Sermon for SMHP, Year B, Proper 18, Sept. 9, 2018
24From there Jesus 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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.
26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He 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.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
So…this text. The text that vexes.
What’s the presenting issue?
So many issues:
· Jesus is out of his territory. In a new world.
· The little daughter has “an unclean spirit.” Notice the problem: unclean. If you want to talk more about spirits, demons, what this all means, Sunday School.
· The woman is a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. Which just means that she is local. He’s in Tyre. [slide] She is not the unusual one here.
· Then the text tells us that Jesus “returned”…”by way of Sidon [slide], towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.” [slide]
--Which is a rather strange route. Go north and far to the east to get somewhere which is just south and east of where you are.
--Only one town shown on our map in the Decapolis. Gerasa. [slide] Where the people are known as “Gerasenes.” Anybody remember what happened there?
Mark 5:1-20. “They came to the other side of the lake, to the country of the Gerasenes. 2And when Jesus had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him.”
--The Decapolis is where Jesus encounters demons. But in this case, he encounters a man who is deaf, and therefore has difficulty speaking. And Jesus does this weird little healing.
So much going on in this text. Did I forget anything?
· Oh yeah. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” How many wish he had never said that?
It’s fun to read commentaries on this text…by which I mean “not fun.” [slide] Many of the commentary writers are consumed with deciding whether Jesus should have said that.
We’ve talked about this before, and there’s no need to belabor it this morning. What Jesus says to the woman is unkind. He shouldn’t have said it.
While we’re at it, the US should stop treating female tennis players differently than it treats male ones. And women should make as much money as men do. And we shouldn’t build walls to keep out people trying to save themselves and their children from violence and desperate poverty. And yes, sexism. Ethnocentrism. Still a problem, so while we can agree that Jesus made a terrible mistake out of sexism and ethnocentrism, we might want to focus on fixing our own time first.
And I think this text has more to teach us about our time than “sexism and ethnocentrism are bad.” Which would be enough, but there is even more here. So much here, in fact. So much going on.
And all of that stuff is important. In fact, all of that stuff might be the point. That line about the children’s bread is so startling, that we can forget how this lesson started:
24From there Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.
Jesus went into a house and didn’t want anyone to know he was there. He had left the Galilee, where he had been doing lots of ministry, maybe just to get away for a few.
It might work. He doesn’t have a cell phone. Now that we have cell phones, nobody gets away. Unless you leave the country. That sometimes works.
Anyway, Jesus was trying to get away. Rest a little. And this woman finds him and says “heal my daughter,” and he offers his terrible response, and sometimes we get so caught up trying to decide whether it’s good or bad that we don’t think about what he actually says.
“There’s only so much bread, lady. We can’t let the dogs have it, when it’s for the children.” In Matthew’s gospel, he actual says, “Hey, I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That’s their bread.” In Mark, we don’t know why he doesn’t want her to have the bread. Just that he doesn’t.
Just that Jesus doesn’t think there is enough bread for her to have some. That Jesus…Christ…believes that the bread of life, which he is, and from which we cannot escape—Jesus believes that this bread (of life) is a finite resource.
And honestly, after the hundreds of hours I have spent in my career dissecting this text, I just realized this week that this idea that is the most annoying thing about this text.
Because it’s like a Giant Mirror, held right up to my face. [slide]
Anybody else see yourself reflected in this text? Any of us ever operate out of a sense of scarcity, rather than abundance?
After all, there’s only so much…time. Money. Ice cream.
I really wasn’t going to ask you to participate in God’s Work/Our Hands Sunday. I was a little tired, and I didn’t feel like begging everybody to stay after worship and do work. And then I got a text from Matt at Salem, saying they wanted to come down here and volunteer today. And I thought to myself, “Self…if they can come up from Lenexa and work in our parish, surely we can stay here and do a little work ourselves!”
It can be easy for us to operate out of scarcity mindset. When it comes to resources—time, energy, money. We have to be careful, right?
And it can be similarly easy to operate out of scarcity when it comes to the power of Jesus.
How many of us can say that we are sharing the bread of life as liberally as we could be? How many are willing to admit that we hold back? We don’t unleash that power the way we could? We don’t share the gospel the way we could?
Maybe, just maybe, we’re not sure exactly how much power there is in the name of Jesus Christ. How much power there is in the bread he has to share with the world.
He understood it better, because of this encounter. This lesson is a turning point in Mark’s gospel. After his troubling moment with a Syrophoenician woman, Jesus began to speak of his mission in new ways.
The great teaching in this lesson, and it comes from that Syrophoenician, Gentile woman, is that there is enough bread for everyone.
There is no limit to the power of Jesus Christ.
What would change in our lives if we believed that?
What would change in our church if we believed that?
How about our world? How would our world change if we believed in the healing power of Jesus Christ? If we believed that the Bread of Life could draw us together instead of tearing us apart?Think about that for a minute. And decide one thing you will do. Just one thing, to show that you believe that the power of Jesus Christ is unlimited, and that it is for all people. Amen.