September 9, 2012
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
Jesus is trying to get away by himself, “yet he could not be hid.” When good news is preached to the poor, when release is proclaimed to the captives, and the blind are recovering their sight, and the oppressed are set at liberty, the word is going to get around. Some things you cannot hide!
So Jesus has steps out of Israel, to the land of Tyre and Sydon, the great port cities, and then to the Decapolis. He is now out among non-Jews. And these Gentiles are receptive in ways that his own people have not been.
And in a strange land, among people who would be called unclean by all those good, godly folks back home, they come to him for healing.
Who comes? A Gentile woman. We should know that this is weird. Women did not speak to unrelated men. Jews did not speak to Gentiles if they could help it. But this is not simply a foreigner. This is the mom of a sick kid. Are there any barriers she will not climb, get around or break down to get her daughter the help she needs? Do you really want to stand between Mary and Mira’s cardiologist?
The deaf man has friends who bring him. The woman whose daughter has an unclean spirit comes on her own.
Do we have more gumption when we are acting on behalf of loved ones, especially our children, than for ourselves? Are people avoiding the family of this child with a demon, so her mom has to come alone? Are women just more likely to take matters into their own hands? (If this last one is true, I am not sure much has changed over the centuries.)
This morning I want us to consider why Mark put these stories back to back. Why are these two stories of healing for Gentiles read and heard together?
What is the same in both stories is a bit scandalous. Healing for outsiders. Jesus is far from Jerusalem, far from the established religion of the Temple and the priesthood, far from what good followers of God in his day thought was okay. And yet here, there is healing.
It would seem that once again, God is doing a new thing. Except it has been done before. Elijah and Elisha healed and fed foreigners and Gentiles. God is not doing something new so much as continuing what we so often forget. God heals.
But the differences between these stories are also important. The obvious is that one is a man and the other is a woman.
I already mentioned that one came alone, and the other was brought by friends (echoes of the paralyzed man whose friends lower him through a roof to get to Jesus).
With the woman, Jesus questions whether a Gentile should have such healing. “Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Dogs being a derogatory word for foreigners and Gentiles. Let Israel receive first from God that which God gives. It is not right to take Israel’s blessings and give them to a Gentile.
As Anthony Robinson says, this woman shows faith through perseverance, risk-taking, and determination. She throws the question back at Jesus: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” It is one thing to have the gumption to break all the taboos of speaking to a man as an unrelated woman, of speaking to a Jew as a Gentile. But to have the “I ain’t leaving without a blessing!” is another, altogether. Again, that probably takes a mom.
For the man, the scene is the opposite. His friends bring him, and Jesus takes him aside for healing. It would seem he learned his lesson from the mom.
For the woman, he merely tells her, “For saying this you may go your way; The demon has left your daughter.”
For the deaf man, he takes him aside, somewhere away from prying eyes and gossiping mouths, and “he put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and said to him, “Eph’phatha,” that is, “Be opened.”
I don’t know what kind of medicine or folk remedy this is. If a doctor tried this I would not pay the co-pay. And the statement “Be opened,” is not a teaching; it is not a suggestion. It is a command.
And here I think we can finally understand why these two stories are put together. There is healing in Jesus. God wants for us fullness of life as those created in God’s image. Whatever our background, wherever we are on life’s journey.
That healing is available for both ends of the spectrum and everyone in between. Whether we are male or female. Whether we have friends who bring us or we are on our own. Whether it is our own hurt or the hurt of a loved one that we cannot fix ourselves. Whether we just need the word spoken or need to rely on medical interventions. Whether we have to argue for and demand our healing, or we just show up. Whether we are led by fear or by gumption or by our friends. Whether we are good religious folks, or outside the bounds of what we think is respectable.
In Christ, there is healing. For all God’s children. Whoever we are. Wherever we are. However we are. That is the Good News.
Thanks be to God.