Week 3: To The Lost Sheep
Fellowship – Snacks or a Meal. (10 minutes with snacks; longer, obviously, if there is a meal)
Gathering Time (5-10 minutes). In pairs or groups of three, have each participant answer the question, “Whom do you find is the hardest to extend mercy to?”
Group Dialogue (Approximately 30 minutes)
- Who are the people or groups of people named in the Matthew 15 passage? [Jesus, crowds, disciples, Pharisees, Peter, a Canaanite woman, her daughter.] Which of these groups or people, from an ancient Israelite perspective, would have had the most religious clout or credibility? Who would have had the least? [The Pharisees would likely have had the most, and the Canaanite woman and her daughter would have had the least; they were not even Israeli.]
- In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus repeatedly articulated that his mission centered on the Israelites (Matthew 10:5, 15:24). However, there are examples like this story that indicate a widening of the mission (see also Matthew 8:5-13). These foreshadow the Great Commission, which will declare the all-encompassing scope of the mission (Matthew 28:16-20). Read the passage again, having participants place themselves in the story as the disciples. How surprising would Jesus’ words about the Pharisees (v. 14) have been? How shocking would Jesus’ words about the Canaanite woman have been in verse 28? [The contradiction is startling. Jesus rebukes the religious leaders (Pharisees) and exalts the faith of a Gentile woman!]
- What might this reveal about Jesus? [Jesus extends grace and compassion to those (like the Canaanite woman) that others thought were not worthy of God’s grace.]
- How might Jesus’ question in verse 24 be ironic? [Perhaps it is Israel that is, in fact, lost.]
- In the Romans passage, Paul is disputing Gentile Roman Christians who are tempted to act superior to Jewish Christians (and Jews in general). Paul will have none of it. As verses 30-31 make clear, just as Gentile Christians are allowed into the covenant family through God’s mercy, that same mercy extends to all Jews. It is part of God’s nature to extend mercy. What do these passages (both from Matthew and Romans) teach us about the extent of God’s mercy and grace?
- How is it both reassuring and challenging that God’s mercy and grace are all-encompassing? [While it might be easy to consider God showing mercy to us, it might seem near impossible for God to show mercy to others. On the flip side, for some it might seem easier to comprehend God showing mercy to others, but hard to imagine (knowing what we know about ourselves) that God could extend mercy to us.]
Prayer (10 minutes). Share prayer requests and respond appropriately.
Sending Forth (2 minutes). Ask for a volunteer to lead the group in prayer or read the following prayer in unison:
Merciful God, your grace and mercy are so abundant that it is often hard to imagine or comprehend. Thankfully, we do not have to understand it but are called to live in light of your grace and mercy. Likewise, even when it goes against our inclinations and tendencies, empower us to extend the compassionate hand of mercy to those we meet. Amen.