Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost 6th Sept Vanderbilt Divinity Library Lectionary

Proper 18B/Ordinary 23B/Pentecost 14 6th Sept 2009 Textweek

Prov 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

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

The first two readings today are self-evident; they contain straightforward statements that we already know, for example, The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.
and
9 Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.
And then we also have some pretty straightforward questions: Is it not the rich who oppress you?, and
14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Straightforward stuff.

However, when we get to the gospel reading we might be somewhat perplexed by the dialogue between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. The narrative we read today from Mark’s gospel is also in Matthew’s gospel, and Matthew even adds emphasis to the initial rejection by including at the start of the narrative: But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." [Matthew 15:23]. As we read that dialogue, it does not appear to be the Jesus we know and love who is in that dialogue, at least not at the start, and yet by the time we get to the end of that dialogue and the movement that follows beyond it, we find that this is the one who opens the ears and opens the tongue, enabling the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. Maybe as we contemplate and reflect on the movement in the dialogue and the narrative of the gospel, we begin to appreciate the full impact and import that today’s reading holds. Maybe the Jesus we know and love is the one that we see through our Sunday School eyes and today we are being invited to see what is more fully revealed in the ‘MA’ version of biblical revelation!

The New Testament narrative parallels in many ways the stories of the prophets from the Old Testament. The narrative with the Syrophoenician woman parallels also the teaching that Jesus gives us in parables. It is a story of change; more than change, it is a transformative narrative, it reveals the movement and the process of transfiguration. For us it therefore becomes an important story for our growing, our growing in faith.

Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. As I said before, Matthew’s gospel also tells us that his disciples were with him. Now if we read that story in the context of the whole gospel, we’re Ok with him taking a rest, because we’ve just read through the narratives of Jesus feeding the 5000 and the walking on water. Surely anyone who does that can afford to take a bit of time out in the region of Tyre, with his mates and not have people crowding in?

26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. This is the crucial text to the whole dialogue. On every account this woman creates a contrast with Jesus and the disciples: she’s female, she is a Gentile not a Jew, and she is a foreigner. By now you get the point that she is an outsider, and thereby contrasts with the insider group of Jesus and the disciples. And that’s where we find the parallel with the prophets – a voice coming from outside.

It’s here also that we can begin to see the undoing that we are called to engage in as we read this narrative. Just when we thought we were doing the right thing, a voice, the voice of the Divine calls us from outside and calls us to change a direction that we thought (from the inside) was looking Ok. The Prodigal Son had to travel to the very edge of life before he could return to the Father and find a relationship that had integrity. The prophets lived on the very edge of the culture, and spoke against the directions of those who were in positions of power and positions of control.

Today this outcast challenges our Lord, and as Jonah turned from Tarshish back to Nineveh so Jesus turns from Tyre back to Gallilee. The questions the narrative raises for us today are quite formidable. Where do we hear God speak? Most of us, most Christians, would probably have “the Church” as the primary part of our answer to that question. What dialogues do we listen to (or even listen for) beyond our own inner circles? And our inner circles include the spheres of media influence that we soak up daily.

How do we listen to the Divine word that calls to us from the very margins of life? And we may need to give some time during the week to wondering what that might mean, that question - listening to the Divine word calling to us from the margins of life. What does it mean for us individually, and as community?

Picture the church with ears and just picture what are those ears tuned into? What’s the radar that the church uses to pick up the divine voice? What’s the radar that we use to pick up the divine voice; where is it tuned?

The voice of the prophet, the voice of the Divine, and today we learn, the voice that shapes the ministry of Jesus, all come from the same place. And we might give a name to that place, and call it “not where we are”. The voice of the Divine, the voice of the prophet, the voice that shapes the ministry of Christ come from “not where we are”.

If we go back to the simple texts that we started with: The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all, and
9 Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor.
We know these verses, we also know and accept their wisdom but we have heard them from within our inner circle.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? We know that truth, we know that truth and we do our bit, but we only know and act in accord with the accountability of our inner circle, and that’s where our faith becomes stunted, where the spirit is quenched. That’s where the truth of life is turned inwards as a self-sustaining defence. The Church has institutionally adopted the model of our worldly culture and we might have done the same!

Bishops take the same stage as government ministers - fine clothes and rings make evident their place. No wonder James exclaims, My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? It’s a great question.

The Vice Chancellor of Murdoch University is paid over $700,000 per year, it’s the same rate that’s paid to about twelve full-time nurses or twelve full-time teachers or twelve full-time priests. The financial crisis caused by over consumption and the accumulation of credit debt has been addressed by our government with a simple remedy: spend more. And somehow within the inner circle we inhabit, we believe that we are giving our children suitable models to enable them to come into their fullness of life.

We must look again; we must look again at our theology and look beyond the small circle of thought that shapes our worldview. Open ourselves to the risk of Divine truth. Open ourselves to the possibility that Jesus was shifted, the direction of his ministry was shifted, the movement of his being was shifted by the voice of one from totally outside.

Jesus healed the sick. I dare any of you to tell Debbie or Howard that there lies the answer to his problem with cancer. And yet, somewhere inside we believe that. When the Divine is revealed in humanity, enfleshed, what is revealed in and through Christ is a capacity to heal that we have yet to discover. That’s a movement that is called from us from today’s reading.

We might think we know, and act in accord with the Divine word, but I’m sure Jesus and the disciples when they went to Tyre thought the same, that yes, our ministry, mission, purpose and calling is on track. Hear that voice from the edge of the world. It calls us to a capacity we’ve yet to discover.

Today’s gospel calls us away from our inner circle, calls us away from gathering for a time by ourselves in Tyre, calls us to the very margins of life, so that we may hear the word of God, the Divine Word of life that calls us to fullness of life.

Today’s readings, the first two, might have us thinking that the Bible has all the answers. But as we contemplate the gospel, what we find is that the Bible asks the questions!

The Lord be with you.
Peter Humphris