Sermon – Sunday, September 9, 2012
Zion Lutheran Church – Hoople, ND
Last week in Mark’s gospel we heard that Jesus had quite an encounter with the Pharisees. He challenged their whole belief system. It’s not what is on the outside that makes one unclean, it is what is on the inside. As humans we are all sinful by nature. This caused quite a stir and made some people pretty angry with Jesus. He must have been exhausted from that encounter.
Let’s take a few moments to sit back and think about what it was like back then. Told from the perspective of one of the disciples, I imagine today’s story would sound something like this:
“I don’t know how he does it! Day after day, he just keeps pouring out his heart and soul to everyone he meets. He has to be exhausted. I know I sure am! We’ve traveled hundreds of miles. Our feet hurt, they’re calloused, dry and cracked. Jesus is on a mission from God and he just doesn’t let up! People come up to us all the time asking Jesus to help them, heal them, cast out demons. A few days ago we were in Galilee and he fed over 5000 people with just a few loaves of bread and fish. It never ends! It’s more than enough! But that day we were in the region of Tyre – north of Galilee – in Gentile territory. Jesus needed to get away – we all did – but mostly him. He was beginning to feel like a piece of meat. Everyone always wants a part of him, so he said “Okay, men, we’re heading north where no one will recognize me. They’re mostly Gentiles, pagans, they don’t recognize who I AM, so I can relax and heal.” Those words were music to my ears, to all our ears. It’s hot and dry, but there’s a warm breeze so we can just relax away from all the crowds. So we were relaxing in this peaceful house.
When SHE comes storming in! This Gentile WOMAN, a Syrophoenician, who pushes her way through the crowd into the private house we were staying in and demands to talk to Jesus. She’s a WOMAN for goodness sake! Woman don’t talk to men in this culture. Who does she think she is? She just pushes her way through because she needs something. Isn’t that convenient. SHE needs something. What about us? For generations her people, the Gentiles, have oppressed the Jews. The Gentiles own all the land and we have to pay high taxes and give all our hard earned money over to them. They have all the riches and we have to work hard for them. It’s not fair. It’s the haves and the have-nots and the Jews are the have-nots, at least financially. Jesus knows we are the chosen people of Israel. We are the ones for whom Jesus came to save, not the greedy Gentiles who have it all and think they are better than us. She said her sick daughter was home lying in bed. We Jews don’t have enough money to always have nice beds and here her daughter has one! And she is asking Jesus for something when her kind don’t even care how they treat us. Of course her daughter was possessed by a demon – she’s a Gentile – she’s not one of the chosen people of God!
So Jesus calls her a dog. Yes! That’s how they are known here. Those Gentiles are no better than dogs and everyone knows that, but I was so shocked that Jesus said that. It’s not like him to snap. He’s always defending the outcasts. Was he just saying that to open our ears a little, and get us to listen to how it sounds when we call them that? Or was it just that he was exhausted? I don’t know, but I would have snapped too, but not just because I was tired. I would have snapped because her kind don’t deserve kind treatment. So Jesus tells her that he’s not going to take what rightfully belongs to us “God’s children” and give it to the Gentiles who don’t even worship our God. Her kind can get the scraps, the crumbs, what’s left over. That’s what they always give us. Jesus put her in her place. He wasn’t going to let anyone – particularly a woman – tell him what to do. Enough is enough.
But she didn’t back away when he told her that. I couldn’t believe it; she spoke back to him! She said, “Lord (that was a surprise; we disciples don’t always say that) even the dogs get the scraps that fall from the master’s plate.” Wow, that was bold, and pretty clever. I mean, I don’t know what I would have said if I were Jesus, but since she was a rich, Gentile, woman – I would have sent her away, which I was sure is what Jesus was going to do. And then…….I can barely speak it – he said that because of her faith her child was healed! Her faith? Just when I thought I had Jesus figured out and he goes and does something like that.
But that’s not all. Oh no! Now since he was recognized we had to move on again and went even further north to the region of Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. If that woman hadn’t shown up we could have stayed near Tyre and rested. My feet hurt. Jesus’ feet had to be hurting, but we continued walking and some people brought this man who was deaf and mute to Jesus to heal. Now everyone knows that when there is something really wrong with you like that, then you must have done something wrong to deserve the punishment, right?. But once again, Jesus disagrees with that and he couldn’t say no to the begging. So he took him aside (and I was close by so I saw what he did) put his fingers into the man’s ears, spat on his finger (spat – that’s what I said) and touched the man’s tongue. Why he did that is a conversation for another time. Then Jesus looks up to heaven and breathes a deep sigh and says “Ephphatha!” (which means be opened). And he could hear! And he could speak! It was amazing! Jesus told him not to say anything because honestly, Jesus just wanted some rest. He was exhausted! But I don’t have to tell you that when someone says don’t tell – you tell. And here we are – a few days later – everyone knows about it – and now another hungry crowd has gathered. This ministry work – it’s more than enough; it’s endless!”
I imagine that’s exactly what a disciple would have said. Jesus was exhausted. They all had to be. Someone always wanted something from Jesus so he tried to take breaks as often as he could and so should we, but the work of God is an ongoing process. And we want to stay focused on what it is that we believe God has called us to do, which leads to the heart of today’s gospel message. Jesus knew that God called him to be the Messiah of the Jews, God’s chosen people. When the Syrophoenician woman challenged Jesus she was the prophetic voice of God. The Holy Spirit was speaking through her to remind Jesus that God’s plan of salvation is for all people not just for a select few. God’s love and grace and mercy are too big for just one group of people. It is for all people.
This is a challenging text because we are forced to think about the human side of Jesus. We profess in our creeds that Jesus is fully God and fully human, but many of us tend to think of Jesus as only divine. That’s actually a heresy called Docetism, which says that Jesus was only divine (only God) and only appeared to be human. But Jesus was human. That’s why when a professor in seminary called this text the “cranky Jesus” text I totally disagreed. I said Jesus never got cranky, but as I delved more into this text this week I realized that maybe he was right and I too was guilty of this heresy. Maybe Jesus was a little cranky at that moment. He was not committing a sin. He wasn’t purposely being cruel. Jesus was exhausted, and wanted to get some rest and in a moment of human weakness, he snapped at her. Just like we all do because just like us Jesus was human. In order for humanity to be saved Jesus was born as a human. Like I mentioned to the children today, it is like when we are dehydrated. When we are truly thirsty and there is not really much water left in us we can’t become hydrated from the outside in. We have to be hydrated from the inside out. No amount of moisturizer, or drops of rain are going to do the trick. When we are that parched not even drinking a glass of water will help. When you are seriously dehydrated you need IV fluids. You need to have water infused into your body. You need to be nourished from the inside out.
Last week Jesus said it is what comes out of us not what goes in that defiles us or makes us unclean. So if we are dirty on the inside, we need something on the inside to make us clean again and that is the gift of Baptism; that is the gift of the Holy Spirit. And that same Holy Spirit reminds us of what God’s mission is for us in this world. That same Holy Spirit works through us because it is within us. All of us – even those we consider outsiders. The Syrophoenician woman was considered on the outside of God’s plan, but the Holy Spirit worked through her to open the humanity of Jesus up to the realization that salvation is for all people not just the ones we feel comfortable around – not just the ones that have always treated us with kindness. God’s grace is for all people. The humanity of Jesus needed to be opened up to reveal the divine. We – in our mortal bodies – need to be opened up too. We need the Holy Spirit to direct our lives.
When the Holy Spirit opened Jesus up to this realization his ministry dramatically changed. When Jesus was opened up he was able to open the gates of healing to others including the man who was deaf and mute. In Mark’s gospel, no longer did he preach to just the Jews, but he saw God’s plan as encompassing even the Gentiles. Now the crowds would get even bigger and Jesus would get even more attention – attention that would eventually lead to his suffering and death. Because once we are opened to the truth that God’s grace is for all people then we are seen as radicals.
Christianity is a radical way of life. We are opened up to be not only hearers of the word, but doers of the word. We are opened up to witness to our faith through our actions. We are saved by grace through faith, but our conduct is a confession of that faith. In today’s gospel stories the Syrophoenician woman’s conduct was a confession of faith just as the people who brought the man who was deaf and mute to Jesus. In each of these cases someone stood up for a person who could not help themselves. We too need to be a voice for those who cannot speak up for themselves. We need to be bold in our conversations with God. God wants us to be persistent in our prayers. We need to ask for the crumbs that fall from the Lord’s table, knowing that even the crumbs are more than enough to feed us all. Amen.