Thank God for pushy women and pushy men. Thank God for people who defy social convention in their quest to right what is wrong. But above all, be thankful for those who kneel at Jesus’ feet and pray without ceasing. Thank God for women and men who seek justice and will not accept no for an answer.
These are the people who appear in our Gospel stories today--one pushy, persistent woman, and some loyal friends who beg for their ailing companion. In each story we find courageous ones willing to push boundaries for the benefit of others.
Setting the stage for the readings is the book of Proverbs with this statement of wisdom: The rich and the poor have this in common—the Lord is the maker of them all! In other words we’re all God’s children, black and white, rich and poor, young and old, male and female, Jew and Gentile.
We are all welcome at God’s table, we are all equal in God’s eyes. It’s easy to lose sight of this vision as we are fully aware of the huge gap in our society today between the very rich and the very poor.
In all sorts of ways the scriptures tell us that more than anything else, the quality of the life of a society depends on justice, everyone having an equal place at the table.
We all breathe the same air on this great planet Earth. How we relate to one another matters. The spider web is a wonderful symbol of unity and community. The whole web trembles when one are is touched.
The amusing introduction to the book of James, found in The Message Bible translation, reads like this, “When Christian believers gather in churches, everything that can go wrong sooner or later does.”
Something has gone wrong in one of the early Christian communities prompting this letter of pastoral instruction. “Listen, my brothers and sisters, remember how Christians are to live in community. Show no partiality toward any who come to our doors. Greet everyone with a warm welcome. Love our neighbors as ourselves. Our faith and our works go hand in hand.” This letter from James reads like a sermon as timely for us today as it was long ago.
Now we move to the story from Mark’s Gospel, where we meet this pushy woman, this desperate mother who would throw herself in front of a herd of camels to get the help her daughter needs. She was a Gentile, she was persistent, driven by her love for her little child. So, with enormous courage, she crossed all kinds of boundaries and went to the one she had heard might be able to help her daughter.
She found Jesus and begged him to free her daughter from the unclean spirits. He said, “The children get fed first, the dogs feed on the leftovers.”
Now why would Jesus speak so harshly, so rudely to this young mother obviously at her wit’s end seeking something, anything to alleviate her child’s suffering.
Where is our kind and gentle Jesus, the caring Lord we’re accustomed to? It’s then when you begin searching through various Bible commentaries for why this conversation begins in this way. No matter how you cut it, to call a person a dog is a profound insult in that part of the world. Some sources say the word used for dog could be translated as puppy, or little pet, which might slightly soften the effect. It might also help a bit if we knew the tone of Jesus’ voice or his facial expression. But those details were not recorded in this story. We are left with what we know: the gifts Jesus brought were not meant first for the Syrophoenician woman or her daughter. And the gifts Jesus brings were not at first meant for you and me either. He was sent for the children of Israel.
When you really think about it, the gifts are still more than we can comprehend. The wonder of the story is that Jesus engages in conversation with this woman at all, and especially with a woman who is Gentile and a woman who has publicly shamed herself for begin out alone and speaking with a man. And the wonder of this story is that this woman does not back down. This woman will gladly accept even the crumbs of God’s goodness, knowing just the crumbs from God’s table will be more than enough.
Perhaps something in Jesus changes at that moment, for he said, “You may go, the demon has left your daughter.” She returned home, found her child lying on the bed and the demon gone. Is it possible this brave woman caused Jesus to consider a new understanding of his mission? This encounter may have pushed his horizons out extending beyond the confines of his own human Judaism.
Jesus then leaves that region and turns toward the Sea of Galilee. There they brought to him a deaf man with a speech impediment and they begged Jesus to lay his hand on him. Without hesitation Jesus took him aside to minister to him.
The location of this healing is uncertain, but this man may well have been a Gentile also. Because of strict cleanliness laws of the Hebrew people, any sort of disease or affliction was believed to be caused by evil spirits so the person was judged unclean. Therefore, they were shunned and excluded from any religious or community gatherings. Anyone not of the Jewish faith was also considered to be an unclean Gentile, so Jesus had crossed strict boundaries going to the places of these persons who came to him for healing. Or maybe Jesus felt called to move farther from his Jewish homeland seeking to serve a wider community, opening the way beyond the limits of culture and tradition.
In this second healing, scripture doesn’t tell us who brought this man to Jesus, yet they must have been persons who cared enough to lead him to Jesus and beg for his healing touch. He turned away from the crowd, placed his fingers into his ears and some spit on the man’s tongue. Jesus then looked up in prayer and commanded, “Be opened!” The man’s hearing was clear and his speech plain. Just like that!
How could they not tell anyone? They were beside themselves with excitement. A whole new world opens up for the healed man, new life, new hopes, new possibilities. Lives changed forever because Jesus refused to put a limit on God’s power.
Yes, the rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the Maker of them all! AMEN!