Sunday, 9 September 2012

For the love of dog...

Mark 7:24-37
 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.’

Do you ever get those days when you feel everyone wants a piece of you – and there simply isn’t enough to go around?
Or days when you feel you’ve given all you have to give and you just want to go home, close the door and hide by yourself for a little while?
It seems that Jesus was having a day like that.
 He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there
A woman, whose daughter was sick came to seek Jesus’ help when she heard he was there.
It says something of her desperation that she approached, uninvited, a man who was culturally very different to her.
Perhaps it also says something of her courage that she was prepared to take the risk of being shunned by him.
And she was.
A tired out Jesus, just wanting a bit of peace, tried to move her on.
He had enough on his plate without picking up any more demands on his time and energy.
That’s a feeling I think many of us can readily identify with.
Enough already.
Let someone else take over for a while.
We’ve done or bit for now.

But this woman knows that there is no one else.
Lord knows she’s tried them all.
Jesus is her last resort.
So she ignores all her instincts, all her breeding.
She goes against all that she has been taught about social niceties – and she pins Jesus to the wall.
‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
Jesus hasn’t been very nice with her.
Tired and grumpy.
But this woman isn’t about to be fobbed off.
She throws his words back at him.
Forces him to live up to his own teaching.
Forces him to re-evaluate his mission.
Forces him to step up and reclaim his integrity.
After all she’s not asking for much – only crumbs.
Even Jesus, tired and grumpy as he was, can offer her that.
Remember last week, we heard Jesus saying – its not what goes in to a person that makes them unclean – its what come out?
From that saying, we considered Jesus’ call to us to be inclusive, to be hospitable and welcoming.
In today’s gospel Jesus himself is being called to put that into action.
To widen his remit.
To practice what he preaches.
Jesus finds it in himself, to do the right thing.
And the woman goes away satisfied to find her daughter healed.
Compassion saved the day.
Compassion that couldn’t be thwarted by weariness.

In Mark’s gospel, this encounter – Jesus with the Syro- Phoenecian woman, is seen as a turning point in the spread of the gospel.
Jesus moves from working with his own kind to widening the scope of his mission – taking the message to non Jews.
Broadening out the kingdom.

I wonder when we last confronted our need to change, our need to rethink what we do and how we behave so that we can keep on making room for others.
It’s tempting when we’ve been around a bit, when we think we’ve seen it all, when we think we’ve read the book and got the T shirt, to imagine that the tried and tested ways will always work.
God constantly moves the goal posts, keeps us on our toes, stops us settling into complacency.
God keeps on pushing us to confront how open we really are to those who are different.

The gospel story moves on quickly to another healing – that of the deaf mute.
His encounter with Jesus led to his ears being opened and his tongue being freed.
Hearing – and speaking the love of God.

These two stories thrown together in our gospel work to direct our attention to our need to remain open to God’s mission today, to be prepared to change direction wherever God leads and, in particular, to be careful about excluding others from the kingdom when God shows us time and again, how none are beyond the power and the reach of the gospel.
There are no limits to the reach of God’s love.

Over the lat few weeks I’m sure you, like me, have been inspired by the Paralympics.
Seeing men and women refusing to be confined by physical constraints, refusing to be limited, men and women confounding expectations, setting new records, inspiring others.
Oscar Pistorius,aka the blade runner said:

“You're not disabled by the disabilities you have, you are able by the abilities you have.”

Taking our inspiration today from those Paralympians and from the example of Jesus who, when challenged by a woman outside his circle revised his strategy, let’s look beyond the limits we set, beyond the horizons we see.
Let’s imagine and work to accomplish a wholly inclusive fellowship where all are recognized for the strengths they bring rather than the challenges they present.
And may we be willing to revise our strategy, to abandon our well worn habits, even when we are weary.
May we embrace God’s compassion for the world and ALL its people.

For the glory of God.


Beth said...

"widen his remit" - I love your entire reflection, but this phrase is what sticks just now - too much time spent in meetings where the remit is continually narrowed - 'not now' - 'not this' - 'later' - 'can't' - even as I'm thinking on a phrase that keeps staying w/ me - 'celebrating the abundance of less' and thinking on what it means to accept where we are as a glory-gift of God, while mixing in the notion of not unnecessarily limiting or contracting our remit - don't know where this all goes, but I'm thinking on it - always a good thing (I hope) - thanks as always just for being you. Miss you muchly. Beth

Martha Spong said...