a priest's musings on the journey

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sermonette: Proper 18B - 10 September 2006

Mark 7:24-37; James 1:17-27

27 He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." ?!? Everytime I read this I think that these can not possibly be authentic words of Jesus. Surely Mark has made a mistake. This is not the Jesus that I know. The Jesus I know doesn't call me a bitch when I ask for his help. I can't imagine him disrespecting anyone who is coming to him pleading for mercy; and yet, here he is quite clearly insulting this Gentile woman.

I am so put out by this portrayal of Jesus that I almost miss the reason that Mark includes this story. While it might be interesting and even fruitful to contemplate "this" very human Jesus, the richer contemplation comes from the Syrophoenecian woman's reply. Instead of being indignant and offended, as she certainly had every right to be, she, pleading from the heart of a desparate mother, replies, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
Jesus was so touched by her persistant faith, that he came to his senses, remembered who he is and why he was there, and healed her daughter.

But, this story isn't really about the healing. It's about the abundant, lavish, banquet that God has prepared for all people. God's love and grace is not just for Jesus' Jewish brothers and sisters; it's for the Gentile dogs too. In fact, God's banquet is so abundant and God's love is so inclusive, that the dog is given a seat of honor at the Table with the children.

Surely, Jesus understood this! I remain puzzled at his exchange with this woman, but after she reminded him of the abundant Table prepared for everyone, he goes on to feed other Gentiles with God's heavenly food. Next in today's Gospel reading he heals a deaf man in Gentile territory, and in the next chapter Marks tells of a second miraculous Feeding Story of 4000 people in Gentile territory, on whom he had compassion.

Our Prayer of Humble Access is based partly on this Gentile woman's prayer:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen. (1662 BCP)

I love this prayer. I wish it were at least optional in all of our Eucharists. I know that I only deserve the scraps. Yet, Christ offers me the same food he offers to the noble, beautiful, pure ones. God offers the love and life of God to an unworthy, sinful, broken creature like me- with the same reckless abandon with which it is offered to everyone else.


Other thoughts to contemplate:

Mark uses the healing of the Gentile girl as a symbol of what is happening to Jesus as he begins to take on a new understanding of his mission. He uses
the story of the deaf mute as a symbol of what is happening to the disciples. They do not hear him and can not yet proclaim that he is the Christ. Peter's confession is not far off, however. How has Jesus' own recognition and acceptance of his greater mission shaped the disciple's ability to hear and speak the Gospel message? What will happen in the chapters to come to enable Peter's ears to be opened and his tongue to be loosed? How can our own inability to hear Christ and proclaim Christ be healed?
:: posted by Padre Rob+, 8:22 AM


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