Summary: Jessu went to those those outside of the covenant community of Israel to show God’s love for all people.
14th Sunday after Pentecost
10 September 2006
LOVE BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Text: Mark 7:24-37
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. 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 evil 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.
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. 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."
In these two stories we have examples of Jesus’ love going behind enemy lines into pagan territory and reaching the foreigners beyond the boundaries of Israel. The first is a Syro-Phoenician woman and the second a deaf man from the pagan region of the Decapolis.
Jesus treats the Syro-Phoenician woman quite rudely and there is no getting around that fact. This is even clearer in Matthew’s version (15:21-28). Mark doesn’t tell us exactly what the woman said when she made her request but Matthew tells us that she cried out “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly” and that when Jesus heard this he “did not answer a word.” So the first thing he does is ignore her.
The next thing he seems to do is disqualify her whole race from receiving the benefit of his ministry. When the disciples urge him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us,” Jesus seems to disqualify her whole race when he answers “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
He has ignored her; he has racially slurred her; and now he just comes right out and calls her a dog. Matthew tells us she knelt before him (Mark says she begged him) and cried out “Lord, help me!” and he replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
The amazing thing is that none of this deterred her. She just flat out contradicts Jesus in Matthew’s account when she says. “Yes it is, Lord. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” What incredible tenacity! What holy stubbornness! What great faith! And this last thing is what Jesus ultimately commends her for. Jesus said to her, in Matthew‘s account, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Her faith was in her answer as Mark’s account makes clear, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Do you really think Jesus was rude and uncaring toward this woman and that he needed to be convinced of her plight before he would have mercy on her and her daughter? Of course not. This woman was driven by love for her daughter. Sure she was a Syrian - a Syro-Phoenician - a Gentile dog, but Jesus knew that a pagan mother’s tears over her tormented daughter were seen by God just as surely as the tears of a Jewish mother. “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” That cry went up to the ears of a merciful God and was answered.
The deaths of Islamic children in southern Lebanon are as painful to the father heart of God as the deaths of Jewish children in northern Israel. God doesn‘t take sides in politics. He’s not half so interested in whether Israel has a right to defend its borders or Hizzbolah has a right to exist in Lebanon. He sits in the heavens and laughs at the schemes of men but he weeps at the blood of children and the tears of mothers. Larry Huch, a Texas pastor and a regional director of Christians United for Israel, was recently defending Israel’s right to self-defence at a rally in Washington, DC. In his speech he said, “We will not turn the other cheek.” What the…? Run that by me again. “We will not turn the other cheek?” Now we all feel that way sometimes - that the teachings of Jesus are hard or even impossible to obey, but to come right out as a minister of the Christian church and say it? “We will not turn the other cheek; We will not obey the teachings of Jesus. We will no longer see the Sermon on the Mount as our code of conduct or even as our ideal.” Now hopefully Pastor Larry said this in an unguarded and unconsidered moment caught up in a flush of political rhetoric, engaging his mouth before his brain was in gear. But this is what happens when the racial or political definition of a person makes their blood more excusable to spill. Makes their mother’s tears less keenly felt because they are our enemy’s tears. Makes their father’s deaths more acceptable because after all he was a terrorist and deserved to die.