24 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, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 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.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 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. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Going up a mountain can be hard! Our son loves to climb mountains, I do as well. I’m pretty adventurous, but my son takes it to new places. On our vacation this year in the PNW, Brennan picked out three amazing hikes for us as a family. All of them required ascending lots of vertical feet. They were hard, yet, the views were worth it…and the journey up, as hard as it was, and at times thinking our son is wanting to get his inheritance early…we made it. Along the way, we had some amazing conversations, some great openings, and even some growth.
Our psalm reading this morning is from the Psalms of Ascent.
As we’ve discussed before, these are psalms that would be recited during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Devout Jews in the 1st century would go to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. Jerusalem sits on a hill and the temple sets on a high place in the city. To this day, it’s called the Temple Mount. So, there was a sense that one would be travelling upwards, ascending towards Jerusalem, towards God.
Our gospel reading this am from Mark, from the Lectionary, which is a universal pairing of Scriptures for the church for daily reading in order to paint a picture of God’s activity in our lives, actually gives us two stories.
The first is a healing of the daughter of Syro-Phoenician woman. The daughter is possessed by a demon. This woman is not Jewish, and she crosses some major social boundaries in approaching Jesus. First, she’s a woman and women in this culture did not approach men easily. Second, she’s Syrian, she’s not Jewish. The very fact that she confronts Jesus with her daughter’s plight shows great courage.
Jesus had been about his ministry in Galilee, yet he retreated to the region of Tyre. Maybe for some rest, or time to get away from the crowds in Galilee. Yet, the crowds found him in Tyre.
When the woman approaches Jesus, Jesus may have been tired. His response to her seems kind of rough. His response of letting the children be fed first gives an impression that Jesus was saying to her that he had come for Israel, not the rest of the world. That it was unfair to throw the children’s food to the dogs, was comparing foreigners to dogs? I’m not sure.
We have two dogs, both are amazing in their own way. Ella, the oldest, is a hound dog that sleeps a lot. Leo, the shepherd/pointer mix is full of energy and always “on” it seems. They both hang out under the table during our evening dinners, just hoping for a scrap.
Now, I do love my dogs, but not the same way that I love my children. So, this passage perplexes me.
But, maybe it could be a sense of Jesus testing the faith of this woman, but even that seems harsh. Or, as some commentators have said, maybe Jesus is making an outlandish statement to highlight his Jewish audiences’ prejudices or sense of entitlement. Jesus is always pushing boundaries, taking risks, exploring where love may take him and even us.
I’m not sure, but there is a shift in this passage towards an understanding that God’s Kingdom is inclusive and God’s love and presence is for everyone. God is not satisfied being confined to a temple mount or tied to one particular privilege group of folks, God is available and pursuing all.
God also values folks willing to seek him out. This woman has some “moxie”, after Jesus’ comments, she comes back at him saying that even dogs are blessed or lucky to get crumbs. Jesus doesn’t get defensive or try to “save face”, he simply is amazed at her faith and says that her daughter is healed. And she is.
Friends, this story is perfect for us on a day we celebrate communion. God did not come to give us privileged status, but to provide himself to the whole world in which we can have communion, or community, or deep relationship. God wants to go to everyone regardless of background or status. God doesn’t show favoritism.
It’s not an accident that the author of Mark includes this next healing story of having one’s ears opened right after the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. Friends bring a deaf friend to Jesus. Jesus declares an imperative “Be opened”! And the man can hear! I’m not sure what he experienced before that time, but I know he had to be disoriented when his ears were opened. What was he hearing? How did he process it? How did he react? One thing for sure, once he began to hear, his world began to change.
How many of you have had your ears cleaned out by a doctor? My doctor pointed out, mowing my lawn with ear phones from my iphone causes wax build-up and apparently I have a very small ear canal. I have had to get my ears dug out. Which is literally what the gospel author is saying, we have to have ears dug out by God in order to hear. We have a lot of cruddy stuff that prevents us from hearing. Stuff like habits, pride, perceptions, image, cultural baggage, or emotional issues. Whatever, we all have things that prevent us from hearing. But, God is calling us towards God’s self. God wants us to grow and be the persons we were called to be, all of us, together, in community.
This man was deaf, God opened his ears through Jesus. Jesus restored him into community. That may have been messy and he may have things that he’s hearing and needing to share. Which, he was also mute, so now he could share! He was able to talk…and I’m sure he talked a lot for a while!
Friends, may we hear God’s radically inclusive love calling out to us, inviting us into the beauty and sometime messy work of building relationships with our neighbors, this Nepali congregation that will be sharing our space, each other, and God. May we come to this table this morning with a desire to be fully present with others and with this God.