But this story arc is for real in Matthew's Gospel.
Last Sunday, we heard the very end of Matthew's Gospel. Jesus told his disciples, "Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them..." That's in chapter 28 of Matthew.
Today, however, we hear a different part of the story, in chapter 10. Jesus sends the disciples out and says, "Go nowhere among the Gentiles...enter no town of the Samaritans. Go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Again, this is chapter 10 of Matthew.
So what happened between chapter 10, where Jesus is interested only in Jews, and chapter 28, where he welcomes everybody? Well, I have a pretty good idea. It was because of a woman, a woman similar to my wife.
In Matthew chapter 15, Jesus gets out of town...way out. He needs some time away from the crowds. He and his friends are off in the land of the Gentiles. But a Gentile woman hears about him and starts asking him for help. She has a disabled daughter, a tormented daughter, and she begs Jesus for help.
She reminds me of mothers like my wife, mothers with disabled children who do whatever is needed to help their daughters or their sons. They will forget their own dignity, and even beg.
But Jesus messed up. Can I say that in church? I don't know if I'm supposed to, but it's true. Jesus was wrong and Jesus messed up.
When this woman asked him for help, he told her he only wanted to help Jews. She was not a Jew, she was a Gentile. And then Jesus really insulted her. He said it's not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs.
Back then, Jews sometimes called Gentiles dogs. If it wasn't Jesus saying this, we'd consider it racism. Well, it was Jesus saying this, and it really was racism.
But here's the great thing. Jesus listens to her. He pays attention to her. "Yes, Lord," she says, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." And when she said that, something changed in the heart of Jesus. I truly believe he grew a bigger heart. He listened to her, really listened, and then healed her daughter.
The fact that Jesus was able to see that he was wrong and change his heart impressed me deeply. I love him even more for this. It gives me hope that I can grow a bigger heart. It gives me hope that you can grow a bigger heart. It gives me hope that every Jesus follower can grow a bigger heart.
So here's that story arc: Matthew chapter 10 -- Jesus says the good stuff is only for the Jews. Matthew chapter 15 -- Jesus meets this amazing woman, and is transformed by the encounter. Matthew chapter 28 -- Jesus says the good stuff is for everyone, for all nations. I really like that story arc. Let's hear it for the Gospel according to Matthew!
And let's also hear it for the Gospel according to Dr. Seuss. There are so many great books for kids by Dr. Seuss. One of the most famous got turned into a Christmas special that first came out when I was a boy. It's the one about the Grinch stealing Christmas.
In the middle of the night, the Grinch stole all the Christmas presents and decorations from the town of Who-ville. And in the morning, he was on top of a mountain, listening. He expected to hear mourning and lamentation from all those Whos of Who-ville. But when Christmas morning came, all he heard was singing.
"And what happened THEN? Well...in Who-ville they say
that the Grinch's small heart grew three sizes that day!"
I love the picture of his wrinkled little heart swelling to great, glorious size. The story is all about the transformed heart.
Matthew, Mark, Luke and Seuss invite us on a journey to the transformed heart, the bigger heart, the heart with room for everyone. Jesus showed us that journey, walking he path ahead of us.
I may be a pretty religious guy, a regular churchgoer, a doer of spiritual things. But it's all empty unless I live a life of love. It's all just noise unless my heart is transformed. It's all worthless unless my heart has room for everyone.
And is there a strategy I can use? Is there a practice that will help? Is there a way to make my heart bigger? Well, Mister Rogers has a suggestion.
Fred Rogers was a Presbyterian minister who decided to use children's television to spread his gospel. My little brother was watching when I was in high school, so I could watch it out of the corner of my eye without embarrassment while I did my algebra homework. My own son loved the quiet and gentle ways of Mister Rogers.
And Mister Rogers once said this: "Listening is where love begins -- listening to ourselves, and then to our neighbors."
Jesus listened to the Gentile woman with the tormented daughter, and it changed his heart. The story arc of Matthew's Gospel shows that.
If we can listen to those around us, our hearts can change and grow bigger. And the world will be changed. That's the Gospel of Matthew, Mark, Luke, Dr. Seuss and Mister Rogers.