Monday, September 17, 2012

September 9, 2012 - God's Vote

God’s Vote
Mark 7:24- 30

I. By the 7th chapter of Mark, Jesus has become a celebrity. He has already been on the covers of Time and People Magazine. In the last few weeks in Galilee he has
+Fed 5000 with a few loaves of bread;
+Walked on water
+Healed people in Gennasaret right and left. The scripture says:
            “And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed” (Mark 6.56).
So, Jesus decides that he needs time away from all this demand. He leaves Galilee and goes to the coast where Galileans are scarce and he can go about quietly. This is the ancient land of the Phoenicians, the sea people, and the Biblical land of Syria, and the modern nation of Lebanon – just beyond the borders of Israel. He arrives in Tyre and finds a house where they can stay.
            A woman of the region hears about him and comes to the house to appeal to him on behalf of her daughter.
            1. In ancient cultures, women were not supposed to approach men in public with whom they were not related. An honorable woman in that ancient culture would ask her husband or eldest son to approach a strange man on behalf of the family. We have to assume that either she had no husband or he was unwilling to act. But, this woman is no fatalist; she does not believe that her daughter’s present condition has to be her last. She has heard how Jesus healed many people in Gennasaret, and she realizes that wherever Jesus is found, the future is not limited by the past.
            [APPLIC] Actually, that will preach. Too many people have the idea that the handicaps they have today, or the obstacles on the day of their birth, or the mistakes they have made limit their prospects for a bright future.
+I’m old, OR I lost a leg in Afghanistan, OR my eyesight is bad – and that is the reason that I cannot succeed. Well, it turns out that the Para Olympics have been going on in London this week, and the pictures are stunning. Have you see competitors sprinting on two blades instead of feet? The athletes interviewed said that they became competitors when they stopped thinking about what they couldn’t do and started thinking about what they could do.
+OR, I’ve made so many mistakes no one will give me another chance. Well, it takes time to earn the trust again, but it can be done.
In each case, finding the gumption to begin comes with the conviction that God offers us better than the handicaps or the obstacles or the mistakes that cling to us like lint from a bad dryer. God offers us the strength to make the changes we need to make. The handicaps or the obstacles or the mistakes that cling to us today are not the last word about us because God, of course, will have the last word.
            [SUM UP:] The woman approaches Jesus at a home. She approaches Jesus on behalf of her daughter: “She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter” (v. 26).

II. Now comes one of the most awkward moments in Scripture. Jesus responded to the woman:
“Let the children be fed first,
for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

+He stiff-arms her by calling the woman and her sick daughter: “dogs.”
+He suggests that they are lower than the children of Israel -- his land, his people.
+And he does it at a house in her hometown – not his.
            [A.] This would have been hard for Mark’s audience to hear. Mark wrote this gospel for gentile Christians living outside of the Holy Land – possibly some in Tyre. It would be read by Christians who were dealing with non-Christians every day. If Jesus thought so little of the Gentiles he encountered, then how could the Christians whom Mark addressed with this gospel be expected to hear it gladly? There is no clear answer in the text.
            Could it be that the Syrophonecian woman’s response, which caught Jesus in his own words, won him over – for all of them? People beyond Israel could delight in knowing that Jesus did visit in areas familiar to them. They could take comfort from the fact that Jesus ultimately did hear her and respond.
            [B.] OR, could the message of this exchange be a lesson in prayer? This woman with no standing, with no advocate, bringing nothing but her need was able to approach and win her request from the Son of God. Let it be a word of encouragement for everyone of us whose prayers seem to be delayed. Is the answer long in coming? Is your standing before God a bit shaky? No matter. Just as that Syrophonecian woman was able to make her case, so you will make your case. So, pray persistently and hopefully.
            Jesus said to the woman: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” To which she replied with great deference and humility, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
            [C.] I guess my mind wandered as I was reading this exchange – off to a country song by Garth Brooks.
            In 1990, Garth Brooks released a song with the raucous chorus:

'Cause I got friends in low places,
Where the Whiskey drowns,
And the Beer chases my blues away,
But I'll be okay,
Now I'm not big on social graces,
Think I'll slip on down to the Oasis,
Oh I got friends,
In low places (2).

What is the connection? What do Garth and the Syrophonecian woman have in common? Just that neither one allowed their social status to discourage them. Garth could find friends; the Syrophonecian woman still had a daughter she loved. They refused to be written off.
            The lesson for faith is that this woman acts out of love/devotion to her daughter and conviction about the power of Jesus; there is no craving for fame or honor for herself. She *took it* so she could press the case for her daughter with the Son of God. Can we also come to Jesus with such a pure motive? Jesus recognized the living, empowering faith in the woman’s conviction that God will be merciful. It is not the fulfilling of the Law which saves, but the heart which expects everything from God through Jesus.

[III.]  But, now we have to read the exchange as a lesson in THEOLOGY. The title of this devotional this morning: “God’s vote?” suggests the answer to the questions raised by this encounter.
            The ancient claim of Judaism is that God has chosen the children of Israel. They are children of one family; they are children of a specific piece of real estate, the Promised Land. If the good things of God are promised to one people of one land, then what is Jesus doing with this brassy, Gentile woman beyond the bounds of Israel proper? Based on the ancient doctrine of a Chosen People and the Promised Land, the good things of God are the property of one land and one people and no one outside that group need apply. This was a serious problem to the early church as missionaries began to carry the gospel beyond the bounds of Israel.
            Clearly, Jesus was won over by her response of humble trust. And, by her response, this Syrophonecian woman has redefined the centuries old concept of the “chosen people.” Because of this encounter, the “chosen people” are now defined as those God has chosen to welcome simply because they respond to the proclamation that “Jesus Christ is Lord.” Now, the Gentile can be every bit the Christian that the Jewish Christian can be. It is a far-reaching and stunning re-definition which has shaped the Christian faith and the societies shaped by this faith since that day.
            Does God vote for one and against the other? The answer is clearly, “NO.” Paul got it right when said: “We know that a person is justified not by the works of the Law but through faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal 2.16).
            Because of this encounter, modern Christians have extended this re-definition to believe:
+that people of every nation, every tongue, every race, every political party can find faith in Christ.
+that people from whom we keep our distance because they have a past or a reputation or a smell find welcome at Christ’s table.
+that people whom we love to hate because of their politics or their form of government can find faith in Christ.
And further, if anyone finds faith in Christ, then that person is a brother or sister to you and to me. That is hard to swallow today, as I believe it was hard to swallow in Jesus’ day and in the days after Mark’s gospel was being carried into all the corners of the world. Again, if Christ has spoken on the inclusiveness of the gospel, who are we to build barriers against anyone?
            Does God vote FOR one or AGAINST another ? I don’t think so. Again, Paul said:
            There is no longer Jew or Greek,
            there is no longer slave or free,
            there is no longer male and female,
            for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3.28).

+I recall one hot June day at the Methodist Annual Conference session. The debate was contentious and tempers were short. The Bishop stopped the debate to remind us: “Whenever this debate is finished and the votes have been counted, we are still going to leave here as brothers and sisters in Christ.”
+I would extend that message to the election season right now. The Republican and Democratic National Conventions are just completed, and the fall campaign for the Presidency begins now. The speeches and the TV ads are going to get pretty shrill before this election is held. To borrow the words of that Bishop: “Whenever this debate is finished and the votes have been counted, we are still going to live right here – all of us citizens of the United States of America.”
            We read this encounter between Jesus and the Syrophonecian Woman, and we wince. This doesn’t sound like my Jesus. I think this mother changed Jesus’ way of thinking that day. For one brief moment, she was more certain about Jesus’ mission than he was. I think she taught him something about the power of Gospel to mold this aching world so that it looks more like the Kingdom of God.
            So, now it is time for us to take the lesson she delivered that day to heart. It is time for us to step out into the world with a new thought: each one we meet may be one who lives trusting in Jesus. Each one we meet could be one who lives trusting in Jesus. A conviction like that will give you and me a new way of seeing.

1. Robert Bachelder, Between Dying And Birth, CSS Publishing.
2. Brooks, Garth, “Friends in Low Places,” 1990

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