The gritty, incarnational, completely provocative Gospel of Jesus Christ, according to Mark.
Sermon by The Rev. Jodi L. Baron -September 6, 2015 -Pentecost 15, Year B: Mark 7:24-37
When I was in high school (or maybe even middle school), we were required to take some sort of public speaking course; either debate or maybe shakespeare?
I believe those were my two choices.
Being the shy, introverted young woman I was at the time, I almost got physically ill contemplating having to “debate” another human being!
I hated arguments, disagreements, anything that involved one person winning and another person losing.
Anyway, over the years I’ve had to rethink what “debate” means, in its context of oral traditions and speaking styles.
While you still won’t see me sign up to become Holland High’s Debate coach, I have grown to appreciate a well developed argument. One that is civil and organized and has a clear outcome, not necessarily win or lose, but maybe.
This morning’s gospel had an epic debate scene.
Did you hear it?
Everything introducing it was setting the stage to highlight how out of place this woman was for even speaking to a Jewish man, let alone the Son of Man, who came for Israel.
Everyone knew this.
I like the account given us in Mark about this woman because it’s clean and simple and direct.
We don’t hear about the woman being overcome with emotions and wailing about causing a ruckus to win an audience with Jesus,
but instead, we see this very simple, confident, witty mom approaching this man whom she’d heard heals all sorts of ailments.
So unencumbered by social customs and thoughts of what her elders would think of her if they knew she spoke to this Jesus, she fell at his feet, we read. Desperate for healing for her daughter who was far away and had an unclean spirit.
Both of them unnamed. Both of them whom had no place in that room.
When she approached Jesus and began to beg him to heal her daughter, what happened next was unnerving.
I find myself, each time I hear this story in the context of Holy Eucharist, being very unsettled with how he spoke to her.
Calling her a dog.
This, the Jesus we proclaim as our God and Lord.
This, the Jesus we come to the table to receive his gift of bread & wine.
This, the Jesus who is all God and all Human.
I don’t know about you, but when I read about Jesus being a downright Jerk, that gets me a little edgy.
I don’t want to think about Jesus being a jerk. Do you?
And yet, Mark gives it to us. Right there, in black and white.
Jesus calls this desperate woman…a dog!
“Let the children (Israel) be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs (Gentiles).”
Just incase you were tempted to soften this exchange, like I have done, from what I could find, the word Jesus used in this passage could not have been mistaken as a dearly beloved house pet.
In fact, I read that this same word was used in six other places throughout scripture (both in the Hebrew text as well as the Greek); 1 Samuel 17:43, Proverbs 26:11, Ecclesiastes 9:4, Isaiah 56:9-12, Matthew 7:6, and Philippians 3:2). In all of these other places, this word was used to insult someone, to denigrate those to whom it was used.
Jesus was rebuking this woman for daring to ask for healing of her daughter when he was clearly sent to the children of Israel first.
Some scholars have called this episode a miracle. The miracle of “the overcoming of prejudice and boundaries that separate persons.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, 611)
Jesus. The Son of Man. Fully Human in this scene, not yet transfigured. (That happens in Chapter 9).
But right here. In this pericope. We see Jesus subjected to the same prejudices and boundaries we find ourselves amidst to this day.
And this woman. This woman with no name. She dared to go toe-to-toe with Jesus in this argument.
And she won. She jolted Jesus from his complacency, apathy, and prejudice; “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Indeed, this woman, this unnamed woman is being elevated for her ability to stand up to Jesus and say, “Do you hear what you are saying? I, too, have come for healing. Even if it’s only a crumb!”
Wake up Jesus, “the dogs under the table are within the household; the are not strangers to the family.” (New Interpreter’s Bible, 611)
The next scene is equally provocative, in my mind. We read that Jesus was again brought to him someone in need of healing. “A deaf man who had an impediment in his speech.”
Jesus, we read, “took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.”
This morning we have in one story Jesus performing healing from so far a distance that no one, not even the person requesting the healing for someone else, is touched. They merely exchange words, they debate, she wins, daughter is healed. end of story.
In the other we see Jesus taking that same energy, that same audacity that he learned from the woman, and performing a healing that is profoundly, uncomfortably, physical, close, human, tactile.
Some translations use the word “thrust” instead of “put” when describing how Jesus’ fingers wound up in another person’s ears!
And again we hear Jesus speaking an Aramaic command “Ephphatha” (ef-fath-ah)…Be opened.” as he did with Jairus’ daughter “Talitha cum” “Get up.”
“Get up, be opened.”
I like the gospel of Mark’s portrayal of the life and ministry of Jesus. It’s gritty. It’s messy. It’s incarnational; fleshy and divine. It starts in the middle and ends with an empty tomb.
I wonder if this morning’s gospel is inviting us to be more bold. To be bold in how we approach Jesus, our faith, our story, and our song.
I wonder if we are being invited to “be opened” to the ways in which the spirit is moving about going toe-to-toe with prejudices and biases that lead to divisions among persons, in our lives.
Let us pray.
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart [and especially the hearts of the people of this land], that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (from the Book of Common Prayer)