September 7th, 2021
“From the Pulpit” – Weekly Reflections on the Texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church, Vero Beach, FL
[Jesus] set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He 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.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.” Mark 7:24-37 - our gospel for Sunday
Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ.
Wait...what? Did Jesus just call this Gentile woman a "dog"? Yes, he did. And in the Greek, it doesn't mean a cute, cuddly puppy, but just what he said...a mangy ol' dog. Whoa. Where is gentle Jesus, meek and mild?
Read this text carefully. There are two stories here. First, this encounter between Jesus, in Gentile territory north of his home of Galilee. He and his disciples had gone north into this area. I think Mark has him there for a very specific reason (more later.) There, he meets with this Gentile (Syrophoenecian) woman. She approaches him, perhaps having heard of his reputation for healing others, and without acknowledging him as the Messiah, asks Jesus to save her dying daughter. She didn't care who this guy was as long as he could cure her - that's all that mattered.
And Jesus answers in a most peculiar way to be the Son of God, "Let the children of Israel be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." Ouch! So, who is Jesus referring to here in his reference to "the children"? The children of Israel, of course, the Jews. He is telling this woman that he had come as the Messiah "first to the Jews", and anything left over maybe was for the Gentiles. Wow.
But while Jesus hands this woman an insult or a put down, she hands it right back to Jesus in saying "even the dogs under the table (the Gentiles) eat the children's crumbs. And with that, Jesus heals the woman's daughter (from afar.) No argument on his part. No confession of faith on her part, none of Jesus saying as he often did after a healing, "Your faith has made you well.", since she had no faith or belief, according to Mark here. She just wanted her daughter healed.
The 2nd part of this text has a man who is deaf, and cannot speak. Again, a Gentile. Jesus encounters this man alone, puts his fingers in his ears, touches him, and says, "Be opened", and the man is healed. Again, no confession of faith on the part of the man. No admission that he thought that Jesus was the Messiah. He just wanted to be normal, like his buddies.
So, here is Jesus, in Gentile territory, encountering two Gentiles, one pushing back on Jesus saying that even Gentiles "eat the crumbs" (of Israel), and the other, a man, where Jesus says, "Be opened". I'm wondering if this "be opened" isn't in some way Jesus reflecting on his ministry, and acknowledging that he, too, needs now to be opened to minsstering to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.
I think this is a turning point in Jesus' ministry, and it comes from, of all people, not his own (Jews), but from Gentiles. From this point on in his brief ministry, Jesus is changed, thanks to these encounters. It's a fascinating thing to think about. While the scholarship is a little mixed on this, I believe most scholars do acknowledge that these encounters here are indeed a turning point in his ministry. Think about it. What do you think? Can the one without sin still have something to learn about ministry? Can the Son of God, the Messiah, learn from someone outside his own people, how to do good ministry? I say, yes.
So here's the point here, as I see it...or at least one point. I think the key words come from Jesus' touching this deaf man, saying, "Be opened." In other words, for us, be opened to people who don't look like us, who don't come from our own "tribe", who believe different things than we do. Be open to being transformed by the one whom you may have previously despised, or kept away, or you had turned down for whatever reason. Be opened, sisters and brothers, to being transformed by the one near you, whom you may least suspect can do just that to and for you. Amen.