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A few crumbs

Sermon, Sunday September 9, 2018 Pentecost 16B, St Petri

Mark 7:24-374 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 impure 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.[b32 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 spat 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 loosed 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.’

Every time come across this strange encounter between Jesus and a very persistent gentile mum desperate for some real help for her suffering daughter the seeming rudeness of the words Jesus says to this mum catch my ear.

He calls her, her sick daughter, and all those gentiles like her who are not the chosen few Jewish people, “little dogs”.

She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

Jesus says, ‘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.’

This seems so harsh. What is this uncharacteristic rudeness? Is it rudeness at all? If Jesus refuses this desperate mother, does he or will he refuse me? Will he lump me in with all the other bad people of whatever group or name and write me off too?

Some context might help…..

Jesus is in Tyre. That is a long way away from his home place in kilometres and culture. He is alone. He is looking for some space. He wants to be incognito.

He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it…

He is like some hounded politician or movie star facing the unwanted assault of the paparazzi.

But there will be no space even way up here. Somehow this mum manages to find him. That would be like you having a coffee break at the Pink Roadhouse in Oodnadatta only to for your next door neighbour to walk in!

The conversation is short and sharp. Is Jesus just caught with his compassion down here? Is he really human? Is he just like us when we are tired and alone and in need of R&R?

Nowhere else does he refuse a direct request to heal someone. Nowhere else does he respond to a seeking person with a bald insult like this, calling her and her sick daughter “dogs.”

Why the name? Are they “dogs” because they are wealthy, or because the Syrians and Phoenicians had historically not been Israel’s nicest neighbours? Is he lumping the mother and daughter together with other Tyrians who had recently oppressed the local Jewish population?

Although Jesus’ motives are not clear, his intent seems very clear. He refuses the request for help.

We have to make a decision about this harsh and uncharacteristic word from Jesus today. Is the woman passing a test or winning an argument?

Some say she is passing a test that Jesus sets. Jesus’ initial refusal to heal her daughter (verse 27) must have not been a cranky Jesus letting it fly but rather a Jesus speaking words with a playful gleam in his eye. His words are giving the woman a chance to express the faith he knows dwells within her before he gladly heals her daughter. In this case, she is passing a little test of faith.

Others say, no. There is no test. This is just plain “No”. Maybe Jesus means what he says and has no intention of freeing the daughter from her oppression and unwellness. He has that authority.

But what I noticed though, is that Jesus says,

27 ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her

“Let the children be fed first“. Not “Let them be the only ones fed forever”.

In other words, Jesus says to this mum that the time for her request is not right. God’s kingdom life may come to gentiles like her, in time, but for now God’s new life in Jesus are focussed on his chosen people – Israel. So, Jesus’ response to this mum’s request is not, “No. Absolutely never,” but “No. Not yet.”

I also notice what Jesus says in verse 29:

29 Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’

Jesus eventually responds with a “yes”. He says he does so because of this mum’s ‘word’, her reply that “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”. It is because of her “reasoning” or ‘word’” the woman puts forward that Jesus changes the plan and responds differently.

I think here of Moses reasoning with the Lord. Abraham reasoning with the Lord over Sodom and Gomorrah. Jacob, Elijah and others dialoging with the Lord and ‘talking the Lord into responding favourably to the situation.

This mum talks with the Lord with persistence, boldness, but humility and respect. She pleads her case and it is a good case. She talks to Jesus about what she needs. She asks him plainly with humility.

She does not “demand her rights”. She does not demand to be treated as one of the “children” (an Israelite). There are no banners, placards, media campaigns #metoo movements. Just plain honest and humble talk.

She is happy to receive few crumbs, not the whole table of food. She somehow recognizes that even a little bit of what Jesus can give will be more than enough for her need.

What strikes me is that Jesus listens. He listens even to this person whose time has not yet come. Jesus allows her time to come early; to be now. He allows her to jump the que and get what she can from God when she needs it.

Jesus is willing to change the plan. The timeline has been accelerated; the program can be changed. The unclean outsiders (gentiles) can receive blessings, too, even now, before their time.

Strange though. Jesus commends the woman’s ‘word’ (“reasoning”) but says nothing about her “faith”. Some say that this makes the Syrophoenician mother mostly a model of determination or clever words rather than faith.

But I see faith here. I reckon she makes us consider what “faith” really is at its core.

  1. Notice, her persistence. She refuses to go away until she gets what she came for. Like Jacob (Genesis 32:26), she’s not letting go until she gets her blessing.

  2. Notice her hopeful awareness. She refuses to believe even a tiny speck of grace isn’t out of reach and receiving just a scrap can make the difference for her.

  3. Notice her trusting acceptance. She is willing to take Jesus at his word and journey home alone to confirm her daughter’s healing.

Isn’t this faith? Isn’t this the way faith works its way out in your life too?

Sure, desperation and tenacity aren’t always faith in The Lord, but when they are brought to Jesus with a trust that he is compassion and kindness, and that his Word is powerful food of healing and life, isn’t that faith in him?

For whatever sickness you face, what trouble is on your door, be this unnamed mum coming to Jesus.

Seek Jesus’s words with persistence. Refuse to go away until you get from the Lord what you come to him for.

Take this mum’s hopeful awareness of the power of Jesus’ word to heal and give life. Believe that even a tiny speck of his grace is in reach in Jesus’ word. Know just a scrap can make the difference for you, even with your own tiny mustard seed of faith.

Trust him to accept you like she does. Willingly take Jesus at his word and journey home alone to confirm what he has given you for the journey of faith.

He listens. You can talk to him. He will change his plans for you. he will offer you more than a few crumbs. he gives you himself and his healing word.

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