Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17; Mark 7:24-37

Readings for Proper 18 (23) Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

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Proper 18B/Ordinary 23B/Pentecost 10 September, 2006 Textweek

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The voice of the Bible, the divine word, the voice of Jesus that we heard in the Gospel, the voice, the Word-made-Flesh is an alternative voice. It is not a word of comfort, it is not a word of affirmation, nor is it a word of condemnation; it’s a voice that speaks to us and it speaks of and calls us into a new world order, a new way of being. The divine word is uttered in Christ and there, too, we will find ourselves uttered. I think it’s quite important that we grasp that the words that we hear, that we come to hear and desire to hear, the words that seek to take us somewhere else, they speak of something else, something that is beyond that which is seen.

The first reading from Proverbs can actually look like some fairly ancient B.C. bumper stickers that have been collected together. It’s in that collection together though, that we can actually glimpse that they speak from another place. These are not one-liners that are spoken from the place of the world that we live in, but rather they speak from a place that sees beyond that which is seen. Now there’s a fairly simple Old Testament worldview that we then adopted as a theology that thinks of this other place either as being at the end of time – the Eschaton – at the very end of time, and then the Book of Revelation will come to life and all these words will make sense, or we associate it with the coming of the Kingdom, as if ‘listen to these words now because there’s a kingdom coming that when it gets here you’ll understand what these words are all about’. Or, we might think that these words speak of and point towards a place called Heaven, a place that is to be found after death or at the time of judgement and depending on your theology they probably occur at the same time anyway.

There’s a clue, though if we move on to the next reading in James, because James tentatively locates the time and place for living in Christ in the present. James makes it clear that faith, a faith that is alive, will always, will always and forever occasion works - faith that is alive will actually have an outworking and I think without knowing it, James thereby articulates a kingdom of God in the present moment. It is to be found in the present and in every present.

The Syrophoenician woman provides us with an icon almost, of where we should place our trust in order to know this reality. She is the one who has faith, she is the one who speaks of that faith and also she calls into reality, her faith. Sometimes there’s a little bit of uncomfortableness with the first part of today’s gospel reading – first of all you’ve got to get over the fact that Jesus wasn’t very nice, which in the Anglican world, surely we could never admit that. And the other thing that you’ve got to get over is someone argues with him and he responds, and yet they do point towards and illuminate an encounter that we must have with the Christ.

The gospel reading begins with ‘Jesus went away’ and he did not want anyone to know where he was, seemingly I think, a parallel to the predicament of the current western world. Might not be that Jesus went away and doesn’t want anyone to know where he is but that certainly is the experience of the world in the West. Mark has managed quite deliberately to pull together in the reading that we have today, into a short narrative three restorative movements. First of all there is the casting out of the unclean spirit or the demon, then there is the opening of deaf ears, and then there is the curing of a speech impediment – they all come one after another.

The unclean spirit – what is the unclean spirit that pervades our world and our worldview? Is it not a spirit of fear? To overcome this spirit we’re constantly asked to place our trust in our political leaders who will provide us with security to overcome our fears. We’re constantly asked through them to heavily invest in military power that we do then have the strength to overcome that which we fear. Supported by the church, supported by a theology, those who believe and those who put their trust in this version of the gospel are able to sit back and to witness spirits being cast out in war zones around the planet.

However, if we glimpse another, an alternative worldview to that which presents itself to our eyes, that which is alluded to by ‘works produced by faith’ that James refers to, then as we seek that alternative worldview perhaps we can understand the look and the sigh that is noted in the gospel. Verse 34 says, ‘Then looking up to heaven he sighed’ – this is Jesus, he looked to heaven, he sighed and he said to him, the one who could not hear, the one who could not speak plainly, he said to him “Ephphatha”, that is “be opened”. And what might we realise if we open ourselves to an alternative worldview, to a worldview that is not dominated by the unclean spirit of fear? Fear of not having enough which drives our greed, fear of death which drives our looking out for ourselves at the expense of all others, fear of missing out which drives our constant need to acquire, fear of difference which drives our oppression of others.

If we could step out of fear and into Christ and be opened, then we may become a prophesy realised, because it’s in the last line of the gospel that we can appreciate that this narrative is not about a healing for one man. Verse 37 says, ‘they were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”’ The ‘they’ in that are those who are witnessing the gospel unfold, and they’re given that line “He has done everything well” and then it’s followed by a recollection from the prophet Isaiah – ‘he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak’. We can really understand what’s being said there if we read, because we’re not all devout Hebrews who have been steeped in Isaiah, but the hearers of this would have been and this is what they would have heard: ‘On that day’ this is from Isaiah 29, ‘on that day the deaf shall hear the words of a scroll and the out of their gloom and darkness the eyes of the blind shall see. The meek also shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord and the neediest people shall exalt in the Holy One of Israel, for the tyrant shall be no more.’ That’s what we hear in the gospel today. With the background of Isaiah we see that in today’s gospel prophecy is realized – that’s not a future hope, it was seen in the unfolding of the narrative that that was in the present. The faith, the word, the action, the kingdom of God is realized, brought into the present.

The revelation of Christ is a revelation that calls us into Christ, it is an invitation and an opportunity for movement, movement from this world of unclean spirits into a world that is the world of the divine. Be opened and allow your light to shine, be opened and see the reality, the possibility, the promise; be opened to a path that leads to perfection, be opened and be holy, for that is our calling.

As we open ourselves to the gospel, to a worldview that is fully and totally different - it is so different it is unseen - then what we find is other truths fall into place. Mercy triumphs over judgement: we cannot find that truth in this world within the present systems of which we are a part; mercy triumphs over judgement is another worldview. What we learn in the readings today is if we truly witness the gospel unfolding then no longer is this a prophesy from Isaiah for the end of time, but rather it is our calling to be created in the present.


The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris