Year B Trinity 12/Proper 18 : 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 their dogs." 28 "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but 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 him to place his hand on the man. 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."
Two sermons follow...
Jesus had just fed 5,000 walked on water, healed many people and had a confrontation with the Pharisees. He wanted to get away from things. Goes to Gentile area to escape, thinks won't be recognized? No good Jew would go there. But disturbed by this Gentile woman, other gospel accounts describe more fully how Jesus, apparently tried to avoid dealing with her.
The gospel accounts cannot convey the exact tone of Jesus words, so they may not have been as harsh as they might appear. Jesus made the point to the woman that he had come first of all to the Jewish people, and this did not include her. Her response, that she was just asking for spare morsels of Jesus' time, showed her ability to think quickly and her trust in Jesus. This contrasts with the opposition from the Jewish leaders, the people whom Jesus had come, first of all, to save.
Jesus didn't come simply as a miracle worker. His miracles were to show who he was and why ha had come. They were designed to lead people to trust in Jesus. It could be that Jesus reacted to this woman as he did because he wanted to challenge her trust in him. She is the only person who addresses Jesus as "Lord", v. 28, that Mark records.
Jesus uses a different approach in another Gentile area, the region of the Decapolis. Here he deals very kindly and sensitively with a man who was deaf and with a speech impediment. He communicates with him using touch, one of the senses the man has. The man is completely healed.
Jesus tells the people not to gossip about what has happened because he does not want to be known as simply a miracle worker. This would inhibit his teaching ministry and obscure why he had come. To restore everyone to the place where God wants them to be. The daughter to be free from evil spirits, the man to be able to hear and speak. You, me and the people of Knebworth to have a right relationship with God. To know the love of God in our hearts. To share God's love with others. To worship him in Spirit and in truth. To learn more about God and become more like Jesus.
Mark records these two accounts to show that Jesus has come for everyone. Jews and Gentiles. Middle class, polite, respectable people and also drug addicts, prostitutes, alcoholics, thieves and so on.
The question that we need to address today and in the "have your say" consultation, is how we are to reach out to the people who we are, perhaps not comfortable with. The "Gentiles" if you like. Those who are not like us. Those who, perhaps, do not like our style of worship. Are we prepared to step out in faith. To challenge some. To sympathetically draw alongside others. Unless we address this issue effectively or church will just grow old and die.
Unlike the crowds, Jesus tells us to go out and tell others about him. Sometimes with our lives, sometimes with our mouths. Can I continue to ask you to look for the opportunity to invite someone to the Alpha Course we are running at he end of this month. We already have 4 people who want to come and we still have many seeds to sow because..."There's no growing... Without the sowing!"
Go from here and pray.
Pray for the opportunity yo share your faith, to invite someone to the Alpha Course.
Pray, too, for God to show you and all of us how he wants us change, so we can reach out to the many people of Knebworth and beyond who do not yet know Jesus.
Last week we saw how Jesus called the Pharisees and teachers of the law 'hypocrites' because they were more concerned with the oral laws than God's laws.
Part of the dispute arose over the issue of ceremonial uncleanness. Jesus said what came out from someone was more important than what went in.
A religious Jew would not normally go to a Gentile, or non-Jewish area. Where they had contact with Gentiles, for example in the market place, they would wash themselves ceremonially.
In today's gospel we see an example of Jesus doing what he said, going to a Gentile area, ministering to and touching Gentiles.
Jesus had gone to this area to get a rest from the crowds who wanted him to perform miracles. Perhaps he wanted to recharge his spiritual batteries in preparation for more ministry.
Word about him had spread even to this area, and a woman with a demon possessed daughter approaches Jesus. A boy who had an evil spirit in Chapter 9 is described as having convulsions, foaming at the mouth, and trying to throw the child into fire or water to kill it. So we can imagine how distressing it was for the mother, and how powerless she would feel. She begs Jesus to help and he, initially refuses. Why was this ?
Jesus did not see his mission solely as that of a healer or miracle worker. One of the ways we see this is in his efforts to elicit faith from the people that he healed. He challenges the woman by saying 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 their dogs."
This can have two meanings. A superficial one and a deeper, theological one.
The picture Jesus uses is one of a family meal, with the table set. The priority is for the family to be fed, rather than taking bread from the children to give to the pet dogs.
Jesus could have been meant that the meal symbolized the rest he was trying to take. The woman's reply is quick-witted, showing humility and a trust in Jesus.
28 "Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." She is saying she doesn't want all of Jesus' time, just a few seconds. After all, the children will feed morsels to dogs anyway. The deeper theological meaning may require too much understanding of the woman, although the significance of it should not be lost on us.
The Jews called Gentiles 'dogs' in a derisory way. Jesus could have been saying to the woman "I have come to minister to Jews first of all, and haven't got time for you Gentile 'dogs'", perhaps with a twinkle in his eye.
The woman's reply suggests that she can still have some of what is left over after the Jews had had their fill.
Verse 28 is the only time that Mark records anyone calling Jesus 'Lord', showing the trust that she placed in Jesus. She believed that Jesus could drive the demon out of her daughter. She showed humility in begging Jesus for help, and suggesting that she would be happy with leftovers.
Her faith and humility are in stark contrast to the Pharisees and teachers of the law who questioned Jesus in verse 5. The woman's faith is rewarded when Jesus exorcises her daughter from a distance. Again, the only record of such an incident in Mark's gospel. She returned home to find that her faith had been rewarded.
When I was a boy at home in Norwich our G.P. was Doctor Carlson. He had a handlebar moustache, was very chatty, with a good bedside manner. he always used to call me 'sausage', but then, he probably did this to all children so he wouldn't have to remember their names ! The only thing that my mother found galling was that he had always suffered the same ailments as his patients. My mum said she derived great satisfaction from knowing that she was one up on him because he could never claim to have been pregnant !
Jesus moves to another Gentile, non-Jewish area and is begged by people to lay hands on this deaf man with a speech impediment. It was common for faith healers at this time to heal by laying hands on people. Of course, Jesus could heal in any way. He wasn't restricted by the conventions of the day. Sometimes he healed with a word, as we have just seen. But Jesus wasn't just in the business of healing, he wanted to make people whole, to increase their faith.
So he takes the man away from the crowd and communicates with the man in a way he can understand. He had a good 'bedside manner'. He puts his finger in his ears to show he will unblock them. Jesus spits and touched his tongue to show he will give him unhindered speech.
Jesus looks up to heaven in a prayer-like attitude to show his power comes from God. He says, 'Be opened' and straightaway the man can hear and speak properly.
Have you ever been asked to keep a secret, but what you have been told is so good you have shared it with anyone ? Jesus tells the crowd not to tell anyone about this. The reason for this is that he didn't want to be known as just a miracle worker. His mission was much wider than this. He had come to save the world through his death on the cross. Death and sickness is in the world because of sin. When Adam sinned he let sin loose and the world has suffered the consequences of this since then. This is not saying, however, that every sick person is afflicted because they have committed a certain sin, although sometimes sin can lead directly to sickness or even death. The healings of Jesus point to his mission. That he had come to earth to undo the effects of sin and death, restoring people to a right relationship with God.
The crowd cannot contain themselves. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement, they couldn't believe it !
They said "He has done everything well," This is an echo of the words in Genesis when God created something and looked on it and decided it was good.
Jesus came to re-create things. To restore them to what they were originally intended to be. The man was originally intended by God to listen and speak clearly. Jesus restored him to this condition. People were originally intended to have a right relationship with God, unaffected by sin. Jesus took the punishment for the sin of the world so that people may be restored to a right relationship with God. To know him as their best friend and Lord. To look forward to being with him forever.
The fact that Jesus carried this healing out in Gentile territory is also symbolic. It shows that Jesus has come to save anybody. Jew, non-Jew, male, female, black, white, brown, yellow, young, old, rich, poor, sick, healthy, tall, vertically challenged, thin, or rotund.
This is the offer that is there for anyone and everyone.Therefore, we should not give up hope for people who have yet to come into the kingdom. We are called to keep praying for them, and showing them the love of God in word and deed.
James mentions in the Epistle for today that we are to mirror God's love and not show favouritism but mercy. We should not ,therefore, exclude anyone who does not fit in with our false expectations.
This story is about Bill. He has wild hair, wears a T-shirt with holes in it, jeans and no shoes. This was literally his wardrobe for his entire four years of college. He is brilliant, kind and very, very bright.
He became a Christian while attending college. Across the street from the campus is a well-dressed, very conservative church. They want to develop a ministry to the students, but are not sure how to go about it. One day Bill decides to go there. He walks in with no shoes, jeans, his T-shirt, and wild hair.
The service has already started and so Bill starts down the aisle looking for a seat. The church is completely packed and he can't find a seat. By now people are really looking a bit uncomfortable, but no one says anything. Bill gets closer and closer and closer to the pulpit and when he realises there are no seats, he just squats down right on the carpet. Although perfectly acceptable behaviour at a college fellowship, this had never happened in this church before! By now the people are really uptight, and the tension in the air is thick.
About this time, the minister realises that from the very back of the church, a deacon is slowly making his way toward Bill. Now the deacon is in his eighties, has silver grey hair, and a three-piece suit. A godly man, very elegant, very dignified, very courtly. He walks with a cane and as he starts walking toward this boy, everyone is saying to themselves, You can't blame him for what he's going to do. How can you expect a man of his age and of his background to understand some college kid on the floor? It takes a long time for the man to reach the boy.
The church is utterly silent except for the clicking of the man's cane. All eyes are focused on him. You can't even hear anyone breathing. The people are thinking.
The minister can't even preach the sermon until the deacon does what he has to do. And now they see this elderly man drop his cane on the floor. With great difficulty he lowers himself and sits down next to Bill and worships with him so he won't be alone. Everyone chokes up with emotion.
When the minister gains control he says, "What I'm about to preach, you will never remember. What you have just seen, you will never forget. Be careful how you live. You may be the only Bible some people will ever read."