Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Standing Up To Jesus - Sermon 09/06/2015 - Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

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, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 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." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 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.

Mark 7:24-31 [32-27] 

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This story, the one from the Gospel, the one about the woman, the Gentile, the Syrophonecian “lady,” has always impressed me. And disturbed me. 

But it’s always impressed me. 

I mean, it is sort of miraculous, right? 

Not the healing of her daughter, not the healings that came after Jesus’ encounter with her, those were all miraculous, like a lot of the miraculous stories we’ve been encountering in Mark’s Gospel this year. 



But this story has a different kind of miracle… 

It’s one-of-a-kind. 

As far as I know there’s not any other one like it, in some respects, anywhere in the rest of the Gospels. 

You know: 

Stories like what she did.

Stories like what she said.

It was pretty miraculous, right? 

Where did she get the courage? 

How could she do it? 

In that day? In that age? In the FIRST CENTURY? 

How could she do and say what she did?

Especially after he said that. 

How could she do it? 

I mean, it was sorta miraculous. If you really think about it…


Up until this point in the Gospel, 
here in the seventh chapter 
from which we read today, 
Jesus, after calling his disciples in the first chapter,  
has been traveling around the towns and the villages and countrysides preaching, healing, and casting out demons. His ministry is generally received as good news by the poor, especially the hungry poor, 
especially because by this point, they’ve been fed in the thousands. 

And they’ve gotten also gotten free healthcare. 

(A ministry of free stuff, right)?

But (also) from the very beginning of his ministry, there’s also been a bit of controversy tied to both Jesus actions and his message. 

Already in Chapter 2, (in chapter 2, right at the beginning!)
Jesus is “getting in trouble” with his religious peers, 
his colleagues, his fellow “holy men” 
receiving criticisms for eating with tax collectors and sinners. 

You see, his acts of love, extended to those he perceived to be deeply in need…

His acts of love, when seen from afar
didn’t look to his critics like loving embrace, 
but (instead) his actions looked unholy, offensive, transgressive, sinful. 

Onlookers couldn’t stand to see a man preach love and God’s justice to people they perceived to be the epitome of “ungodly,” “unclean” “improperly employed,” scum of the earth. 

They couldn’t stand to see God’s love preached to people that weren’t just like them. Because, you know, they were special, chosen, “saved,” [baptized, confirmed, members of the church], whatever. 

From the vantage point of the church pews, looking out on Jesus with “those sinners” seemed nasty, unpalatable, evil, unwelcome… 

Later, they’d accuse him of having a demon because of who he said God loved, 
because of who he chose to heal, 
because he challenged their conception, provoked, stretched their concept of who was in and who was out, who was valued, and who wasn’t. 

And it turned out, I think, according to Jesus, everyone was valued, (like, really, everyone) not just their families, 
not just their friends, 
not just their compatriots in the dominant faith tradition of their region in their culture in their language. 

But everyone. 


Soon after his “dinner with the sinners” Jesus and his friends were approached by the church council and synod staff, and again they were criticized.

Remember this one? 

This time for eating. Well, the work they did so they could eat. They were plucking grain on the sabbath, right? 

That was work! And you’re not supposed to work on the sabbath, especially in Jesus’ day. It may seem small, but it was a big deal. But it was a big deal for the wrong reasons, right? At least, I think, that’s what Jesus taught. Jesus provoked, once again, challenging even the religious tradition when the tradition seemed to become toxic to itself, when the tradition (meant to bring life and nourishment) was manipulated into making people hungry, and condemning people for pulling some fruit from a tree when they were starving out in the middle of nowhere in a field somewhere. 

“The Sabbath was made for humans,” Jesus said in reply, “not humans for the Sabbath.” Jesus was reframing the tradition around life, and what adds to life here and now, in the face of human need and suffering. 

Jesus’ message was good new for the poor… 

You may know the other accounts of tension in the Gospel. I’m not gonna dwell on them too deeply here…

But here is a little glimpse: 

In Chapter 3 Jesus gets criticized again—this time for healing  on the Sabbath. 

He replies to his critics, “It lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do evil? To save or to destroy life?”

A disturbing response. 

Disturbing especially if faith was supposed to be about being “holy,” in the sense of “pure” “separate” “without blemish.” 

Disturbing because this faith, rather, (the one Jesus was talking about) was about giving Life, feeding people—not being separate from people, from dirt, from human messiness, (right? not all those things), but (instead) this faith was about being immersed in the chaos, and making beauty of it and healing and fostering life among it, wherever possible, however possible. 

The faith of Christ was not about being separate but about being together.

In Love. 

In solidarity.  

Not about being perfect, super-human, angels, “holy”; but about touching lepers, spitting in the mud, and finding healing, finding “the miraculous” in unexpected places as a result. 

Jesus’ response is disturbing for those of us who wanna have control (folks like me), and who want a faith to tell us to worship God by locking ourselves up in some closet somewhere so we can just pray all the time and be “holy.” Maybe go to confession or meditation or to worship service here and there, and maybe sneak out right after communion. 

Suddenly, instead, there’s this faith that sends us out. Together. Not alone. Together. 

Jesus instigates. Provokes. Pushes us toward love. 


Eating with sinners and tax collectors. Breaking the sabbath so people can eat. Breaking the sabbath so people might be healed, restored, reformed…

Jesus has been challenging the uptight, 
manipulative religious people 
who use faith to control others and to (comfortably) be in denial about themselves, 
rather than to restore life to those who are suffering. 

Jesus has been challenging those of us who use faith 
to promote our selfish fears rather than to foster resurrection. 

And (as the religiously up-tight tend to be)
we’re/they’re not too happy about the challenge, 
about the provocation. 
Finally, last week, we read in the story right before today’s story in the Gospel of Mark, another text about “defiling,” dirt, uncleanliness, stuff on our bodies that is said to make our bodies or somebody’s-bodies worth-less in the eyes of God. 

Jesus doesn’t seem to buy this idea, right? 

Remember this one? 

In the story, Jesus’ disciples are getting criticized for eating with “unclean” hands (Peter V preached on this last week). 

And as he’s getting chastised by the uptight, pious, you can almost see Jesus rolling his eyes.

Saying, maybe…

“For real, people? This is what you’re gonna b*tch about? Do you not see that there are thousands of hungry people right around the corner—right in this room? And you’re worried about some ritual hand washing thing? Really, people? Really? Is this faith to you? Is this what your God cares about?” 

“Our father who art in heaven, remind us to wash our hands???”

“They praise me with their lips but their hearts are far away,” he replies, “it’s not what goes into the body that defiles, but what comes out.” 

It’s not about what you eat. It’s about whats in your heart. And how your heart leads you to act. 

Faith isn’t about separation. It’s about coming together in Love. 

— — 

So… What happened?

What happened? 

That’s today’s question… 

What happened to this provocative, instigating, love-spreading Jesus here in the latter-half of Chapter 7? 

What happened to Jesus when travelled to the land of Tyre? 

What happened to Jesus to make him do un-Jesus-like? 

I think I know. 

I think 

he got 


Everywhere Jesus had travelled, healed, provoked so far was in the land of the Judeans—the land of his ancestral heritage, his people. He was a Jewish rabbi preaching to, provoking, instigating, challenging Jewish people. 

And feeding them. 

And healing them. 

And ticking them off. 

But now he’s in a different kind of hostile territory. 

A different kind of uncomfortable. 

Now he’s in Tyre. 

[The land where, according to Josephus, (who was a historian writing in the second century), 
a couple decades later, at the onset of the Jewish war, would slaughter the Jewish people there, and imprison them. The people reading Mark’s Gospel would certainly only see Tryre through this lens of hostility and trauma] 

This land was uncomfortable because it was hostile. And it was different. 

And if you were Jewish you didn’t wanna be there. 

And Jesus was there. And he was Jewish. 

And it was kinda scary for him. 

And he was approached. 

Jesus was approached by a woman. 

by a Gentile. 

By a Syrophonecian. 

By an angel. 

And it was scary. 

And it was miraculous. 

And provocative. 

And it changed the face of Jesus’ ministry forever. 

…Think of all the dirty stuff that happened in this story according to that old school use of the word “holy” : 

Jesus has left the “holy land” and entered hostile unclean territory…

The woman in the story approaches, speaks to, and perhaps touches Jesus—transgressing sexual, gender, political, religious, and ethnic norms. And transgressing the norm on the male being in power and having the privilege of starting the conversation if one was to be started at all. 

Big red flag here! Right? Right out in the open. This is the kind of like the transgressive stuff Jesus did when he touched the sick and healed on the sabbath, but now it was happening to him!  

By a woman. 

A gentile. 

A Syrophonecian. 

And it was miraculous. 

And it was provocative. And it was radical. 

She could’ve been stoned, slapped, dismissed, locked up. 

But she did it anyway. Miraculous. How did she do it? 

In a faithful act of disobedience to all these religious laws and cultural norms, (and obedience to the Spirit of life and liberation that Jesus also claimed) she did what she knew was right. 

And, really, she just practiced what Jesus had been preaching all along. 

But Jesus (on the contrary) simply fell back into his cultural role. 

He was an offended male. 

And for a moment, he became a religious snob. 

(It’s right there in the Bible!)

She asked him for help just as everyone else had, when he helped them. 

But this time, 

to this woman, 

to this Gentile, 

to this Syrophonecian, 

he responded 
by calling her… 
a dog! 

He had come to feed the children!

He belonged to the Children!

He was the Chosen!

He was not her!

Not one of them!

Not unclean, inbred, mix-breeds. 

Not some immigrant. Some refugee. Some undocumented, illegal alien! 

He was of ISRAEL!  

Chosen! A child! Of Israel!!

A citizen! 

He was “better than her.”

How awful, Jesus. 


How hypocritical. 

I mean, c’mon Jesus, do you hear yourself? 

Really? Do you? 


And then the woman did her miraculous thing, right? 

She did her miraculous thing. 

She didn’t take his hypocrisy. 

She spoke up. 

She spoke out. 

She challenged Jesus to practice what he preached. 

“At least the kids have a heart and feed the stinkin’ dogs.” 

At least the children feed the puppies under the table. 

Everybody gets to eat. 
When the kids share what they’re given. 

Everybody gets to eat. 
When the kids share. 

You know what happens right after this story? 

In the second half of the lectionary reading that we skipped this morning… 

What happens is: 

Jesus decides to leave Trye and go home “by way of Sidon.” 

But Sidon is not on his way. 

Sidon is twenty-two miles out of his way, north of Tyre. And he is traveling by foot. It is more Gentile territory. 

More land filled with people like this woman—the one who spoke back to him. 

And you know what he did there? 

He healed them. He healed Gentiles! A ton of them. 

And you know what else? He fed 4,000 of them. His second miraculous feeding in the Gospel. All (it seems) because of the miracle of the woman, the Gentile, the Syrophonecian. All because she spoke up, spoke out, provoked Jesus to practice what he preached, to love bigger, to know that holiness is not to be separate or clean or apart from anyone, but rather come together, to be in the dirt of life, healing, loving, giving life in the mess, despite the mess, in the world, despite the world, together. 

And sometimes, when we’re in the mess. 

The miraculous comes. 

The miracle shows up. 

And changes everything. 

— — 

I still don’t know how she did it, this woman in the story, but I’m glad she did.  

(a similar sermon from 2008 on the Canaanite woman in Matthew

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