Posted on Tue, Sep 8, 2015
September 6, 2015
15th Sunday after Pentecost
Gospel Text: Mark 7:24-37
The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 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, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 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.’ 28 But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29 Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Cures a Deaf Man
31 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. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
I am not sure if it is a blessing or a curse to be a news-junky, but sometimes even though we live so far from some world events, our own little community brings the same issues right before our eyes.
I can’t believe how callous I can be, but there were a few times I became very tired about hearing more about the migrants in Europe. It was beginning to be like the never-ending news about the economic crisis in Greece, that I began to get tired of, until I realized I have two very good local friends who have direct familial ties to Greece, and then I realized that I missed the human side of the crisis… My heart was closed to the news, because my ears had heard the same words and stories so much, the people were reduced to cold clichés.
But this week, along with Pastor Laura, I have had the opportunity to ponder the question, “What does it mean to do ministry nested in the culture(s) of Hawaii?” It caused me to leave my rather myopic world and really analyze, ponder, compare, and evaluate what we do as a church in East Honolulu, what I do and what I prioritize as the pastor of Calvary by the Sea Lutheran Church, and most importantly realize that the more I think I understand, the more I realize how much I don’t know… A good Taoist realization if I am not mistaken…
Interestingly, I think Mark was trying to tell us about how God works when God has a message born from one culture, the Jewish or Semitic, cultures, and takes that message into a non-Jewish, non-Semitic almost Greco-Roman culture. A Syrophoenician person, like the woman from the borders of Tyre and Sidon whose daughter Jesus healed is described as "a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race" (Mark 7:26), and again as "a Canaanitish woman" (Matthew 15:22). This seems to mean that she was of Canaanite descent, a native of the Phoenician seaboard, Greek in religion, and probably also in speech.
Mark leaves out all kinds of details, but he is clear in telling us that Jesus is in a non-Jewish place. He is not among the majority like he has been when he was in Galilee; yet a woman who more likely resembles a Greek person clearly knows who Jesus is, and she especially knows what Jesus is capable of doing… And she is desperate as her daughter is terribly sick. If your child is sick or in danger what would you do to help them? ANYTHING AND EVERYTHING! The woman in the text is no different that any of the parents and kids at Kapiolani Hospital, and both are just as desperate.
As we live in a world that portrays Jesus as a cute white skinned man in clean flowing robes in a comic book or as a Precious Moments figurine, when we read that Jesus calls a desperate mother a “dog,” we are surprised and maybe even embarrassed. You may have heard some bad sermons that tries to soften the word “dog” by saying, “Jesus was using the word in a ‘cute’ way, referring to her as a, ‘puppy.” If we are forgiven through Jesus giving his live on a cross, don’t feel the need to sanitize the Gospel.
Jesus is referring to her, as she would expect Jesus to, Jesus is speaking as a Jewish Rabbi, and to her as a non-Jew ‘outside’ of the nation considered, “God’s Chosen People,” or “The People who Wrestle with God, Israel.” A learned rabbi in Jesus’ day was not chummy-chummy with people outside of their religion, and the woman knew that… but she also knew who this particular rabbi was, and what he had done in Galilee… Good News travels fast. It is not surprising that the news of what happened just south of where they were in Jewish Galilee had spread north to Greek-like Tyre. After Jesus says that bombshell, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ Think of all we have learned about the life giving meanings to the gift of, “Bread.” (The lectionary writers were so smart!)
She brilliantly AND FAITHFULLY remarks back, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Think of the word, ‘breadcrumbs…’ Mark seems to be saying to us that she had eyes and ears of faith, and realized that even though they are from different cultures, religions and even language, for her in this desperate moment, Jesus is the “Bread of Life” for all people. That makes Jesus her only hope for her daughter.
Mark was showing us in simple story, which God in Christ Jesus, does not stay “in the box.” And this was a huge issue for the early church. For the converts from Judaism or some other religion, the question remained, how much of my old practices, beliefs, structures, rules, etc., CAN I hold onto… and still be seen as one “walking in the discipline of Jesus?” Was Jesus really serious in commanding us to love our neighbor, show compassion and mercy, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked?
In Europe we are seeing a huge migration of people from Syria, Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and other countries risking EVERYTHING just to get out of their home countries. We all saw the photo of the lifeless toddler found on the beach. Can you imagine how desperate his parents must have felt in order to feel it was better to risk their children’s lives rather than to remain in their own countries? The woman in today’s story would’ve been able to relate to the immigrants of today.
On Saturday, I took Pastor Laura to see Kaka’ako. She seemed very surprised to see so many tents, but I had to remind her that the number was significantly lower than just a week or so ago. In helping her to understand what it means to ‘do ministry nested in the culture of Hawaii,’ you have to deal with the problem of houseless-ness. Our churches, through the organization FACE, Faith Action Community Equity, is truly trying to help our political leaders with ideas and concepts they could use to provide adequate funds and leadership to solve this problem. Churches don’t have the resources to solve the problem of houselessness, but we do have the calling to make the problem known to our city and state leaders and demand action to make systematic changes in our society. We do this according to what we believe, and that is to be compassionate to all people in need. That doesn’t mean giving handouts, we have never believed that, but it does mean that we must make very real systematic changes to the status quo. The present system that only offers housing to the highest bidder must end, or else families will continue to live on our streets.
Last week I gave the opening devotion at a FACE Steering Committee and I pointed out the importance of our work because when I am down in Kaka’ako, I see more and more, tri-cycles. Can you imagine being a parent who is just trying to find a safe place to live, feed kids, and survive?
The immigrants in Europe have risked their lives to find a safe place to start a new life; in Kaka’ako on the Mauka side of Ala Moana Blvd, there are million dollar condominiums, and on the Makai side there are tents and squalid. Old answers will never solve a very difficult problem, but the status quo will only leave, the status quo.
How would Jesus have reacted if he walked into Kaka’ako today, and then attended the churches to teach? I wonder if Jesus would stick his fingers in everyone’s ears or upon our hearts and exclaim, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened!’
Well, Jesus IS in Kaka’ako in the same way as Joseph and Mary had to find a stable to birth their first son?
‘Ephphatha!’ Let our eyes, ears and hearts be opened! There is a reason Jesus said in Matthew Chapter 5:
7 ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Do you want to experience mercy? Make mercy happen. Do you want to see God, look upon your neighbor, whether in need or in bounty, not with judgment, but as fellow Children of God, heirs of the Kingdom. Jesus unites us sinners and brings us into the fold of the saints through His death and resurrection. Whether we must live in a tent, or woke up on a comfortable bed like I did this morning, we are one, and we are loved.
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