Our passages today focus on reconciliation, the hard work of forgiveness. It might not look that way at first glance, as the passages have more finger pointing in them than words of forgiveness. However, if you dig deeper you will find that the theme of forgiveness and the restoration of relationships is at the heart of the passage.
Scripture: Mark 7: 24-37
Next Sunday, September 12th, we will return to in-person worship. Information will be shared in the coming week about what to expect. As always, keeping everyone safe is our highest priority. We will be implementing Live Streaming of the service for those who are not yet comfortable attending in person.
Over the past month we have lost a few members of St. Andrew’s. We remember Harry Neutel, Douglas Carruthers and Jenni Herniak and we hold their families and all who loved them in prayer.
Ministry with Children has a video on the second part of our reading, Jesus heals the deaf man. The video features a craft that parents and kids can work on together to help understand the bible story.
Ever hear something so outrageous it causes you to snap your head back and inquire, “Say what?” Comedians will do this as part of the punch line in a joke, slowly building the tension until they land a zinger. All different genres use the technique to emphasis a point and to provide sympathy for a character in a certain situation.
Today’s passage is like this as well. Only it’s Jesus who makes the comment that leads to us getting whiplash. In Mark’s gospel as Jesus encounters the Syrophoenician woman Jesus says something so un-Jesus like we need to double check what we’ve read. But there it is, clear as day, Jesus calls the woman a dog. The comment is downright demeaning. We expect better of ourselves, our children, our neighbours. We certainly expect more from Jesus, the one we look up to.
Chelsey Harmon lays out the following three options for this passage:
- Should we whitewash the language of Jesus in his conversation with the Syrophoenician woman?
- Is Jesus using this as an opportunity to demonstrate to the disciples the expansion of the kingdom?
- Or was Jesus tired and desiring to be alone, and as a result initially acts badly but then himself repents and changes course? (Chelsey Harmon)
The first option flies in the face of what we discovered last week. Jesus reminds us that it’s the words that come from within that defile and here is Jesus being very unkind. If we adopt the first option, then what has come before in scripture loses its impact. How can we take seriously the words Jesus has about defilement coming from within if Jesus is going to debase himself by using lowly insults?
On to the options with the disciples. It sounds plausible except, the story isn’t about the disciples, so maybe not. The disciples aren’t directly mentioned, and we are told that Jesus has gone to a new place. We can assume the disciples are around, but they are not part of the direct narrative. Also, Jesus doesn’t tend to deliberately use himself as the example of appropriate or inappropriate behaviour. For that reason, I settle neatly on the third option that Harmon lays out. Jesus was tired and reacted poorly in this situation.
In other words, here we initially see the very human side of Jesus.
Which of us hasn’t done likewise and reacted poorly when tired and desiring to be alone? Perhaps are words weren’t as harsh, not as deliberately hurtful, but each of us as likely made known to others in less than kinds ways that we’d like to be left alone.
We put Jesus on a pedestal and for good reason. Though really, it’s the cross where we find Jesus. Either way it’s an elevated position that tells us a lot about Jesus. Why he came, what his ministry was about, what he did accomplish and hoped would be accomplished in us. Because we understand Jesus to be the perfect culmination of what humanity is about, it’s hard to see Jesus as anything less than perfect. Yet today, no matter which way you slice it Jesus acts less than perfect. Even if you pick one of the other options I laid out at the beginning, Jesus is not acting well and the ending could have gone differently. Today, we catch a glimpse of the very human, very tired Jesus who then himself learns about the fullness of the kingdom or perhaps reminds himself of its intentions.
The response that Jesus gives the woman offends us. It knocks on the door of our sensibilities of inclusion and welcome. It makes us ask the question, just who is it we are following and why? Except that Jesus comes to his senses. Perhaps we can excuse it and forgive. Either way it is the words of the Syrophoenician woman that provide the lesson. Jesus completes the healing, but it is this woman at first so rudely dismissed who demonstrates that she understands why Jesus has come. She knows about the fullness of the kingdom and she provides proof of that through her words to Jesus.
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” These words demonstrate that though she is not an insider within society, she has heard about this man named Jesus and she is intrigued. She believes in what he is capable of, great healing. More than that she seems to understand that through his healing ministry Jesus is allowing those on the margins to integrate fully within society and she is excited for that. So even when Jesus tells her, rather rudely, to shove off, she persists because she knows the heart of the matter and she believes. Her belief brings Jesus to his senses.
How does the testimony of the Syrophoenician woman motivate and challenge us? Are we so hungry for the main course, for the best of whatever might be available, that we miss the scraps? Those tiny morsels that taste so good!
Growing up I worked in the kitchen of my dad’s business. He catered weddings every Saturday night and I’d be there in the kitchen. He’d be carving roast beef dinners, laying generous slices on plates to go out to hungry guests. In between slices my fingers would dart out and grab the little bits of shaving, thin and juicy and ever so tasty. I was chastised more than once lest I get my fingers sliced!
But those scraps were so good. We all want the good things in life and I believe God wants good for us. Not necessarily the things, but good for us. But sometimes those things aren’t the big events. Sometimes it’s the chance encounters, the random conversation, the new thing discovered. What at first seems like table scraps turns into the full meal. How else does a meal of bread and wine fill us?
Today Jesus wanted to be left alone. The gospel tell us that Jesus didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Yet he was found, and his initial reaction wasn’t positive. But through the lens of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus himself has a revelation. The encounter itself wasn’t large and grand, the gospel doesn’t tell us that anyone else was present when this happened. Jesus didn’t plan to meet the Syrophoenician woman, though she was certainly determined to meet him.
This encounter today, it wasn’t the main meal. It itself is table scraps meant to feed our souls. So keep an eye out for these chance encounters. It might be that you see Christ in someone when they initially react poorly, it may also be that they see Christ in you. Cherish these moments and allow them to fed you. Amen.
St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church
St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Cobourg is part of the Presbyterian Church in Canada. The congregation was established in 1833 and continues to serve the community.
St. Andrew’s supports the gathering of community agencies, providing space for the Affordable Housing Committee. Rev. Ellis’ voice is key in advocating for improvements in awareness, empathy and action on key determinants such as housing, income and food security.
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