Summary: A sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost, Proper 18

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14th Sunday after Pentecost [Pr. 18] September 6, 2009 “Series B”

Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, in the person of Jesus the Christ, you came among us to reveal your redeeming grace, and that in Christ, your kingdom is present and open to us. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, grant us a deeper appreciation for your saving grace and empower us to share your love and compassion with those around us. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.

Our Gospel lesson for this morning contains two healing stories, and they can’t be more strikingly different. In fact many of the commentaries that I read on our text, lamented the church’s decision to pair them together as a single lesson. Yet, it is not as if these stories were pulled from two different sections of Mark’s Gospel. So if Mark chose to contrast these two healing stories, perhaps we should examine them in context as well.

Jesus leaves the familiarity of Galilee, and travels to the region of Tyre, presumably to gain some rest, which the people of Galilee made it difficult for him to achieve. Yet even in this foreign region, Jesus could not go unrecognized as the prophet with healing powers. And so, it didn’t take long for this Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin to come to Jesus, fall at his feet and beg him to heal her daughter.

But this woman is an outsider. In fact, as one of the commentaries put it, “She was a triple outsider. She is Syrian in nationality, Greek in religion, and female in sex. On top of that, she was outspoken, which meant that she also offended the gender bias that women were to keep silent in the presence adult males, especially a rabbi. She was about as far from the God of Israel that you could get at that time.” End quote [Gail Ramshaw, New Proclamation, 2003]

Now we come to the troubling part of this story. Jesus refuses to heal this woman’s daughter, not only because she was an Israelite, not only because she was of a different religion, not only because she was an outspoken woman. Jesus goes even further, and insults this woman and her people. He says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

Here, we encounter one of those situations that just naturally tugs at our modern-day, Christian image of Jesus as this really nice, serene, loving redeemer who is the friend of everybody. Perhaps it is a reminder of the fact that Jesus was truly human. He was tired, in need of rest, and had his rest interrupted by this outsider. So he snapped, and referred to her with the common slur that many in Israel used to refer to the Gentiles. It is not fair to give what belongs to Israel to the dogs.

But this woman would not be deterred. She took Jesus’ slur upon herself, and in desperation, retorted, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And upon hearing those words, Jesus had a change of heart. He said to the woman, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” And when the woman returned home, she found her daughter healed.

Following this, Mark tells us that Jesus began his journey back to the Sea of Galilee. On his way, he is encountered by some folks who brought to him a deaf man who had a speech impediment, and they begged Jesus to lay his hand on him to cure him. Of course, there is no mention here that this man was a member of the house of Israel, or if he, too, might have been a Gentile, an outsider. But there certainly is a distinctively different approach that Jesus takes toward this man in need of healing, than he did to Syrophoenician woman.

In this story, Jesus shows true compassion. We are told that Jesus takes the man to a private place, apart from the crowd, perhaps to calm his fears. Then Jesus uses sign language to communicate to the man what he is about to do. Jesus put his fingers into his ears to indicate that he was about to heal him of his deafness. Jesus spat on the ground, and touched his own tongue, indicating that he was about to heal him of his speech impediment.

Then he looked up to heaven and sighed, indicating that it was God who was about to heal him. Then he said to the man, “Ephphatha,” which means “Be opened.” And the man’s ears were opened, so that he could hear, and his tongue was released, so that he could speak plainly. I think that we can say that Jesus developed a remarkably improved bedside manner.

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