Such a lovely room

Such a lovely room

Sunday, September 5, 2021

YEAR B 2021 pentecost 15

Pentecost 15, 2021
Isaiah 35:4-7a
Psalm 146
James 2:1-10, 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

So, I think we can all agree that we don’t really recognize the Jesus we just heard from in this gospel reading.  A woman whose child is dying comes to Jesus looking for help, and he says to her, “. . . it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Who even is this person?  And what has he done with the real Jesus?  That is not how Jesus behaves.  That’s not how Jesus treats people.  Jesus changed.  But let’s start here.

God can change.  Now before you go reporting me to the Bishop for heresy, let me say more.  There are aspects of God that are unchanging.  God’s mercy endures forever.  We say, as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever.  We pray that we may rest in God’s eternal changelessness.  We refer to God as the unmovable mover, and so on.

And yet, back in Exodus, Moses goes up the mountain, the people ask Aaron to make a golden calf.  And God gets angry and decides to kill them all.  But Moses pleads on their behalf, and reminds God of the promises made to Abraham and Issac.  And then we hear: “And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.”  An argument from Moses changed God’s mind.  God can change.

In the book of Jonah, God sends Jonah to Nineveh and tells them they need to repent.  And they put on sackcloth and ashes and they repent.  And then we hear:  “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.”  The actions of the people of Nineveh changed God’s mind.  God can change.

Now, let’s go to the gospel reading we just heard, with that seemingly imposter Jesus fellow.  As we heard, “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”  Did not want anyone to know he was there.  Why do you suppose that is?  I think it’s because he is exhausted.  Before this, Jesus has spent every waking moment either healing people or arguing with the pharisees, and I think Jesus is just hoping for a little down time to rest and recharge.  It’s important to remember that Jesus is fully God and fully human.  Jesus takes naps.  Jesus eats food.  Jesus gets burned out.  So he goes into the house, not wanting anyone to know he was there.

And as we heard, he could not escape notice.  In comes a gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin whose daughter is possessed by a demon.  Everything about that description screams outcast, outsider, and unclean.  This woman is far removed from the levers of power in her society.  Nobody would be willing to help her or her daughter.  Jesus is exhausted and wants to be left alone.  And here comes this unworthy woman, asking him to help her.  And . . . Jesus just snaps.

He says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Let me take care of my own people before I help the likes of you.  There’s only so much to go around.  And I have to be careful not to use it all up on the wrong people.  And she says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  This is what we call a mic drop.  She says that . . . and Jesus changes.  Just like in the story of Moses and the golden calf, we could say Jesus changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.  An argument from this woman changed Jesus’ mind.

You know what I think happened here?  I think Jesus forgot who he was.  In his exhaustion and frustration, Jesus forgot that he came to save all the people.  He lost sight of the expansive nature of love and compassion.  The universal love of God is for everyone . . . even the outsiders . . . especially the outsiders.  God lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty.  Jesus came to save sinners.  God cares deeply about the so-called dogs under the table.  And it took this gentile, Syrophoenician woman to remind Jesus of that.  The reminder of inclusion comes from the very one who is excluded.

If you think back to last week’s gospel reading, you’ll remember that Jesus declares all food clean.  He says there is nothing that goes in that can defile a person.  Today, by going to a Syrian city and healing the daughter of a gentile Syrophoenician woman, he is declaring all places and people to be worthy.  There is nothing and no one outside the reach of God.  In a sense, you could say now nothing is secular.  There are no godless lands or godless people.  As we saw last week, the circle just gets bigger and bigger.

And, just as Jesus needed to be reminded of who he was, we do too.  And the first part of that is to remember who we are not: we are not Jesus.  Because there’s a danger that in hearing this story we might conclude that we should never get any rest.  That we should never take time to be alone and recharge.  That we must devote all our energy to helping people.  But that’s the wrong message for you and me.  Because we are not Jesus.

The message for us here is to remember our own identity as children of God.  Created in the image of God, and redeemed in the resurrection of Jesus.  There is no one and no thing beyond the redemptive work of God’s healing touch.

Listen again to words from Psalm 146, which we recited just a few minutes ago:  The Lord gives justice to those who are oppressed, and food to those who hunger.  The Lord sets the prisoners free; the Lord opens the eyes of the blind; the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down; the Lord cares for the stranger; he sustains the orphan and widow.

After hearing the words “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs,” Jesus remembered who he is, and who he came to save: the oppressed, the hungry, the stranger, you, and me.  May God constantly remind us who we are:  the redeemed children of God, who are welcome at this table, where even the crumbs are enough to bring life and healing to all God’s people.  All God's people.


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