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The Sixteenth Sunday After Pentecost –
Scripture Reading: Mark 7:24-30
Jesus Honors a Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Heals a Deaf and Mute Man
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis.[b] 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
- Mark 7:24 Many early manuscripts Tyre and Sidon
- Mark 7:31 That is, the Ten Cities
Sermon: “Caught With Our Compassion Down”
Long-term relationships of any kind have their challenging moments. According to Tim Lott, the family life correspondent for the British newspaper The Guardian, these are some of the more “interesting” issues couples often deal with.
Affection levels, and all that go with that loaded phrase, come in at number one. Lott also says there have never been two people with the same exact definition of “clean.” Finding a neat, if not dusted and polished, sweet spot, can be hard to do.
Who decides what’s best for the children? And what about finances—how to find common ground there?
Relatives are on the list, too. How one person sees his or her family and how that person’s partner’s sees them can be miles apart.
My personal favorite, though, is what Lott calls “false memory syndrome.” Arguments, he said, aren’t so much about the facts, but about how we remember the facts.
Since we like to see ourselves in the best light, we use our imagination to fill in gaps or even change our memory of what happened. Once reality goes out the window, a lively discussion comes right on in.
In strong relationships, disagreement can lead to a better understanding of the issues as well as of one’s partner. What’s true in getting along with each other is also true in how we get along with God.
Tony Robinson, a UCC pastor, wrote a devotion on the subject and says this:
I used to think that I didn’t hear much arguing with God in church because we we’re just too nice…. Lately, I’ve been pondering a different theory…. Arguing with God only makes sense if God is real, living, active, up to something in the world, present and intervening—the way God is in the Bible.
If God is good values or an abstract concept, arguing with God would be silly or stupid. But if there is a living God, an active God, then arguing with God might be part of a deep, bold faith.
Let’s watch someone having a heart-to-heart with the Almighty in this clip from Fiddler on the Roof.
Tevye isn’t the only one to argue with God. Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Jacob, Jeremiah, and Job all had a go at it, as did many others in scripture.
Stories of Jesus’ followers going head-to-head with the Lord are harder to find. Just one person not only got the best of Jesus in an argument, but also made him change his mind. That person, of course, is the woman in today’s scripture. Let’s set the scene.
Jesus has been working hard—arguing with Pharisees, feeding the 5,000, casting out demons, and walking on water. He is, as one commentator put it, “preached out, prayed out, and peopled out.”
Even the most dedicated of caregivers need to take a break now and then. That’s just what Jesus tried—but, thanks to the woman in today’s Scripture—didn’t do.
A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit…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. Jesus said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
It wouldn’t be fair, Jesus said, to take the banquet prepared for God’s children, who are truly human, and give it to Gentiles, to dogs, those less than human.
If Jesus’ words don’t make you squirm, they should. Then, as now, people who benefit from racism and prejudice are slow to understand the toll that it takes on the oppressed. In fact, they have trouble seeing it at all, as this clip shows
Jesus was a person of his time and culture. What he told the woman reflected that. But Jesus didn’t have to let the walls that others had built box him in. That’s our choice, our decision.
If the barriers that separate us from others are ever to fall, we must first stop building and rebuilding them. That was part of the message in Robert Frost’s poem, “Mending Wall.”
“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,” Frost wrote, “that sends the frozen ground swell under it, and spills the upper boulders in the sun; and makes gaps even two can pass abreast.… Before I built a wall, I’d ask to know what I was walling in or walling out, and to whom I was like to give offense. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it down.”
Frost’s neighbor didn’t agree. “Good fences make good neighbors,” he said. Frost couldn’t change his mind. So, they walked along, each on his own side of the wall, picking up fallen stones and wedging them back in place.
Writing of his neighbor, Frost said, “He moves in darkness as it seems to me, not of woods only and the shade of trees.”
The walls we so painstakingly build stone by hateful stone would collapse under the weight of their own wickedness. They stand, contrary to God’s will, only because we stubbornly insist on rebuilding them.
The cycle of hate and separation will only be broken by people who, like their Lord, dare listen to others as well as to God, letting their faith not just shape them, but change them and challenge them.
Our old friend Tevye said the fiddler on the roof was a symbol of himself and of his people, crazily, dangerously, perched, proclaiming God’s song.
That song goes on, and God calls us to share it. To keep the melody fresh in our minds and hearts, we must keep our relationship with God open, coming before God in joy and in despair, when filled with faith or burdened with doubt, asking, arguing, but always, always, changing and being changed.