Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Blogging Towards Sunday, February 19th   

Today’s passage is rather shocking and potentially embarrassing for it shows Jesus mouthing prejudice.  His comments in verse 28 seem to affirm that God loves the Jews more than the Gentiles; that he has come not for everyone but only for his people.  It’s embarrassing because it seems so –un-Jesus and also flies in the face of other scriptures and historic church affirmation about Jesus coming for all peoples, nations and languages.  Does this racist Jesus change his mind?  Is he won over by the theological argument of the woman?; convinced by her great faith?; or merely using her as a rhetorical device in order to expound upon his version of good news?

This peculiar story, recorded only here in Mark among the four gospels, points to the reality we face today.  How do we interact with others?  How do we approach not only racial and social class diversity in our faith communities, but how do we encounter those among us who have a different faith story, spiritual practice, or theological viewpoint?  How are we as the church called to live in our world of today, but not of it?  What is great faith?  What does it look like? 

The text tells us that Jesus has left the Jewish lands for the Gentile ones (v. 24 Tyre) and the region of the Decapolis (v. 31 – a coalition of 10 gentile cities in what we would now call Jordan).  He is a stranger in a foreign land.  In last week’s passage Mark 7:1-23, Jesus bumped heads with the Jewish leaders, criticizing them for their oppressive practice of table fellowship (sharing meals) only with the most “righteous” and “pure” and their extremist, hyper-self-glorifying-piety practice of the law.  Jesus continues in his gospel-long critic of the religious leaders and their establishment for :

1)    their blindness [compare with Isaiah 29:9 and Mark 4:12]
2)    and their inability to “read” the word of God [compare with Isaiah 29:11, Mark 2:25 and 12:10,16],
3)    they let go of the command of God and hold fast to human traditions, often putting their opinions above God’s, claiming “Moses said….but we say….” (which was the traditional Rabbinical way of teaching) [Mark 7:8-10].
4)    Lifting themselves up as paragons and examples of great faith.

Jesus leaves the land of holier-than-thou for the land of the dirty, un-worthy Gentile neighbors.  It’s not just a question of spiritual practice but also one of race, national identity and social status, for all of those things are present when the gospels talk of those who were “Jews” and those who were “Gentiles”.  And curiously enough, Jesus seems to be more welcomed, or more at home, in a foreign land of Gentiles than in Israel.

The Syrophenician Woman: Mark 7:24-30
Why does the woman come to Jesus?  How does she find him when he’s trying to escape notice?
Jesus and her have a debate.  He says the children (Jews) must first be fed.  He compares the other children (Gentiles) with dogs. The Jews consider dogs to be unclean animals, which you would never allow in your home.  The woman responds with reason, zeal for justice and faith: even dogs eat the crumbs.  Her words echo the commandment of Leviticus 19:9-10 in which the Jews are commanded to leave the gleanings – or the edge of their fields – un-harvested so that the poor and the sojourners (or foreigners, or the Gentiles in Jewish lands) can eat. 
She wins Jesus over with her great faith, which again is demonstrated by her trust that Jesus can heal her daughter even at a distance, for she has left her at home. (this echoes the story of the great faith of the centurion in Matthew 8:5-13).

The Deaf Man: Mark 7:31-37
In that day there were itinerant healing men who traveled and peddled their wonders.  Historians tell us that they often used spittle, considered to be a body for their healing powers.  [He does this again in 8:22-26 when healing a blind man, which tells us that the two stories are connected.] Here Jesus seems to conform to one practice of his day while negating another – he heals the speech and ears of a Gentile man (remember they’re in the Decapolis [map]).  Once healed he’s commanded not to speak of the life-changing encounter, but others do with great zeal.  Jesus makes the blind see, the dumb talk, the deaf hear.  Isaiah 29:18 says “On [the day of the Lord] the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll, and out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see.” Jesus’ healings seem to announce the end times.  But Jesus is also seemingly challenging the disciples and religious leaders to understand for they too are blind, deaf and dumb [compare with Mark 4:10-12 and 8:16-18].

·       How do you respond to these texts?  What do you hear God saying through them about who God is and what faith looks like?
·       We’ve traditionally done evangelism assuming that we in the church know God, and those outside don’t and thus need our help.  How does that agree or disagree with today’s text in which those outside the “religious” people seem to know the heart, will and word of God?  How are we called to change the way we interact with our world today when we talk of God and what God has done for us in Jesus?
·       How is God possibly inviting us to live out the teachings of Jesus as a community here at the crossroads of Berkeley, Oakland & Piedmont?  How are needing to be healed of blindness, deafness and dumbness?

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