PENTECOST 16 Proper 18 Year B
Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-10, 14-17; Mark 7:24-37
Christ Episcopal Church
Sunday September 9, 2018
The Rev. Canon Janet Campbell
The healing stories
in today’s Gospel
reveal the paradox
of what we call
Jesus was both divine and human.
“all the fullness of God
was pleased to dwell”
as Paul wrote in the Letter to the Galatians, [Gal. 1.19]
and through Jesus,
the power of God
was uniquely present and active in the world.
Jesus was completely a human being,
as we affirm when we say the Nicene Creed.
“God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made,
of one Being with the Father . . .
“[who] for us and for our salvation
came down from heaven:
[and] by the power of the Holy Spirit
became incarnate from the Virgin Mary
and was made man.”
As the miracles and the teachings
accumulate across the gospels,
it may be hard to imagine Jesus
as other than a perfect and all-knowing figure
whose feet don’t quite touch the ground . . .
But in his terse response
to the urgent request
of the Syrophoenician woman
we can see
in all our being . . .
including failings and flaws . . .
“Let the children be fed first,
for it is not fair to take the children’s food
and throw it to the dogs.”
She was a Gentile,
not one of the children of Israel,
the ones who must be “fed first.”
The ones to whom Jesus had come
to call back to the way of life
offered by the loving God
who had chosen them for God’s own.
the loving God of the psalmist,
who gives justice to the oppressed,
food to those who younger,
who sets the prisoners free,
lifts up those who are bowed down,
loves the righteous and cares for the stranger,
sustains the orphan and widow . . .
Did Jesus’ uncaring reaction
rise up unbidden
from his own cultural
and religious background . . .
likening the woman (and so, her daughter)
the unclean scavenger dogs
of the streets . . .
“dog” being a common Jewish slur
for anyone not a Jew.
(We should note that the Gentiles
surely had their own
derogatory words for Jews . . .
as various groups of people
have always had derogatory words
for other groups of people
who are not “our people:”
who don’t belong,
whom we fear,
or don’t understand,
who are too different,
or too difficult,
or beneath us.)
Suddenly Jesus sounds unfortunately
like the Pharisees and scribes
of last week’s Gospel,
who had accused his disciples
of ignoring the purity laws
by “eating with defiled hands.” [Mark 7:2]
“What hypocrites you are,” he had said then,
“teaching human precepts as doctrine” – [Mark 7:7]
confusing human religious customs
(in this case the ritual washing of hands)
with the genuine practice of religion –
in an attempt either to please or bribe God
with ritual correctness,
while failing to practice the messiness of holiness:
the open response to human need.
here was Jesus himself,
stumbling over one of those precepts:
rejecting the Syrophoenician woman
because she was not a Jew.
in an act of favoritism,
failing to love his neighbor . . .
those very things
later enumerated in the Letter of James
as counter to how Jesus’ followers
Could this possibly be
the same Jesus who said,
“Come to me, all you that are weary
and are carrying heavy burdens,
and I will give you rest.” [Mt. 11:28]
“. . . anyone who comes to me
I will never drive away.” [Jn 6:37b]
a bad-divinity day.
He had left Galilee
and turned up in the region of Tyre,
where, Mark reports,
“He entered a house
and did not want anyone
to know he was there.”
We are not told
whose house it was,
or why Jesus was so intent
on disappearing into it.
Maybe he was exhausted
by the crowds that had followed him
with their incessant clamor and demands . . .
Maybe he was frustrated
with his disciples,
who were proving to be
unexpectedly dense . . .
Maybe he was aware
of the increased and hostile attention
his radical teaching and dangerous popularity
were stirring up in high places
and wanted to tone it down a bit . . .
not yet ready to bring things
to a head.
Whatever the reason,
whatever the stressor,
Jesus was not at his godly best that day,
dealing with the reality
of his incarnate life.
The Syrophoenician woman,
not so easily dismissed,
was quick and clever (and daring)
with her come-back:
“Sir, even the dogs under the table
eat the children’s crumbs.”
(Anyone who has
dined with young children
knows there will be plenty of those –
enough for all.)
Isn’t her reply
Jesus’ own technique
of using familiar daily things
to push a listener
into new territory.
A woman standing up to a man,
a Gentile facing down a Jew . . .
breaking through barriers
of culture and custom.
She did for Jesus
what he was always doing for others . . .
opened his eyes that he might see,
unstopped his ears that he might hear,
to practice what he preached –
God’s love for all God’s children.
“For saying that, you may go – ”
he said to her,
“the demon has left your daughter.”
Still abrupt . . .
perhaps smarting from the sting,
and maybe even ashamed of himself.
But apparently, himself
having experienced a certain healing,
a moment of truth.
For he returned to Galilee
from the region of Tyre,
by the way of the Decapolis,
and still in largely Gentile territory,
restored the hearing and speech
of a deaf man.
“He took him aside in private,
away from the crowd,
put his fingers into his ears,
and he spat and touched his tongue.
Then looking up to heaven, he sighed
and said to him “Ephphathah,”
that is, “be opened.”
It’s a story that follows Jesus’ own opening,
and prepares the reader
for the next chapters in Mark,
where we see his disciples themselves
slowly opening to,
oh so slowly beginning to realize,
just who Jesus was.
But that sigh . . .
“he looked up to heaven and sighed” . . .
that sigh . . .
does it tell of a world-weariness
Jesus would carry all the way to the cross?
For he was fallible like us,
had to be stretched
had to have preconceptions challenged,
assumptions overturned . . .
and, fully aware
of the pain and suffering
in the world of his own creation,
learning in his human self
what it is like to be
not only a healer
but a cause.
like his disciples,
eyes opened, ears unstopped,
mind and heart expanded.
We could say
he perfectly shared
In speaking of the Incarnation,
the Letter to the Hebrews says
that in Jesus
“we have a great high priest
who has passed through the heavens . . .
the Son of God,
who is able to sympathize with our weaknesses
because in every respect
he has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”
[Hebrews 4.14-15 paraphrase]
“Without sin” . . . how can that be?
have been truly human
if he had not had to live
all the complexity we live,
all that makes us who we are:
culture, tradition, upbringing,
that pull and push us to maturity
a full range of emotions,
our gladness, our sadness,
the shame of our sin,
the relief and joy of forgiveness,
death . . . and dying . . . all of it.
Could he have been truly human
if his feet did not touch the ground?
In Jesus God chose to experience
all the fullness of
life in the flesh.
The Argentinian poet Jorge Luis Borges
captures the down-to-earthness
of the Incarnation
in his poem entitled
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.”)
In the poem,
Wanting once to play with My children,
I stood among them with awe and tenderness.
I was born of a womb
by an act of magic.
I lived under a spell, imprisoned in a body,
in the humbleness of a soul.
I knew memory,
that coin that’s never twice the same.
I knew hope and fear,
those twin faces of the uncertain future.
I knew wakefulness, sleep, dreams,
ignorance, the flesh,
reason’s roundabout labyrinths,
the friendship of men,
the blind devotion of dogs.
I was loved, understood, praised, and hung from a cross.
I drank my cup to the dregs.
My eyes saw what they had never seen—
night and its many stars.
I knew things smooth and gritty, uneven and rough,
the taste of honey and apple,
water in the throat of thirst,
the weight of metal in the hand,
the human voice, the sound of footsteps on the grass,
the smell of rain in Galilee,
the cry of birds on high.
I knew bitterness as well.
I have entrusted the writing of these words to a common man;
they will never be what I want to say
but only their shadow . . .
Sometimes homesick, I think back
on the smell of the carpenter’s shop.
John 1:14 (1969) Jorge Luis Borges, translated from the Spanish
by Norman Thomas di Giovanni,
in The Gospels in our Image, David Curzon, ed., p. 254
Fully divine, fully human.