Tagged with "9/9/2018"
"The Woman Who Argued with Jesus and Won"
Category: Sermons
Tags: Sermon - 9/9/2018
Mark 7:24-37
“The Woman Who Argued with Jesus and Won”
September 9, 2018


            More and more, in recent months, whenever I listen to the news or read the material coming over my news feed, I have a strong urge to curl up on the couch, pull an afghan over my head, and shout, “Make it go away!  Just make it go away!”  I have tried to turn it all off.  I have tried not to look at the newspaper for twenty-four hours or read any article that does not include a recipe.  I still feel on-edge because I’m half-afraid of something awful happening and not knowing about it until it’s too late.  What if a war starts?  What if the dollar crashes?  What if lead is discovered in our local water system, or if a hurricane forming in the Atlantic is headed this way?  What if football is outlawed or ebola is discovered in New Jersey?  I know I’m not the only one, either.  Consider this cartoon by Lila Ash that was in The New Yorker last week:

“You can have the pillow fort back
When you bring Mommy some good news.”


            Here’s some good news: even Jesus felt overwhelmed at times.  More than one place in the gospels describes him doing what he had to do to manage the demands that the world put on him.  Today’s gospel lesson tells of a time he went all the way up into Lebanon, near present-day Beirut.  He

“went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”  [Mark 7:24]

He tried to arrange some down-time.  Why should you or I feel bad about trying to do the same thing?

           Now back to the harsh realities.  Jesus’ attempt to hide away for a few days didn’t work.  Even outside Jewish territory, somehow he was recognized.   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.” [Mark 7:24-25]

One summer when I was in college, I worked in Acadia National Park in Maine and I was manning the cash register at a gift shop one evening when somebody handed me a credit card with the name “Paul Nitze”.  (This is geeky, I admit.)  I recognized the name as belonging to the man who six years earlier had led some groundbreaking talks with the Soviets on reducing nuclear arms.  I didn’t saying anything to him, but got some really weird looks afterward when I said to the other workers, “Do you realize who that was?”  Another time, at the same store, I sold some bedroom slippers to Carter Heyward, one of the first women to be ordained an Episcopal priest.  (I had seen her give a lecture about two months earlier.)  In that case, I did thank her by name as I handed her the bag, and watched her try to figure out if I was someone she knew.  And every Wednesday morning we sold a package of cocktail napkins to a certain Miss Wanamaker for her afternoon bridge club.  If those people could not fly under the radar, then how unlikely is it that Jesus could go unrecognized for long?

            If it was bound to happen, though, the woman who found him found him a little bit too soon.  He had not had enough time to rest and (I trust he’ll forgive me for saying this) he comes across in Mark’s retelling as a little bit cranky, which goes along with being seriously tired. 

“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.’” [Mark 7:26-27]

 Again, he’s trying to set boundaries.  He is telling her, “Look, lady!  My job is to reach out to the people in Judaea.  Sorry, but you just don’t qualify as part of my assigned demographic.  I work with Mac, you’ve got an Apple.” 

           And here’s where the absolute genius of this woman comes into play, and she becomes the only person in all the gospels who argues with Jesus and wins.  For one thing, she has compassion on him.  We can only guess where it comes from.  Not many people would take a rebuff like he offered lightly.  But she, too, probably knew what it was to be tired to the depths of her soul.  Here was a mother who was troubled for her young daughter, scared of what was going on.  You can hear the sleepless nights in her voice and imagine what terrible scenes she had had to witness helplessly.  There must have been a mixture of exasperation and hope or desperation to drive her to approach a foreign man, one she had never met, and to keep pressing him for help after a pretty clear, “No.”  My guess is that she heard something in his voice that was regret at his own answer, or that she sensed that her weariness and his weariness were alike on some level.  She saw a connection that was deeper than the surfaces of their lives would suggest. 

           On that basis she persisted, overlooking his analysis of his own ability to help.  Jesus said that

“‘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.’” [Mark 7:27-28] 

He was not uncaring.  It took this woman whose need and weakness mirrored his own to open his eyes to a depth of calling beyond what he had yet fully grasped.  You know, the Bible says that when he was a child,

“Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in divine and human favor.” [Luke 2:52]

His wisdom never stopped increasing.  She did not deny his understanding of his calling, but she offered him a chance to broaden it, and he had the wisdom to learn from her.

“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.” [Mark 7:29-30]

He came, he had realized, to save his people.  He came, he now realized, to save the world.

            I suspect that this interchange stayed with him whenever he might have been tempted to see his human limits as a limit on the power of his Father.  Jesus would later tell a parable about having compassion on those in need that started this way:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.”  [Luke 16:19-21]

All that talk about dogs and tablescraps, and sharing what is on the table!  Where had he heard that before?

           Notice, though, that when he talked about the poor man in need, he gave him a name, which he didn’t do for anyone else in any of his other parables.  We use the translated name “Lazarus”, but it comes from the Hebrew name “Eleazer”, which means, “God is my help.”  I suspect – and here I am speaking for myself and not from the text – I suspect that Jesus also learned in his interchange with the Syrophoenician woman how to recognize the depths of God’s Spirit at work within him as a help not only for the people, Jew and Gentile alike, who had been coming to him and who would continue to come to him with all sorts of problems and demands, but also as the help that he himself needed to respond to them without the shortness he showed to that woman outside Tyre. 

           Jesus would continue to go off by himself to pray, often early in the morning before other people (including the disciples traveling with him) were even awake.  And we would see him pray about his own weakness in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Still, those were moments when he opened his heart to the Father’s renewal through the Spirit, and he always came away from them prepared for whatever awaited, knowing where his help lay.

           Odd, isn’t it?  -- how it may be better sometimes to lose an argument than to win?

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