February 25, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Gospel of Mark
Second Sunday in Lent
Doing All Things Well
The last time we were together, Jesus was in a discussion with the Pharisees and scribes about what is “clean” and what is “unclean.” And the Jews certainly thought that any foreigners were to be deemed “unclean.” Once again, in our scripture passage today, Jesus shows us that there is quite a contrast between the “commands of God” and the “traditions of humankind.” Just as he wiped out the distinction between clean and unclean foods in our previous scripture, Jesus is showing us through his encounter with the Syrophoenician Woman and the Deaf and Mute Man that there is no difference between clean and unclean people, that is, no difference between Jew and Gentile. For Jesus, the Gentiles too, have their place within the kingdom of God. The Jews certainly presumed that the Gentiles could not have the same faith in God that they possessed. This presumption reminds me of a story.
A Baptist evangelist, a Methodist minister, and a Catholic priest were in a row boat in the middle of a pond fishing. None of them had caught anything all day. The Baptist evangelist stands up, says he needs to go to the bathroom, and climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He comes back the same way ten minutes later.
Then the Methodist minister needs to go to the bathroom, too, so he climbs out of the boat and walks on the water to shore. He comes back the same way ten minutes later.
The priest looks at both of them and decides that his faith is just as strong as his fishing buddies and that he can walk on water, too. He stands up and excuses himself. As he steps out, he makes a big splash down into the water. The evangelist looks at the minister and says, “I suppose we should have told him where the rocks were.”
The line between faith and presumption is an important line. God does not work miracles for our convenience, but he does answer prayer in accord with his will. God heals in accord with his will as we will discover in our stories today as Jesus encounters these Gentiles. Would you pray with me?
A few years ago, in Yahoo News, there was an article about a church in England that recorded “the sound of silence” onto a CD. It became a surprise hit with its congregation. Members of St. Peter’s Church in Sussex, England recorded “a little bit of the silence” of the building’s atmosphere. The recording features the ambient sound of footsteps, voices, background traffic noise, but mostly just silence.
Robin Yarnton, a church technician at St. Peter’s said, “It does what it says on the tin. Silence is all you get. Mostly people have said it’s nice and they like it, and that it’s quiet and peaceful.”
The full CD features a 30-minute track, with a spoken introduction, closing words, and 28 minutes of silence. An article in a Taiwanese newspaper called the CD a “half-hour of absolutely nothing.” But it’s more accurate to say that it’s a recording of something valuable that we’ve lost in our frantic lives – silence.
As our story opens today, we find Jesus trying to find a little of that solitude and silence in the cities of Tyre and Sidon in the region of Phoenicia. At that time, Tyre and Sidon were part of Syria, but now that area of Phoenicia is called Lebanon. The cities were right along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea. Each of these cities was independent, but rivals. They had their own kings, their own gods, and their own coinage. Jesus was definitely in Gentile territory and God-fearing Jews would never soil their lives by contact with these unclean people.
Jesus must have come north to this region for temporary escape. He didn’t wish to be recognized. After all, in his own country, he was under attack from every side. The Pharisees branded him a sinner. Herod regarded him as a menace. And the people of Nazareth treated him with scandalized dislike. We see in Jesus’ traveling to the Gentile territory the beginning of a ministry to the Gentiles. The Jews’ rejection of Jesus had become the opportunity of the Gentiles.
Jesus stops at a rural house to stay and doesn’t want anyone to know it. But an Gentile woman finds Jesus and seems to recognize him as the Messiah, asking him for a miracle for her daughter. Remember, Jesus’ Messianic mission in coming is for the Jews, the chosen children of God; the nation of souls promised to Abraham.
This mother has so great of a heart for her daughter, that she is willing to belittle herself by begging and falling at the feet of a Jew. She would not be the first of her kind to be shown the insulting attitude and behavior Jews showed to her kind. With this love being so great and falling to her knees, she begs this young Jewish rabbi to cast demons from her daughter. She is giving blessing and praise to the very Son of God by her heartfelt actions.
Now the Gentiles were sometimes described as “dogs” by the Jews. This was quite an insult. In fact, we have the same insult here when we call someone by the name we give a female dog. So, it is surprising when Jesus basically refers to the Syrian born Greek woman as a dog. It seems that Jesus is dividing people into two categories: children and dogs. But when we really take time to dig into the passage, we learn it is an amazing lesson about great faith and that Jesus is not trying to divide, but to destroy the distinction.
“First let the children eat all they want,” [Jesus] told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus is telling the woman that he has come first for the children of Abraham, the Jews. His message is for the Jews to repent of their sins against God. In his saying this, he is not ruling out the Gentiles.
But this woman had a quick mind and a quick wit. She responded to Jesus’ statement with a sharp reply. “But even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” We have to admire this woman not only for what she said, but for how quickly she took the statement of Jesus and turned it into a profession of faith.
It’s like the college guy who was working at a grocery store. He was in the produce section and a little old lady came up to him and said, “Sonny, I see heads of lettuce here, but can I buy just half a head of lettuce?” He said, “Ma’am, I don’t know, but I’ll go ask the manager.”
So, the guy went up one aisle and down the other and found the manager at the back corner of the store. He walked up and said, “Sir, there’s an idiot over there who wants to buy half a head of lettuce.” What he didn’t realize was that this little old lady was fast, and she had followed him step for step. Just as he was talking to the manager, he caught a glimpse of her in his peripheral vision and said, “Sir, there’s an idiot over there who wants to buy half a head of lettuce, and this dear lady wants to buy the other half!”
So, they took care of the lady and the manager picked up on what the guy had done. He said, “Son, you’re pretty sharp. Where are you from?” He said, “I’m from Minneapolis, Minnesota; home of the world’s ugliest women and greatest football players.”
The manager frowned and said, “Son, my wife is from Minneapolis.” Without missing a beat, he said, “Really, what team did she play for?”
Like that college guy, this Gentile woman had a quick wit. She wanted what Jesus had to offer that the Jews could not accept. But, Jesus didn’t just admire this woman’s wit, he admired her faith. And it was her faith that healed her daughter. “She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” Folks, the lesson is this, we all eat the same bread, we all have the same need, we all come to the same table, we all are children in the sense of being objects of God’s care, and we all are dogs in the sense of being without merit, and we all receive inexhaustible “crumbs” of providence and grace.
After this encounter, Jesus left this area and went back to the east side of the Sea of Galilee to the region of the Decapolis, the ten Greek cities. This journey probably took about eight months, according to many scholars. This was probably a much needed time of closeness with his disciples before the final storm would come. As Jesus enters this territory, the people bring to him a man who is deaf and who has a speech impediment. I am sure it is the man’s inability to hear which makes his speech so imperfect.
Look what Jesus does out of compassion, remembering that this man is a Gentile, a so-called unclean person. He takes the man aside from the crowd, all by himself. Deaf people are many times a little embarrassed. In some ways, it is more embarrassing to be deaf than it is to be blind. Deaf people know they cannot hear; and when someone in a crowd shouts at them and tries to make them hear, in their excitement they can become all the more helpless. Jesus showed the most tender consideration for the feelings of a man for whom life is very difficult.
Throughout the whole miracle, Jesus acted what he was going to do. He put his hands in the man’s ears and touched his tongue with spittle. In those days, people believed that spittle had a curative quality. Jesus then looked up to heaven to show the man that it was from God that help would come. Then Jesus spoke the word and the man was healed.
William Barclay writes in his commentary on Mark: “The whole story shows us most vividly that Jesus did not consider the man merely a case; he considered him as an individual. The man had a special need and a special problem, and with the most tender considerateness Jesus dealt with him in a way that spared his feelings and, in a way, that he could understand.” When all of this was done, the people declared that Jesus had done all things well. This is the same verdict God gave his whole creation in the very beginning.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, when Jesus came, bringing healing to broken bodies and salvation to human souls, he had begun the work of creation all over again. In the beginning, everything had been good; human sin had spoiled it all; and now Jesus was bringing back the beauty of God to the world which human sin had rendered ugly.
There are no Jews and Gentiles in God’s sight. God has compassion for all who are in need of him, and we all are. We are to see Jesus in the face of every man, woman, and child, for God created every human being in his image, to love and to be loved. We must continually pray to God that we too, like Jesus, will be able to look past the prejudices of our culture and love everyone equally, just because God loves them, and his Son died for them. We are all in need of God’s saving grace through our Savior, Jesus Christ.
When we come to Jesus with the same faith of the Syrophoenician Woman and the Deaf and Mute Man, then hopefully, Jesus will say to us, “You have done all things well.”