Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
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From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesusordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
Always Something to Learn: Mark 7:24-37
*Today was the Sunday where we had the Blessing of the Backpacks and Lesson Plans. I asked the kids present at church several questions through the sermon. I’ve tried to include their answers in this post.
This Sunday, I asked the people gathered a couple questions:
Some of the things Jesus might have been taught while he was growing up could have made it hard for him to spend time with people who were of a different religion than him. For one, he might have been told not to hang out with people of a different religion at all. I grew up with Christian people who were taught that. He may have also been told not to talk to women that he didn’t know who weren’t in his family. Both of those things would be hard to do if he went to a place where mostly Gentiles lived. But, he decided to go there anyway. Did anybody hear why he went away to the place called Tyre?
It sounds like he was tired and needed a break. He had started his ministry of teaching and healing and it was so much work. He had gotten in pretty regular arguments with his religious leaders, he had gathered together his disciples, and his reputation had been spreading very quickly. Sometimes the crowds would be so big that he would get in a boat to preach from the sea so he could have a little space. Sometimes, when he tried to go out into the desert for some peace and quiet, scores of people would follow him. He would still help them as best he could, even feeding 5,000 of them in one story, but he grew tired. Do you think you’d be tired if you fed 5,000 people?
But, people had heard that he had helped so many people. That word had spread even beyond the people in his family and his religious community, all the way into the place that was mostly Gentiles. There was a woman whose daughter was sick. Nobody had been able to help her. The woman had heard about Jesus and thought maybe he could help. So, she went looking for him, even though he was trying to take some time off. She was probably not supposed to be talking to Jesus. They weren’t from the same family, or even the same religious community. Jesus and this woman (we don’t know her name) are people who probably would not have had any real reason to talk to each other had her daughter not been sick and had he not been able to heal people. But, he could heal people. And, her daughter really needed help.
Now, the last time people followed Jesus when he was taking time off, he still helped them. But, they were people like him. It’s sometimes easier to say yes to people who seem like they are like you. I’ve heard that it can be easier to feel empathy with somebody with whom you share something in common. It can be so much harder to empathize with people who are different, especially people that you may have been taught weren’t all that great to hang around with. Does anyone remember what Jesus said to this mom when she asked for his help?
That’s right. He said, “No.” He said no in kind of a harsh way, too. Do you remember it? “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s good and throw it to the dogs.” It seems like he saying that he came to help the people like him first and he said helping her would be like throwing good food to dogs. It’s like he called her a dog. That is really rude. Does anybody have any guesses why Jesus was rude to her at first? (maybe he was cranky and sometimes people are rude when they are cranky, maybe he really thought he shouldn’t be helping her) I think those are all really good possibilities. Some people think he was just testing her or using her experience to teach others who were watching. I don’t actually think either of those suggestions make what he said not rude. They just give him the benefit of the doubt.
I think we need to pay attention to what the mom says back to him. She was trying to figure out a way to take the unkind way he responded to her and turn it around on him so that he would help her. She remembered what it’s like to have dogs in your house. Does anyone here have a dog in their house? What do many dogs do while you are sitting at the dinner table? If your dog is like my dog, she kind of hangs around, waiting for something to fall or hoping she will get a treat from our plates. It turns out that dogs have been doing that for a very long time. This story was written down 2,000 years ago and that’s what dogs did then, too. She said, “Sir, even the dogs under the table get the children’s crumbs.” Even if one group of people was supposed to get all the stuff, that shouldn’t prevent someone else from using what is extra or what they threw away.
Now, Jesus could have decided that he still didn’t want to help. He was on vacation. He was mostly supposed to be helping his own people. But, he had already helped someone who was a Gentile in another mostly Gentile town, a place called Gersara. So, it doesn’t seem like he’s opposed to helping people different from him. It might be that he needs to reminded that he can do that here, too, in this predominantly Gentile town. Even though he’s tired, that doesn’t mean he has to limit his mission that God gave him. That means that Gentiles can hear his message, too, including this one who is interrupting his day off. She shows him, maybe even reminds him that his message his too powerful to limit to only the people who were like him. For showing him that more people can fed than he imagined, for showing a great and tenacious faith, he said her daughter was healed.
What do you think Jesus learned in this story? This healing would not have happened had Jesus not been willing to learn something new from a stranger that he had been taught not to talk to. The next story after this is another healing of a Gentile in a predominantly Gentile town. Then, the next story after that is an amazing miracle story, a second story about feeding a crowd. The first time that happens in Mark, the crowd is probably supposed to be all Jewish. This time, they are probably mostly Gentile. But, he feeds them all anyway, and saves the food left over, the crumbs, to share with more people later. I wonder if Jesus didn’t learn something powerful about his own ministry in this encounter. He could do more good than he may have been able to imagine, but only if he was willing to help people whom he had been taught to mistrust. It turns out that he could do a countless amount of good in God’s world.
What are some things that you’ve learned that help you follow God’s mission with greater joy and generosity? Have you ever learned something from a person who surprised you? From this story, it sure look like Jesus did. I hope we all can be more like Jesus. Willing to listen when someone responds to the ways we are unkind. Willing to change when someone makes a good point. Confident that we can share even more than we imagined, but only if we don’t let old divisions in our society keep us apart. I bet some of us will have the opportunity to be like Jesus this week. We may also have the opportunity to be like this woman. I hope you are ready to do both, because we need both of these kinds of people to do the Gospel in the world. We always have something to learn. May we be ready to learn it.
Pastor Chrissy consulted the following resources while writing this sermon:
Elisabeth Johnson: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3761
Karoline Lewis: http://www.workingpreacher.org/craft.aspx?post=5216
Alyce McKenzie: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=391
Micah Kiel: http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2624
Barbara K. Lundblad, "Proper 18 , "" Preaching God's Transforming Justice: A Lectionary Commentary, Year B Featuring 22 New Holy Days for Justice, eds Dawn Ottoni-Wilhelm, Ronald J. Allen, And Dale P. Andrews (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011)
Carolyn C. Brown: http://worshipingwithchildren.blogspot.com/2015/08/year-b-proper-18-23rd-sunday-in.html
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.