September 5, 2021
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor
Rush United Methodist Church
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. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
| Centering Prayer |
Our Gospel lesson for this morning
Follows on the heels of last Sunday’s passage
With Jesus telling the religious authorities, crowds, and disciples
That sin and evil that comes from the heart is what defiles peoples,
Not righteous adherence to the ridiculous “traditions of the elders.”
Today’s two narratives,
The Syrophoenician woman and
The Decapolis man,
Complete the seventh chapter of Mark.
It is sandwiched in-between two miraculous feedings of crowds Jesus attracted;
Jesus feeding 5,000 with five loaves and two fish (6:30-44), and
Jesus feeding 4,000 with seven loaves and “a few small fish.” (8:1-10)
It is helpful to place today’s Gospel in context.
Before and after,
Jesus is engaging in mission and ministry in predominately Jewish territory.
Jesus is surrounded by great crowds of followers,
Accompanied by his disciples.
Before and after today’s Gospel
Jesus brings deliverance from hunger with
Miracles of multiplication,
With the added benefit of abundant leftovers.
Jesus sets out alone.
He leaves Jewish territory.
He ventures north to the region of Tyre,
Predominately gentile territory, and
He makes effort to escape notice.
One can only speculate why.
Mark’s set-up for Jesus’ encounter
With this desperate mother
Is a textbook example of what not to do
In the Safe Sanctuary training!
Yet, it isn’t Jesus who holds the upper hand here.
He is in her territory,
On her ground,
Alone and far away from the safety of family or friends.
Jesus is sailing uncharted waters.
The desperate mother holds the upper hand.
She seeks out Jesus,
Bows at his feet, and,
Like any mother in a similar situation,
To cast a demon out of her daughter’s body.
Christ’s response is more than disappointing.
It is outrageous and offensive.
His response is outrageous and offensive
On two points.
“Let the children …”
That is, the children of Israel …
God’s chosen people …
“Let the children be fed first.”
In other words
The focus of Christ’s mission and ministry
Was first to the Jews.
Up to this stunning confrontation
His mission and ministry had not been
Directed beyond the Jewish community.
Jesus employed an “Israel first” policy.
His outreach wasn’t directed to gentiles or the rest of the world.
It is as if Jesus was limited by a scarcity of grace,
As if God has only so much to go around and, therefore,
God needed to cut back and
Jesus needed to ration his miracles.
The second outrageous offense comes
When Jesus completes the sentence,
“for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
Yes, you heard correctly,
Jesus compares this woman and her demon possessed daughter with
Not worthy of crumbs
Even in the presence of abundance.
You can’t save Jesus, and
Neither can I.
Don’t even try.
Don’t try to explain his offense away.
Don’t limit the woman’s agency.
Don’t try to minimalize his contemptible errors.
And certainly don’t try to justify them.
Jesus has big shoulders and
Is more than capable of
Taking responsibility and
Correcting his error.
Only Jesus can save himself.
Which is why, I believe,
Mark includes this important confrontation in his Gospel.
This un-named, Syrian-Phoenician mother
She isn’t going to take “no” for an answer.
Remember Jacob wrestling with God throughout the night and putting his hip out of joint?
she is not letting go until she gets her blessing.”
(With thanks to Matt Skinner, from Working Preach dot com)
The gem here?
When God stands you up,
Don’t take “no” for an answer, either.
Whether or not your life,
Or the life of a loved one,
Depends on it,
This desperate mother
Gives you and me permission
To contend against God.
When life is desperate
Go to the feet of Jesus.
Scream at God!
Don’t take “no” for an answer.
And don’t be turned away.
Faithful, persistence grants access
To Jesus and
“But she answered him,
‘Sir, even the dogs under the table
Eat the children’s crumbs.’”
Jesus is caught with his compassion down.
He takes her left hook,
Spinning him around, and
Throwing him in a different direction.
Like the wrestling Jacob made God relent,
The desperate resolve of this woman
Forced Jesus to make a course correction
And set out in a new direction.
Grace isn’t a zero-sum game.
Twelve baskets of bread and fish
Were left over after feeding five thousand.
Seven baskets of bread
Would soon be left over after Jesus feeds four thousand more.
There is more than enough of
God’s amazing grace to go around.
There is room for everyone at God’s table.
Dogs may eat scraps under the table,
But there is a seat at the table for all God’s people,
Jew and gentile, alike.
It is a fine line between desperation and faith.
It is her begging word …
… her persistence petition …
That Jesus identifies is what is responsible for her daughter’s immediate exorcism.
“For saying that, you may go-
The demon has left your daughter.”
Exorcism from a distance.
Imagine the faith it took for this mother to walk away from Jesus and return home to her daughter.
Yet, she did.
She knew she would find her beloved daughter delivered from her demon.
Made Jesus theologically and geographically change direction.
He doesn’t return home to Capernaum or Nazareth.
Jesus is rerouted.
He travels from the northern Mediterranean coast
To the interior region of the Decapolis,
Ten cities built, developed, and remaining ethnically Greek.
Jesus goes whole hog gentile,
Where the Gospel reports he cures a deaf man.
Jesus’ mission and ministry extends beyond Jewish horizons
To all the world.
It takes place most certainly
More quickly than he anticipated.
God’s grace is accelerated, expanded, and delivered to all creation.
What are today’s key take-aways?
Desperation counts as faith.
Go to Jesus in your desperate moments of life and
Contend with God.
Put on the gloves,
Get in the ring and
Spar with the Lord.
The give and take with God
Our relationship with God isn’t one sided:
Where God directs and we follow like mindless Lemmings,
Taking whatever God serves up.
God responds to our encounters,
Changes course, when necessary,
As a compassionate, loving, response
To our deepest, most desperate, human needs.
God’s amazing grace
Is abundant, too.
There is more than enough of God’s sustaining grace to go around,
To support the whole world,
With plenty left over.
Be of good faith.
Be tenacious in your faith.
Be persistence and insistence in your faith.
That faith will deliver you.
That faith will grant you access
To God’s amazing grace.