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The September 12 Sunday worship service will be held with in-person attendance. We have returned to regular in-person worship services. With an upturn in county COVID cases, we recommend masks even for those who are vaccinated.
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Isaiah 35:4-7a |Psalm 146
James 2:10-17 | Mark 7:24-37
It looks like Jesus decided to take a break, and get away from it all. It appears that even the Christ needs a vacation from time to time. He takes his disciples, and leaves the land of Israel. They go up to the land of what is now Lebanon. It’s a bit strange that he would go there, Jews considered the Gentiles to be “unclean,” and generally avoided contact with them. Plus, this area was part of ancient Samaria, and there was little love lost between the Jews and the Samaritans. They just generally don’t get along. And Jesus was a good Jew. But what better place to avoid people than among their enemies? The text even says, “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” But, it doesn’t work. The very next line is, “Yet he could not escape notice.” So much for the rest!
A woman who is Syrophoenician descent comes to find him. Interestingly, in Luther’s German translation of the Bible, Luther calls her a Syrophoenician Greek, which is more likely what she is. The deaf and mute man, later is also a Greek, which is probably why he is living at the Decapolis, the “Ten Cities.” That is also interesting. The woman, no doubt, knows how Jews must feel about her, being a Gentile. But she has also, no doubt heard about Jesus, and his doings (if not his teachings), and she is desperate. The problem is her daughter; we are told that she has a demon. She is afflicted, and the woman believes that Jesus can help. In other words, she is a normal mother.
Let us think for a moment about children. There is really nothing which parents worry about more. And most parents will go to extreme ends to guarantee their children’s welfare and safety. You worry about them when you can’t see them. You take every news story about a child tragedy to heart. You take measures that your child is protected. That is why I find all of the parents who are out resisting mask mandates in schools strange. I would normally expect parents to be putting four or five masks on their kids before they load them into a bus, or off to school. Especially since the largest group now testing positive for Covid are the 16 to 17 year olds. They tend to be very social. I find this all very strange. You get your child a cell phone, so they can reach you in an emergency. I know of 5 year olds with a cellphone. But, parents will go to great lengths for the sake of their child. And, a medical or physical problem is the greatest measure of a parent’s love and dedication to their child. This woman is going well beyond what most people in her culture would do. She has gone to a Jewish Rabbi!The answer she receives for her request is what you would expect from a Jewish teacher to a Gentile in this time frame, but not the answer you would expect from Jesus. He tells her, “No.” That kind of flies in the face of our usual picture of Jesus, but like I said, he was a good Jew. They have few dealings with Gentiles. And they have with Gentile women. And worse, he does so in a very insulting way, comparing her to a dog, which was one of the greatest of insults in that area. Dogs weren’t considered loving pets, but more along the line of scavengers, one step up from a jackal. This was a severe insult.
But, we can learn a lot from this woman. Either she is the type who won’t give up, or she is really desperate, or she has faith that there is really a “yes” in there somewhere (which there doesn’t appear to be by any stretch of the imagination). She doesn’t give up. She accepts the insult, but not, the “No.” And turns it around on Jesus, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs from the table.” In so doing, she changes Jesus mind, and not just a little bit. Not only does Jesus grant her request, and her daughter is released, but from this point on, Jesus changes his own understanding of his mission.
Up until this point in the Gospel story, Jesus is adamant that he has been sent to the “Lost Sheep of Israel.” After his encounter with this unnamed, Syrophoenician Greek woman, he now begins to reach out also to the Gentiles (the second half of the text today, another healing story, also takes place in the land of Gentiles/Greeks – Sidon and the Decapolis).
She changes his mind. He has found faith in the place where there isn’t supposed to be faith (as compared to the lack of faith he has found in areas of Israel). His mission now takes on literally, global perspective.
This is a wonderful story of faith, and undeterred love, and the ability to overcome barriers, even to the point of making the Son of God change his mind. But, more than that, we owe this woman a debt of gratitude. You see, how many of us are of Jewish descent? Indeed, the Christian Church is by far a Gentile/Greek Church. And it all seems to originate from this woman, this desperate mother, who will not give up in faith, and believes that Christ will indeed grant her plea. Would that all Christians had such faith.