Welcoming the Eunuch and the Foreigner

Pentecost +11
St. Brendan’s Anglican Church
Rev. Doug Floyd
Isaiah 56:1-8, Psalm 67, Romans 11:13-24, Matthew 15:21-28

If you were to try and start an evangelism course based on the Gospels, you might come up with some rather odd methods.  Go to parties or crowded events and perform miracles that provide wine and food for people. Meet women at wells or bars and ask them to buy you a drink. Tell odd stories with obscure points and then only explain the meaning to your close circle of friends.  Or as in today’s story, when people come to you for help try ignoring them and then insulting them before helping them. Many of his encounters are puzzling at best, and yet, Jesus comes revealing the very heart of the Father in word and deed. If we follow the stories of John’s Gospel, we consistently hear the word “misunderstood:” his mother and brothers, the disciples, and the crowds consistently misunderstand what Jesus is saying and doing.

Jesus is creating the future in the present while fulfilling the past. Like a person who suddenly appears from another time, Jesus is both compelling and troubling in His words and deeds. Most people fail to grasp what he is saying and doing. Yet, the people are drawn to him. They are desperate for healing. They long to hear truth spoken with true authority. They desire the kingdom. Some believe he will usher in the kingdom, and he will. Even then, he will be misunderstood.

In today’s story, the Canaanite woman or Syro-Phoenician woman cries out to Him for mercy. But at first, he does not answer. He says he was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, which is true. He appears to insult her when he says, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She persists. Finally, he commends her faith and her daughter is healed. While Jesus seems reluctant to help, I think he has actually gone there to gather her into the kingdom. As the story opens, Jesus withdraws to the district of Tyre and Sidon. He enters the region where Jezebel came from. Once known for its great wealth and great idolatry and sexual immorality. Jesus withdraws to the very place where he will meet this Canaanite woman. His test reveals her faith. The one who was far off from the covenant has been brought near.

Jesus has come to fulfill the role of Messiah and bring the story of Israel into fullness. At the same time, he brings words of healing and grace to those outside of Israel and opens the door for a future ministry that will welcome the aliens into the covenant community.

Our Isaiah passage speaks of two specific types of outcasts who are welcomed to participate in the covenant community: the Eunuch and the Foreigner. Both of these outcasts are also mentioned in Deuteronomy 23. Verse 1 excludes Eunuchs:

“No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.”

A eunuch could be a person who became a eunuch for the sake of a pagan initiation, but it could also be someone with a birth defect or who was captured and made a eunuch to serve in a foreign king’s court. This would be people like Daniel and his three friends. They are given places of prestige within the kingdom, but they are also emasculated.

The eunuch cannot create the future. They will always be childless. In this sense, the eunuch is like the barren woman. Both have been cut off from the future, and in a people, who bear God’s command to be fruitful and multiply, these people have been cut off in time from the community that stretches into the future.  

There are people today in the church who are cut off from the life of the church community and feel bound to the past and cut off from the future. There are many people who have never been married, who have been unable to have children, or who live alone. There are also people who carry shame from the past, scars from childhood, scars from military service, or other scars from life. The scars of the past may hinder any movement toward the future. They may simply live within their circle of pain. Many of these people often service at the edge of the community and may often be forgotten. Isaiah welcomes the eunuch with a promise of the future.

 [L]et not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the LORD:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off. (Isaiah 56:2b-3)

The eunuchs who were once banned from the assembly, from the covenant community, are now welcomed and promised a lasting legacy: they will receive an everlasting name. Jesus healed and welcomed the leper, the blind, the lame, and those who lived at the margins of the community. He opened their future. Even today, we can play a role in welcoming those on the margin. Caring for those who still suffer from ancient scars. Part of what we do is simply welcoming people in our lives. We pray for people. The Lord may use us as instruments of healing in their exclusion.

Foreigners are other outcasts not welcomed in the assembly. This is specifically referring to Ammonites and Moabites. Why? Because their forefathers did not show hospitality to the Hebrews who were crossing the wilderness. The Ammonites refused passage through their land and met Israel with an army. The Moabites tried to curse Israel through the prophet Balaam and ended up seducing the men to idolatry with the Moabite women. Because of their lack of hospitality, these two tribes are banned from the assembly forever.

This causes me pause because when I hear or I think that I am not responsible for the sins of my forefathers, the Ammonites and Moabites come to mind. Their lack of hospitality to a people in need stretches into the future of their people in a way that is separate from Egypt. Even though Egypt enslaved the children of Israel, Egyptians will still be welcomed in the assembly because they showed hospitality.

The Ammonites and Moabites bear an ancient curse. As I think about these tribes today, I think about people whose past failures have kept them from the community of God. At the same time, I might also think of the sins of the church. For instance, horrible treatment of Jews at various points in church history. The treatment of indigenous people and the enslavement of other people. Outside the grace of God, ancient offenses continue to impact the present and the future. Some wars are simply the latest volley in a long line of ancient grievances. But Christ can heal these offenses. In Isaiah, we see God extending grace to those who bear the sin of their past, of their forefathers. He writes,

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely separate me from his people”;

“And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD,
to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD,
and to be his servants,
everyone who keeps the Sabbath and does not profane it,
and holds fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer
for all peoples.” (Isaiah 56:3;6-7)

Restoration. The foreigners and the eunuchs are welcomed in the assembly, the life of the community. They along with all the nations are streaming to the holy mountain to worship. In turning to Christ, we ourselves have become part of that great stream of nations coming to the holy mountain, turning to the house of David, King Jesus, who has brought salvation to the nations.

As we read the Isaiah passage today, it might cause some to wonder if Isaiah is saying this restoration is based upon our works because he says,

“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Is this the condition of our salvation? This is part of a long argument Isaiah makes through his songs and sermons. From the beginning of the book, he gives us a picture of people who seek to please God through cultic obedience but fail to life out His call to justice in their lives. They are unclean and incapable of fulfilling God’s command.

Their cultic obedience does not wipe away their life of oppression and idolatry. Where is salvation to be found? We can find clarity in Isaiah’s own personal encounter. In Isaiah 6, He beholds the holiness of God and is overwhelmed in terror. The prophet of Israel comes face to face with his own uncleanness and he feels like he is being torn apart, he cries out, “Woe is me!”

Then we see an image of God’s grace. The Lord sends an angel to cleanse his lips, his guilt is taken away, and his sin is atoned for. Here we have a picture of what Isaiah prophecies concerning the restoration of Israel as well as the welcoming of outcast.

First, restoration and cleansing only come by the grace of God. In Isaiah 52, the servant of God come to bring salvation to the people.

Break forth together into singing,
you waste places of Jerusalem,
for the LORD has comforted his people;
he has redeemed Jerusalem.
The LORD has bared his holy arm
before the eyes of all the nations,
and all the ends of the earth shall see
the salvation of our God. (Isaiah 52:9-10)

In Isaiah 53, he is pierced for their iniquity.

Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed. (Isaiah 53:4-5)

In Isaiah 54, he restores the future hope.

Sing, O barren one, who did not bear;
break forth into singing and cry aloud,
you who have not been in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
than the children of her who is married,” says the LORD. (Isaiah 54:1)

In today’s passage from Isaiah 56, the outsiders have been welcomed into the assembly. The promise of Isaiah 49 is fulfilled,

It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

The long-term plan of blessing of all nations through Abraham’s offspring is being fulfilled. The Israel of God, Jesus Christ, has made a way to restore his people and all nations into communion. This is the grace and goodness of God. Isaiah now calls this restored community to live into the righteousness of God’s call upon them. Not as a condition of redemption which has already happened but as revelation of His love and life manifest in them. As Alec Motyer says,

“Isaiah is not inviting people to seek salvation by their own works of righteousness but urging (along with the rest of the Bible) those who belong to the Lord to devote themselves to the life that reflects what he has revealed to be right.”[1]

All who are joined to the covenant community will reveal God’s righteousness in their lives. As James summarizes, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27).

In other words, all the outcasts who have been joined to the assembly of God, are received in grace. They will grow up into the image of God by loving the Lord their God with all their heart, soul and mind even as they will love their neighbor as themselves. We have been welcomed into the community of the beloved. As we grow up into the love of God, we love and welcome the outsider, the wounded, the marginalized, those scarred by life, those burned out by the engines of church production.

Isaiah sings, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” (Isaiah 52:7)

May we follow in the steps of Christ as we step into a world in need of welcome, of healing grace, of His redeeming love.


[1] J. A. Motyer, The Prophecy of Isaiah: An Introduction & Commentary (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 464.

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