09.09.12 Feasting on the Word, Mark 7:24-37, Sermon Summary
I have to confess to you that I am not amazed every time I open the Bible. I might find the Bible confusing or frustrating. I might find the Bible boring. I often find the Bible foreign and unconnected to my life. And I’m a preacher!
- The amazing conversation between Jesus and the Gentile woman
- What makes the Bible’s stories amazing to the people in them
- How we can become more like these people, and see the Bible as amazing again
At the end of today’s reading Mark tells us that the people were, “overwhelmed with amazement, saying ‘He has done everything well, even the deaf hear and the mute speak.’” If we had been there, we might have been amazed also. We would be the ones who brought to Jesus the deaf man, watched Jesus take the man aside, seen Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears and put his spit onto the man’s tongue. We would have heard Jesus sigh and say “Ephphatha.” And we would have seen the man hear, and talk, and we would hardly be able to withhold our amazement—telling everyone what we saw, even though Jesus told us to keep quiet. If we had seen all this, we might be overwhelmed with amazement also.
The Story that precedes this one is amazing, however. A Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus hoping that he will heal her daughter. Jesus’ response to her is amazing: “Let the children eat first; it isn’t right to throw their food to the dogs.”
I don’t know how I would feel about Jesus calling me and my daughter dogs. I don’t know how I feel about Representative Steve King in my home state of Iowa comparing my dad, my uncles and aunt, and my grandparents—who emigrated here from the Philippines—to dogs. It’s offensive. Jesus’ words are offensive. And I find that amazing.
But what’s even more amazing is what the Syrophoenician woman does. She’s already broken through the barrier of patriarchy by talking to a man. She’s already broken through the barrier of racism by talking to a Jew. So as offensive as Jesus’ words are, they’re not going to stop her from getting what she needs, which is healing for her daughter.
To Jesus’ offensive, patriarchal, racist words she responds, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Her courage and determination arises from the desperation of her need. And Jesus heals her daughter, with just a word. This whole scene is amazing to me.
I think these people found Jesus and the power of his words so amazing because they approached him with their needs. The mother desperately wants her daughter healed. The man needs to be healed in order to be part of the community again. And the community would like to have him back. They have been avoiding him, thinking there was some sin in his life that caused his disability. But they bring the man to Jesus and beg for his healing.
Out of their needs these people come. They relate to Jesus from this posture of need. And they find his response to them amazing. There’s something to this. God’s word isn’t amazing to us until we approach God with our needs. I suspect the greater our needs, the more amazing God’s word appears to us.
This challenges what our culture tells us, that we can meet our own needs. We don’t need God to meet our needs. If we need more money, all we have to do is find more work. If we need to feel better about ourselves, we buy nicer things or make ourselves look better. If we need more security, we build up our defenses.
We really can meet many of our needs ourselves. We don’t need God to do it. So when we go to God’s word, we don’t go with a sense of need, and we don’t come away with a sense of amazement.
But the Bible invites us to realize that God is a part of meeting all our needs. From the Bible’s perspective, we are never alone. We’re all connected. We all need each other and we all need creation. This is why the Proverbs (22:2, 9, 23) says, “the rich and the poor have this in common, the LORD is the maker of them all. . . the generous are blessed when the give to the poor, because the LORD is on the side of the poor.” So God calls us and inspires us to take care of one another.
James chapter 2 recognizes this, and urges us to verify our faith by our works. He calls us to fulfill the “royal law of scripture, to love our neighbor as ourselves.” This is how God is a part of meeting all our needs. If you have something to give, you have the need to give. If you don’t have something to give, you have the need to receive.
The point is, God’s word becomes amazing to us when we approach it with our needs. One way we get in touch with our needs in a culture that marginalizes God and distracts us from our need is by remembering once again that God is the source of all we have. When we approach the Bible from this perspective, it will become more amazing to us.
This text also challenges us in regards to prayer. Sometimes we don’t pray about things, not because we’re not aware of our needs, but because we don’t think God can do anything about them. This is the other side of that coin that says we can do everything ourselves: if I can’t do it, then neither can God.
But the people in these stories go to Jesus desperate and begging. They are in touch with their needs and they come to Jesus believing he can do something about them. Surely this woman did everything in her power to bring healing to her daughter. As a Gentile, she must have prayed to whatever deity she could, all with no results. But she didn’t lose hope. This man and his community didn’t lose hope despite the fact that he couldn’t hear or speak. They couldn’t do anything about it, but they believed God could, so they come to Jesus.
These people are bold in prayer. Even though the culture would say a woman can’t talk to a man, a Gentile can’t talk to a Jew, a man bearing the judgment of God can’t be healed by God, the Bible testifies otherwise. These people overcome sexist, racist, and religious bigotry to come to God with their need. How many times in the Bible do the people of God boldly demand in prayer that God change his mind and act justly?
Jesus, of course, would have known this because he was a Jew. But the Gentile woman had to remind him. “Even dogs eat the crumbs from the children’s table.” “God cares for all his creatures,” she reminds Jesus. “And so should you,” she tells him. And so he does. He heals her daughter of what possesses her. And he can heal you of what possess you.
After this, Jesus remains in Gentile country and they bring him the deaf and mute man. Obviously we just seen Jesus heal by just a word, without even being present. But this time Jesus makes it personal. He puts his fingers in the man’s ears, and puts his spit into his mouth. He speaks directly to the man, “Ephphatha, be opened” and the man is healed. In the same way today, when God places the bread and wine of the Eucharist into our mouths, God opens our eyes to Christ’s presence and we are healed.
The amazing teaching of the Bible is that God is interested in being personal and being involved in the details of our lives. There isn’t anything about your life that God isn’t interested in. Just like God is in the details of meeting all our needs, God is also waiting to respond to all our prayers.
So when we pray, we can be bold, like the people in this reading. We can expect God to (1) meet our most desperate needs, (2) meet our most personal needs, (3) and answer our prayers, even if it takes a while. Generations of ancient Israel’s prayers went unanswered, but they kept praying, and God eventually answered. Jesus’ initial response to the Gentile woman didn’t stop her from asking. And he eventually yielded. The man’s physical handicaps didn’t stop Jesus from touching his life in the most intimate way.
If we read the Bible with the expectation that God desires to meet our needs and answer our prayers, the stories of the Bible will amaze us once again.
Questions for Discussion and Reflection
- Some people pray so often their prayers have become routine and mundane. Others only pray when they are desperate and have no other options. How do you pray? What would happen you prayed about things from the perspective outlined in this message, trusting God to meet all your needs and with the expectation that God desires to do so?
- What obstacles try to prevent you from having your needs met by Jesus? They may be cultural or personal. They may be assumptions you have. They may be things about the Bible you find offensive. Do you have the resolve to give Jesus another try, putting aside these obstacles, and just trusting God to hear and answer your prayers through Christ?