15th Sunday after Pentecost - September 5th and 6th - Mark 7:24-37
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit +
For the last six weeks our Gospel lessons, ever since the feeding of the 5000, have been full of people giving Jesus a hard time. The disciples don't understand the feeding and freak out while He walks on water. Then, when they get to the other side of the sea, the crowds complain about Him being the Bread of Life, and lots of folks get huffy and leave. Then the Pharisees and Scribes come up, and they give Him a hard time, and the disciples are still clueless. And so today we hear, "From there Jesus arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon." That's it - I want a break, cause these folks are crazy - so off He goes to a foreign land - over by where the pagans, the old enemies of Israel live. Give Me a break! Yet even there: "And He entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet He could not be hidden." Even there, they know who He is. But you know what - it goes better for Jesus.
"But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoencian by birth. And she begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter." Now, remember, Jesus has just gone several rounds over the idea of defilement - that was the last two weeks. You know what else defiled a Jewish man - foreign women. A good, Jewish man wouldn't be caught dead alone with a foreign woman. Bad juju. And then Jesus says what might be some of His most shocking words in the Gospel. And He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." How's that for harsh! And yes, calling a woman a dog was just as much of an insult back then as it is now (don't worry, I'm not going to spell it out this week). So what in the world is Jesus doing here? I'd contend that Jesus is teaching the disciples in a back handed fashion. Is this really what you want me to be, disciples? Do you want me to rank and measure people - do you want me to decide whom is worthy of my help and whom is unclean - because that's what the defilement stuff you were so interested leads to? Is it about defilement? Is it about how great and awesome you are and how poor and lousy other folks are?
The woman answers, and answers well. But she answered Him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." This is one of the great statements of faith in the Scriptures. Even Jesus praises it - For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter. The healing she had requested was given - the kid is healed. But let's ponder what she says. "Yes, Lord." Jesus has just called her a female dog - does she get angry? Indignant? "I came here for help and you throw that in my face?" Nope. Instead, she agrees with Jesus. Yes, Lord, yes I am. I am a lousy, no good mongrel. This, dear friends, is the picture of what Confession is. To confess literally means to speak with another, to speak together. This is why we, on the one hand, confess the Creeds - we all speak them together, we confess them. But normally when we think of confession, we think of admitting our wrong. And that is what we are doing when we confess our sins, we are speaking in agreement with what God's Word has said about us. Yes Lord, we are by nature sinful and unclean. Yes Lord, we have sinned in thought, word, and deed. You are right - but You know what else is true? What else have You said? You, Lord, are merciful. You have goodness and mercy and love to spare, even to a poor wretched beast like me. And she was right. Christ Jesus showed her mercy.
From there Jesus moves on, and this too is a happier story. Jesus returned from the region of Tyre and went through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. Tyre and Sidon was the Gentile region west of Galilee, now Jesus goes to the Gentile region east of Galilee - and once again, He is put to work. And they brought to Him a man who was deaf and had a speech impediment, and they begged Him to lay His hand on Him. Jesus - this guy's in a pitiful state - help Him out. Lay your hands on him and heal him, because You are great and wonderful! And Jesus does - and He does so in what I think is a most beautiful fashion. And taking him aside from the crowd privately, He put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting touched his tongue. Now, think for a moment. The fellow is deaf and mute. He can't hear what is going on, He hasn't heard the crowd get all excited because Jesus is coming. And they picked him up from where he was and drag him to Jesus - the poor fellow probably has no clue what in the world is going on. So Jesus pulls him aside privately -- fingers in the ears. Yeah, these things, I'm going to
them. Jesus grabs the tongue - yeah, I'm going to fix this thing.
And so you understand what I'm doing - and
looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, 'Ephphatha,"
that is, "Be opened."
Did you note Jesus act out everything before He does it? So you
know that I'm praying for healing, I'm going to sigh loudly looking
at heaven first. It's just so kind and gentle. And what we expect
happens. The man is healed - and the crowds cannot but help to
praise Jesus, even when He tells them to be quiet. No, they sing
out, "He has done all things well. He even
makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
What a contrast! What a contrast from the lessons we've heard the past month and a half! There's no people grousing about Jesus. There's not any complaining. Just humble people in need who look to Jesus and receive from Him great and wonderful blessings. And our text today is fantastic, because there are many wonderful points of doctrine we see taught here. You want evidence that Gentiles are part of Christ's Kingdom - well here we see two Gentiles who receive His gifts with great joy. Are women welcome as well - you bet. Here's a great example of that! If only we had a slave show up in this section, it would have been that whole Galatians 3 "there is neither male nor female, Jew nor Greek, slave nor free" all acted out in one text. The open welcome of all, not just those who meet some artificial code of niceness is shown here in full. We could look at the creative power of God's Word. We could focus on Jesus restoring creation, or fighting off Satan. Lots of things!
But for us here today, here is what we shall ponder. Let's think about attitudes. The Jewish folks the last few weeks had been putting Jesus through the wringer - and why? Because they thought they were hot stuff, they thought they were all that and a bag of chips. Are you as good as Moses, Jesus - because we are Jewish folks and we deserve someone who is at least as awesome as Moses - never mind the fact that we've already seen miracle after miracle. You claim to be the Bread of Heaven who gives eternal life - well, what's so great about that? I don't know about you Jesus, you didn't make your disciples wash their hands the way we wanted. Think of all the nit picking and griping Jesus has put up with! And no one was happy, there was constant bickering, just a mess. Even the disciples get caught up and confused. Now contrast that with what we saw today. A poor woman just wants her daughter healed. You say I'm a wretched little dog - yeah, You're right, but my daughter still needs You. The crowds in the Decapolis - they don't find something to grouse about when Jesus shows up - instead - Old Deaf Pete, let's go grab him, we bet Jesus could help him. There's no pride, no self-aggrandizement. Rather, these folks all see problems, needs - serious problems. Not fake problems like "I ran into a sinner in the market place, oooOOOooo I feel dirty now" - not fake problems like "I have all I need but I want more and more stuff." Nope. Real problems. Possessed. Deaf. Mute. And because they are dealing with real problems they cling to Jesus really, really quickly.
There's an old saying. If you think you're just a little sinner, you're only going to think you need a little Savior. When it boils down to it, we don't need more stuff, we don't need to wine and dine the rich and powerful and have more of this or that. We need forgiveness. We need life. We need salvation. And this is because, like we confessed, we are poor miserable sinners. The problems we face, ultimately, are sin and death. We have sin in spades, and death is coming. That's the wages of sin - and the temptation, what the world wants us to do is to forget this, to act as though things will just carry on, that we all will get better with age. Except we won't.
So then, what ought our attitude to God be? Shall it be one where we nitpick and complain because our life doesn't have all the wealth and power that we might want? Shall we grouse at God because people just don't respect and understand how great we are? Shall we act like fool pharisees and sit in judgment of God and what He does? No. Yes Lord, we are sinners, but Your mercy endures forever. Yes Lord, we are sinners, and we will kneel at Your table and not receive mere crumbs, for You have claimed us though we were poor and unworthy, and You have washed us in Holy Baptism and declared us to be Your Children. You feed us not on mere crumbs, but on Your Body, the very Bread of Life. When we see and understand our own sin, its depths, it's vileness, then, like the woman and deaf man in our text, we will rejoice at the healing and forgiveness Jesus gives us. And give this He does. You are forgiven by Christ the Crucified. O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare Your praise. Make haste O God to deliver me, make haste to help me O Lord. In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit + Amen.