- Chapel of St John the Divine
- September 5, 2021
The Rev. Robert P. Travis – Pentecost 15th Sunday Sermon – 8:00 and 9:30am Chapel of St. John the Divine, Saunderstown RI – Revised Common Lectionary Proper 18 Year B 9/5/2021
Scripture Text: Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23, Psalm 125, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37
This gospel we have today,
is essentially about healing,
two stories about Jesus’ wonderful healing ministry.
A ministry in which I believe strongly,
And at first it looks like two stories of healing that are unrelated.
But there underneath the action in Mark’s Gospel,
Is a deeper message.
If you look at it more deeply,
As our Centering Prayer Group did this week in Lectio Divina, you might notice that not only is the deaf/mute man healed by Jesus, but the woman began receiving the ability to hear before she even met Jesus, when she heard about him and was given hope that he might heal her.
And then the catalyst for her receiving her daughter’s healing is speaking to Jesus, for Jesus says,
“for saying that. . . the demon has left your daughter.”
There’s a deeper message still,
One about being offended,
or the potential for offending,
And how a real encounter across cultural boundaries,
Can open the door to healing.
Remember a couple of weeks ago,
When we talked about the Pharisees and others being offended by Jesus’ teaching about eating his flesh and blood?
Those were his own people, and their being offended
Led to their ceasing to follow Jesus.
Here in this Gospel passage,
Jesus is seeking to be alone, away from the crowds.
And this woman of Syro-phoenecian origin
Comes to him, even though he’s a Jew,
And she probably knows that Jews don’t associate
With her kind.
Even though in this area the Syro-phoenecians were the wealthy established class,
And they were used to being shunned by poor Jewish neighbors,
they surely didn’t like it.
She casts all that aside, and comes to him
begging for his help.
And Jesus seems offended by her request.
As any good Jewish man at the time would be.
So what we have is a contrast,
Those people who left Jesus
When he offended them,
lost access to his healing and spiritual nourishment,
even though they were of his people.
This woman, a Canaanite from Syro-phoenecia
who does not let herself be offended
By the Jewish Jesus, even though she has every right to be offended by him, for the way he talks to her,
Sticks with him, and opens the door to receive faith and healing from Jesus.
“The Pharisees are offended; the
Canaanite woman is not offended. The
stark contrast is revelatory, for the
opposite of offense [skandalon] is faith,
but the only way to faith is through the
possibility of offense.” (David McCracken in The Scandal of the Gospels (Oxford Univ. Press, 1994).
Remember when Jesus said,
“blessed is the one who is not offended by me?”
This is what he is talking about.
So when this woman begs Jesus to heal her daughter,
And he says 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.”
There is little way she could hear that without offense.
It is like jews would say,
“we are the children of Israel,
Your people are a different species altogether.”
So it must have been offensive to her.
These days, if someone said something like that
to one of us the word ‘racist’
would probably come to mind.
So can we excuse what Jesus says here,
We who worship him would like to try,
Because part of us can’t believe
That he would say something like that?
As one scholar put it,
“I suppose there
are any number of ways we could make
sense of it:
1.• He is testing the others in that
house, to see if they will go along with
this line of reasoning.
2.• He is pushing the woman, to see
how serious she is about her request.
3.• He is stating the first century way of
understanding this situation (either)
to contrast it, eventually,
with his own way of thinking,
or to show how cold-
hearted it is.
4.• He is still coming to terms with
what his own role is, and in this story he
begins to discover how radical his call is
to help all people, no matter their
(I certainly considered some of these explanations,
As I studied this passage)
To adopt any of these explanations,
though, is to let Jesus off the hook.
St. Mark doesn’t do it, so perhaps we
That leaves us with a
Jesus who makes a demeaning comment
to a woman in need
(something [most] people of our day find very offensive),” (David J. Risendal at onelittleword.org.)
But then, she surprises us,
And apparently Jesus too,
When rather than being offended
she responds with humility,
and not just accepts,
but uses the metaphor for herself,
to explain why she deserves his help.
It strikes me that perhaps
This is because she is so desperate,
She is not going to let something so trivial
As offense get in the way of her daughter being healed.
As they say, desperate times call for desperate measures,
And I would say here,
desperate times Call for desperate humility.
Jesus seems taken aback,
As anyone would be,
And I think we all are the first time we encounter
His response though,
Is to offer her the healing she desires.
The same offensive Jesus “. . .heals a woman[’s daughter]
that every other religious leader of his time would have
felt perfectly free to ignore”
Jesus healing this foreigner, is on its own,
“(something the people of his own day would have
found very offensive).” (David J. Risendal)
“So there we have it: a Jesus who is
both deeply offensive, and a source of
profound grace and mercy. It just may be
that in this passage, we come close to
experiencing him as first century people
might have experienced him.”(David J. Risendal)
Here we see Jesus in the most interesting light,
Here we see both his humanity
And his divinity.
This is hugely important,
As we all believe that Jesus is fully human,
And fully God at the same time.
He is humanly part of the culture of first century
Judaism in which he was raised,
Making divisions among peoples,
And seeking to live faithfully as a part of his people.
But he is divine love
In that he is willing and able
To set aside those cultural, ethnic, racial differences,
And offer healing to one girl
Who his own people would have written off
As unworthy of contact, much less divine healing.
Who are some of the people we consider
Unworthy of contact?
Or at least, who are people we’d rather not be around?
Who are people we would like to think God
Might not like, much less heal,
Because of divisions we hold dear?
Like who arrived in this country earlier,
Or who owns more or less property,
Or who makes enough money
to live without government help?
Or who is mentally ill,
Or who is addicted, or criminal?
Or who holds the opposite political view to ours?
In the past we all have held onto divisions,
That made us think some are more worthy than others,
Even than people who lived in our own area.
I know of my people’s history
Of exploiting and using others,
Whether they be indigenous people,
In an area we settled later,
Or people whose ancestors we imported
Or even just the immigrants,
Who happened to arrive after my family did
In an area.
Like most people in this country,
I have people in my family who were part
Of all of those things.
And so I know of these divisions,
From my family history
And the ways those prejudices we hold can make us offended,
When we encounter different people
In our daily lives.
The challenge with great historical truths,
Like the barriers that divide people groups,
And the racism that results from those divisions,
are that they are so great, and so historical.
They are so great,
we can feel tiny compared to them,
So while we would like to right the wrongs
We encounter, even when we know where they come from,
we have no idea how to help.
And these truths are historical,
So we can easily distance ourselves from them,
And say “that’s not me, I didn’t do that,”
When in reality, so much of who we are
And how we live, and what we have
Comes from those who went before us.
If we think about this enough, to try to remedy that distance
We can also get too close to the history,
And end up feeling like we are guilty of everything,
And be paralyzed in our guilt.
These are equal and opposite errors,
That make us unable to make a difference.
Rather than fall into either trap
we can strive to follow Jesus,
who as a human being,
had the grace to stop in his tracks,
and share his gifts with the woman who offended him.
Because we have the Spirit of Jesus living in us,
We have that power too!
So when something causes us to come up short,
Like an encounter with true humility,
We can receive it like grace, and respond
With whatever gifts we have to offer.
Jesus’ gift to offer in this situation was healing,
And some of us have gifts of healing to offer,
While others of us can offer gifts of love,
Support, strength, financial assistance…
You name it, the gifts of this congregation
Are great, and the opportunities present themselves
When we are open to them.
It is normal for anyone to share gifts
To those who are like them.
That’s what people around the world
Do all the time.
What is unusually Good,
what becomes a godly thing,
Is when we offer our gifts
To those who offend us.
And in order to prepare to do that,
we can each take a look at the biases in our hearts,
And like Jesus, be willing to clean them out,
whenever we are called to do so.
That’s how Jesus and the Syro-phoenician woman were both healed, how their ears were open.
We need our ears to be opened as well,
That we may, individually
and together, as a Church of followers of Jesus
become open conduits of God’s healing power
And bring about healing with God
the reconciliation of all people,
Starting right here.
To help us engage in this work from the heart, we have to start by praying for it.
So this morning, I ask you to turn to page 840 in the BCP
And pray with me the prayer on the top of the page.
O God, who created all peoples in your image, we thank you
for the wonderful diversity of races and cultures in this world.
Enrich our lives by ever-widening circles of fellowship, and
show us your presence in those who differ most from us, until
our knowledge of your love is made perfect in our love for all
your children; through Jesus Christ our Lord.