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The Reverend Krystal Leedy
September 9, 2018
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
The Word of the Lord.
Thanks be to God.
I’ve been thinking about this one for a while. It’s a difficult passage that many don’t want to preach on because we don’t see Jesus with his best foot forward here. Scholars have scratched their heads about this for a long time, and I join in their confusion. But I am a pastor speaking to a specific congregation in specific time, in a specific place, which actually created some compounding issues.
Compounding issue #1: Thanks to Pastor Matt’s recent sermons, all of the food imagery in the history of preaching has been used. We’ve heard about the leftovers in the fridge, the hunger at the Table, the boy with the loaves and fishes, the abundant baskets. He even titled one of his sermons “Still Hungry.” One might say that I have now been left with the crumbs of sermon illustrations.
Compounding issue #2: I’m not cool enough to even start a mildly viral hashtag with my preaching. If you have been on Facebook, the hashtag that went viral two weeks ago, coined by Byron French was #showmeyourfridge. Honestly, who can do that with a sermon? My college students remind me all the time with their eye-rolls during my sermons on Sunday evenings when I try to be “relevant,” that I’m not cool.
Compounding issue #3: A K9-based sermon illustration has also already been used. Last week, Pastor Matt actually used an example of his beloved family dog eating ravenously from his dog bowl. Come on, man. That’s literally the punchline of this passage. I can’t even talk about dogs eating their food because I’ll look like a wannabe.
So, if you’re wondering why my sermon title has absolutely nothing to with food, you can thank my esteemed colleague.
I don’t know another passage where Jesus snaps at someone like this, where Jesus becomes exclusive based upon whether a person is Jewish or Gentile. Jesus claims that the children of God, the people that actually get to eat at the table, are Jewish, and he calls the unnamed Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin a dog, and her little girl too. Oh and by the way, the little girl has a mental illness which the surrounding community is blaming on something evil that she had done to cause the mental illness. And don’t be confused by what Jesus says here. Dog is not beloved pet. In this passage, a dog is an animal that is begging for crumbs.
I’m righteously indignant with Jesus. I feel like this may be Jesus’ lowest point in all of Scripture, because it’s beyond just Jesus having difficult emotions. We’ve seen passages where our Lord and Savior has been openly weeping and frustrated and angry. And even in the midst of agonizing pain, the passage taking place in the Garden of Gethsemane is a faithful expression of Jesus’ love. The gospel of Luke talks about his agony as though his sweat was like blood, and I understand more fully about the agony that Christ went through in order to save the world. Jesus weeping at the loss of his friend Lazarus gives us permission to also weep. We see his humanity, a man willing to be vulnerable, to cry in front of his friends, to show us that it is okay to cry in the name of love. And the overturning of the tables with the veins popping out of his forehead as he flips all of the money is nothing compared to this slice of Jesus’s life where he interacts with a woman begging for his help. Because his agony and sadness and even his anger all are real human emotions that he experiences fully and expresses them through Scripture. But this feels like something other. This feels like weakness. This is where we see his shadow side, and it isn’t pretty. It’s true that everyone has a shadow side. All of us do. And it’s rare for people to see it. This is really what goes on behind the scenes. This is the shadow side of Jesus that I’m not entirely comfortable seeing. And we have a shadow because we are 3-dimensional objects who are exposed to light, and complex beings who are disposed to sin. And shadows are creepy and not good and they are lurking there with us all the time. And it was right there with Jesus. And I have a problem with that.
I have a problem with that because it could have been me on the receiving end. We all have things we care about. We all have causes and people and issues that we care about, and if we knew that there was someone who could do something about it, we would beg them for help too. We would chase after the powerful person in the room and find a way to bring it up. We would beg the doctor, the judge, the government official, the host, the monarch for help because we know they can provide something that we can’t. And how much more would we beg Jesus on behalf of a family member or a true friend who needed help with healing that we believe Jesus can do remotely. And there we are, leaning in, putting it all out there, begging to be heard, begging for relief from the pain of holding this weight, and Jesus turns to you and says, “I can’t care about this.”
A lightning bolt of anger would shoot through me so quickly to where I could no longer think. A deep sense of sadness would envelop me as I thought of my relative lying there dying of a demon possessing her, and a grief would whisk me away with the tide. I would be so overcome with this deep sense of emotion, which makes me so completely human, and I would be looking into the face of apathy. This person, this man who is supposed to be my God is sitting there dismissing her and insulting her. That could have been me. I’m not okay with that.
The opposite of love is not hate because both are passionate and both are connective. The opposite of love is apathy. It’s the shadow of love. It’s present in my God, and I don’t know how to reconcile that. I see so many other passages where Jesus cares so deeply, loves so fully, where the Son of God is the embodiment of love itself. And in this passage, I see his shadow, and I’m so angry about it. I just want to go back to the Transfigured Jesus who shone so brightly. I just want to go back to the Jesus who sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty. I want him to be the benevolent powerful being that I can worship up there, the one that exposes the shadows, not the one who looks at me and says, “I can’t care about you.” But my God is fully human, and sometimes what it means to be fully human is to have a shadow.
We’ve been talking a lot at this church about bandwidth. I thought this was only an internet term, but it’s originally not. It’s about radio frequencies and how far they can reach. But every time I hear it, I can’t help but think about rubber bands, and I think that’s more helpful because if you stretch a rubber band, it will eventually snap and then whatever game you were playing with the rubber band is over. You’ve just been popped in the face. Or, whatever things that you were trying to gather up, whatever papers or medical records or newspaper headlines or sticks or craft supplies or groups of people or courage or your life that you needed to get in order—when that rubber band snaps, all that was gathered falls to the floor. And you just have a rubber string.
I think Jesus snapped. Because I honestly believe that he was trying to get away from everyone, just to have one minute to himself. And here comes this person, asking for yet another thing, and the rubber band that has been pulled and pulled to hold all of the healings and miracles and teachings just snaps. It has very little to do with Jesus being fully divine. It has everything to do with Jesus being fully human.
This unnamed woman may be one of my heroes. Because it seems like she doesn’t get mad. She doesn’t storm off. She doesn’t begin to weep. The lightning bolt of anger does not seem like it courses through her veins. But we know that it does. It does because she’s human. She’s in battle for her little girl; she is doing the hard work of advocacy and that comes with all human emotions, including passion. But this unnamed woman knows what rejection looks like. She can smell it in the air. Her intuition is dead on because she has been through this so many times. She has been told that she is not good enough and her daughter is not worthy of attention. It’s the only way she could have kept her cool in that moment, to be able to meet Jesus’ humanity with her own. To say that this woman represents voices that have been historically marginalized in this moment is an understatement. She is fierce, and she is one of my heroes. Because she responds with empathy; seeing this situation from Jesus’ perspective. This clever woman picks up the rubber band and ties a knot in it and hands it back to Jesus with a smile and a witty retort.
We talk about bandwidth a lot here at UPC because we know that even the Son of God couldn’t hold it together all the time. To be truly human means to have limits and that means that sometimes good people go unnoticed, good ideas get ignored, and sometimes you may hear from this institution, “We can’t care about that.” I wish we could care about everything all the time, but we would probably just be hundreds of little rubber strings.
And because of the faith of the unnamed woman, Jesus heals her daughter, and in pure Jesus fashion, he goes one step further. Jesus responds to the empathy that he receives—with empathy. Jesus’ mind, his mission, his whole world expands to include all people, because someone took the time to see him in his humanity. As an epilogue, Jesus is presented with a man who is deaf and man who is mute. Advocates of these men once again bring these ailing people to Jesus in order to have them healed, just as the unnamed woman brought her daughter, in order that their voices and hearing may be restored. And yes, Jesus gives them the ability to speak and to hear. And Jesus does more than a mere healing. Jesus puts them back into a community, and Jesus gives them the ability to interrupt others. Jesus gives them voice and Jesus turns them into people have been reknotted so that they know how to bind one another up. Jesus allows for these men to become holy interrupters because he was interrupted.
We live in daisy chains of rubber bands, and some bands are broken and some have been knotted, and some are fresh and smooth, though not many. And we turn to one another for helping us when we are but a rubber string, and we advocate for one another with empathy. We come to this place broken. We come to this place knotted. We come to this place whole. We come to this place looking to be interrupted.
I wish Jesus would have given the unnamed woman and the hearing man and the speaking man all names, but it’s probably good that he didn’t. Because they are all you and me: people who are stretched thin, people who have trouble hearing others, people who have lost their voice, people who advocate on behalf of those who have no voice, and the tired Savior who knows what it’s like to be human because he too has felt so stretched thin and he knows what it is like to snap.
Know that if you have snapped, you can be knotted again. Know that if you are knotting broken people, you are a faithful person even if left unnamed. Know that if you don’t know who to listen to, start with the voices that are not in the room. And know that the person walking in front of you may just need you to be the human standing next to their humanity.
To our Savior who understands our limits, to the Son of Man who is broken and knotted up, to the risen Christ be all glory and honor, both now and forever.