Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost - Pastor Jonathan Hamman
James 2:1 – 17 15th Pentecost, 2021
Mark 7:24 – 37 Rural Retreat Parish
It is interesting to read on my first Sunday back from Sabbatical, about Jesus trying to take some time away and avoid people for a while. I will not bore you with too many details; however, we did completely skip church that first Sunday back in June. When Chelsea asked me what I wanted to do, I responded, cut church, and go hiking…needless to say that is not something the Pastor and family get to do very often! Ironically enough, we went hiking to a place called the Devil’s bathtub!
I should also say that I had hoped that we would have COVID-19 mostly in the rearview mirror at this point. Instead, here we are outside again so that we can continue to be safe and help our community and be safe. And our kids in school!
There are many who do not like this gospel story. I’ll be the first to admit that it is a harsh version of Jesus. Perhaps that is why we do not like it. Jesus sounds mad, mean, cranky, tired, and downright rude. Perhaps that is why I am drawn to this version of Jesus, which is especially evident in Mark’s gospel. Jesus is more human, more real, more like us in some ways. We all have moments like this, especially when we are trying to get away or take some time for ourselves.
I do love this gospel story, not because Jesus is rude and difficult, though we all certainly have those moments. But I love this story because though Jesus is harsh, rude, and difficult, he still listens. He not only listens but after the woman challenges him and his exclusive understanding of the gospel, his refusal to consider gentiles, his calling her names, he not only listens to her challenge, but he also rather quickly changes his mind.
The simple act of changing one's mind seems to be so out of touch for many right now. If scientists change their thoughts about the COVID-19 virus, some people immediately jump on social media and declare how they were wrong, rather than considering that they were led to a new and different understanding based on conclusive scientific evidence. They had their mind changed by scientific conclusions. We too, when presented with conclusive evidence, not based on Facebook research, but on conclusions reach by true experts, we should be willing to change our minds and opinions.
Jesus is willing to change his mind because this unnamed foreigner challenges him. When he calls her a dog, she doesn’t argue but instead accepts his insult and says OK, but even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table. The children of Israel will spill some crumbs of grace, and she is willing to gather these for her child's sake.
Perhaps Jesus realizes he is treading on shaky ground. The Mama bear instinct has kicked in for this Syrophoenician woman. Maybe Jesus realizes that if he steps in front of this charging bear, he may get hurt. One of the most powerful images for me right now is the irate parents at school board meetings arguing against mask mandates. I, naively apparently, thought we were supposed to do everything in our power to protect the lives of our children. A little piece of cloth does that better than most things and keeps us safe while indoors. So why would we be against such a simple thing? The Mama bear and Papa bear instinct should kick in. If it keeps my children safe, how can I be against it?
But I digress, this woman is in full blown care for her child, and she believes, trust, hopes that Jesus can fix this. Jesus can help her and set her child free. Jesus changes his mind, sets the child free, and opens the door for the Kingdom of God to non-Jewish believers. We owe a lot to this woman.
As Gentiles who are being welcomed into the fold, into the family of God, we should give thanks for women preachers such as this outsider, this Gentile, this Syrophoenician woman. She directly challenges Jesus, stands up to a cranky version of Jesus, and she wins Jesus over. In doing so, she shatters the boundaries that kept Gentiles and Jewish believers apart, she bursts the gates of heaven wide open for all people, and she opens up Jesus’ understanding of grace and love for the whole world. It is a beautiful moment of changing Jesus’ mind, and in the process, receiving healing for her child.
With so much negative news and energy being spread on the close mindedness and self-serving nature of many Christians, especially in response to the pandemic, this is the gospel message we are called to share this day and every day. Jesus comes, not for exclusion, but inclusion. Jesus comes to open up the boundaries our hearts and minds set around God’s grace and love and burst them wide open. Jesus comes, sometimes in a bad and cranky mood, yet willing to be challenged, change his minds, and open wide his arms.
We too, in the difficult moments of our lives and faith are called to seek forgiveness, be willing to change hearts and minds, and always, always seek to come to a better understanding of God’s loving grace that extends not only to us, not only to Christians, not only to those who we agree with, but to and for the whole world. As cranky as that understanding of grace may make us feel some time, it is, in the end, a beautiful gift and understanding of how God is at work in this world. And we all need to not only hear, but also share this gift a whole lot more! Our momma and papa bear instincts should kick in for this understanding of God’s gracious gifts of mercy triumphing over judgment in our lives and in our world.