Pentecost 16B- Hope Lutheran Church- Riverside, CA- Sept 9, 2018
Mark 7: 24-37
I don’t have a moving story this morning. The gospel today IS the story. It has all the elements of the best sermon illustrations- discomfort, joy, hope, emotion and ah-ha moments. I am excited by this passage. It can be hard to imagine Jesus as human at times. We often sanitize the human side of him, opting for the divine aspect of God rather than the one who wore skin and sweat, acne and morning breath. For some, it may even feel blasphemous for us to consider Christ as ever anything other than perfect and yet he was fully human which meant a fully imperfect body.
It isn’t a sin to have acne. It isn’t a sin to have a pockmark left after acne resolves. And yet, we must admit, it is imperfection. It is a sign of tissue that shows when trauma has been done and scars up after the infection subsides. And humanity bears scars. We bear scars of racism, classism, and even gender exclusion when we diminish each other for the body we are born with, the circumstance we were raised in, or how we were socialized.
Jesus had this body. He wore flesh just like we do and felt the limitations of flesh just like we do. As Lutherans we declare Jesus Christ fully human and fully God. But we cannot claim his full humanity in one breath and deny it in the next. He was a human child who surely was told “no” so that he could learn. He was a teenager who did things that make mother’s frown and give stink eye; all things that are a process of humanity. He was socialized to believe certain things just like we are. And it is okay if this thought process makes you uncomfortable. It is supposed to be uncomfortable to imagine God experiencing the ugliest parts of humanity up close and personal, not as an observer, but as a participant. Our God is amazing and flexible beyond our comprehension and trying to comprehend God as perfectly divine and also divinely human is a struggle for even seasoned theologians.
It is important to grasp onto the concept though in order to see a beautiful message of hope and promise found in our scripture today. The deaf man and syrophoenician woman’s daughter also had these imperfect fleshy bodies and the ones around them craved wholeness for them. So they are begging Jesus for hope and healing. And Jesus is still human even as he is healing in a divine capacity.
Jesus’ very humanity is showing in this text. Here we see Jesus be corrected, learn, change, and bless in response. Lessons we desperately need to not only hear but since humans learn in so many ways, we need to see Jesus being fully human and learning from others. And here, he learns from a woman. Not just any woman though. A woman who has absolutely no social, legal, or religious authority to even look at him, let alone speak to him. And yet she does. She takes a chance on hope and promise because she already understands there is something incredibly divine about this man.
And what mother would not do anything to heal their child? What mother would not jump fences, dance on desks, and beg in the face of incredible odds to see their child healed? Not this one. She goes to Jesus even though he asks to be left alone. She goes to him even though she is a gentile. She goes to him and begs for her daughter to be delivered. And he denies her.
Some scholars argue that he is telling her she just has to wait until all the Jews have been healed. Except that Jesus has healed other gentiles at this point. They also argue the diminutive is sweet and kind calling the dogs puppies in the original language. But the fact is, puppies or dogs, neither have value. At meals and with guests, they are chased off with rocks. They are not the sweet companion pets we imagine them as today. They are a necessary nuisance that is barely tolerated and he attempts to chase her off by throwing rocks in a racial slur. In his socialized human form, he dehumanizes her and all gentiles as well. He came for the children of Israel, not gentiles. Not for you or me. She does not have the necessary qualifications to get in, no passport, no id. She was a necessary nuisance to be barely tolerated and chased away with rocks made of words.
Still other theologians argue he is testing her here. But to be honest, it is inconsistent for Jesus to respond to a pleading person by testing them further. So when Jesus tells her that he isn’t responsible for her family right now, that his focus of nourishment and healing needs to be for the Jews, he simply sees through the scales of humanly socialized eyes and to be honest, is fully within the scope and purpose of his incarnate expereience. He didn’t come to save us all. He came for the chosen ones, the children of Israel. So no, he does not see her value. He is prioritizing others over her and her daughter because that is his purpose up to this point.
And this should scare us. It should make us uncomfortable because Jesus is living the darkest side of humanity in this moment. The parts we do not want to acknowledge any more than we want to acknowledge we built a nation on stolen land. It only leads to really hard work and fear of loss for us to consider Jesus really seeing us in our meanest state.
But this woman has nothing to lose and everything to gain by trying. She holds hope and faith tightly in her grip and declares her and her daughter’s value in that moment. And she boldly corrects him. She reminds him that even if consuming only the crumbs, she has a place at the table, a role in the kingdom of God, that she too was created in the womb by the master, the number of hairs on her head were counted before her creation, that she is fearfully and wonderfully made.
And this is the beautiful point. He listens and allows his socialized understanding of the world, his scales of human eyes to fall away and his purpose in it to be fundamentally changed in that moment As though healing a blind man, his scales fall from his eyes and he sees her through divine eyes, acknowledges her, and recognizes her value in the snap of a moment- something most humans spend a lifetime doing, dismantling our socialized vision. In that divine moment, he understands the scope of his purpose among us as so much bigger than we can begin to imagine. In the moment he acknowledges her claim to her place at the table, his whole purpose and mission has shifted and expanded to God like proportions and we were gathered in.
In that moment, he sees not just her brokenness and pleading, but even his own human brokenness through incarnate eyes. And this moment is the moment of your freedom. This is the beginning of redemption for us. This is the moment of hope and promise for all humanity because God sees the need of all of creation to be redeemed, not just the chosen ones.
We have a responsive God. One who hears us, who realizes our human limitations and then crafts every way possible for us to be in right relationship with God once more. We have a god who blesses us for claiming the place at the table that God promised to us. Not because we did anything to earn it but because God created us for that. A God who will not condemn us or leave us wanting when we cry out, but instead a God who loves us and when we are scattered in our own darkness, will gather us in and bless us for remembering and knowing we belong to God.
This passage is a beautiful broken moment of Jesus. Just like watching him be pierced and crucified, it hurts us. It is a mirror of OUR ugliness, our sin, our darkness. In this moment, Jesus reflects back humanity’s response to a broken woman. And she then reflects back to him that she is created in God’s image and worthy of his consideration. This dance, an engagement and entwining of humanity and divine is exquisite and prickly. And it is good. It is valuable. It is a struggle to witness and consider. We will be blessed in the struggle for naming our place, for claiming our purpose and value laid on us not by our own selves, actions, or faith, but by our creator and in that very moment, our soon to be redeemer.
We do not need to be afraid to acknowledge the ugliness of this moment. The human limitations of this Gospel lesson are not about Jesus limitations, but about our human condition and a God who responds. My God listens and learns. My God grows to meet my limitations, because I cannot grow enough to reach God’s standard. God came into our darkness, entered into our sinful space and walked our broken world to redeem us. When we own our sin, own our incapacity to reach to God and cry out to the one who made us and promised to love us, remembering that we were created for this, that Jesus would die on a cross for this, God will bless us.
Thanks to several theologians out there for a great conversation as I crafted this sermon! Mandy Achterberg, D Mark Davis, Mark Stenberg, and David R. Henson (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson/2015/09/crumbs-jesus-and-the-ethnic-slur-lectionary-reflection-mark-724-37/)