Mark 7: 24-30
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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He 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.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
To get started this morning, I want you all to picture yourselves as Roman Christians in the middle of the first century.
Paul and Peter have come to Rome and told you about Jesus.
You have become disciples.
You get together at a fellow Christian’s house every Sunday to worship.
This Sunday you are excited because you are going to hear someone read a new Gospel written by someone named Mark, a companion of Peter.
When everyone arrives, they all sit down and the reader begins.
It’s all good.
The standing up to authority.
The coming Kingdom of God.
You turn to each other.
“That’s our Jesus!”
“That’s why we follow him.”
Then the reader gets to our text today.
Jesus is in Tyre.
So, Jesus’ audience is gentile.
And so are you!
You hear that Jesus has been hounded by large crowds who seek his attention, demanding that he heal their sick.
Here, Jesus enters a house for some solitude.
But it does not work.
A crowd has gathered.
No rest for the weary.
Jesus is approached by a woman who begs for his help.
She is a single mom.
She is a pagan.
She is of the wrong race (in fact she is mixed race).
She has a little daughter who is possessed.
She is an outcast by anyone’s standards.
She is, in the eyes of most people, a non-person.
She is nothing.
Yet she comes to Jesus.
She has heard great things about Jesus.
She believes he can help.
As you listen, you know what is coming.
Jesus will heal her daughter.
Because that is what Jesus always does.
You can’t wait to hear the rest of the story.
Always a happy ending.
Then there is pause as the reader looks at the text.
He scratches his head.
His lips twitch back and forth.
Then he reads:
27He 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.’
You turn to the person next to you.
“What did he say?”
“We know that to Jesus the “children” are the Jews.”
“The dogs are … well … everyone else.”
“This woman and her daughter are dogs?”
“Because they are not a Jews?”
“And because of that, no miracle for them?”
“But we are not now, nor have we ever been, Jews.”
“Is Jesus talking about us?”
“Are we dogs?”
“Are there no miracles for us?”
“Are we not welcome in the Kingdom?”
Preachers hate this passage.
Every time I read this passage, I cringe.
Jesus is so un-Jesus-like.
I mean Jesus is supposed to love everyone, care for everyone, be compassionate to everyone, and invite everyone into the Kingdom, right?
But here, Jesus is uncaring, dismissive and downright insulting.
If this offends you … good.
It is offensive.
So, what is going on here?
Why would Jesus say such a thing?
Many try to put different spins on this text to explain it.
Some have said that Jesus is being sarcastic.
His tongue firmly planted in his cheek.
Others say that Jesus is just being his human self.
He snaps at this woman for invading his momentary solitude.
“Can’t I have a minute to myself?”
Some say this is a kind of test of the woman’s faith.
Does she have faith despite her foreignness?
“What makes you think I will do something for someone like you?”
The difficulty here is that Mark gives us no image to go along with Jesus statement.
But as I was thinking about it this week, I remembered that in Mark’s Gospel Jesus used moments like this as a teaching opportunity.
Maybe that is what is going on here.
Maybe Jesus saw this marginalized woman as an opportunity to make an important point.
What point might that be?
First, Jesus might be holding up a mirror in front of all those who heard his remark and basically said, “This is what you sound like!”
Jesus might be saying that he is just acting like them.
Ostracizing this bi-racial, pagan, single mom with a sick kid.
“This is what you say about her”, Jesus might be saying.
“This is the way you treat her.”
“You classify her and her daughter as sub-human.”
“Unworthy of my attention.”
“Unworthy of hope.”
“And if it offends you … good!”
“It is offensive.”
“How would you like it if I treated everyone this way?”
Which brings us to the second lesson.
Despite Jesus rude comment, the woman stays.
She uses Jesus words to argue that she should get help anyway.
“That might be so”, she says, “but I have heard that you folks give your leftovers to the dogs.”
“That is all I want.”
“I’m not asking for much.”
“A bit of compassion.”
“A bit of hope.”
“A little bit of healing for my daughter.”
“I have heard that can do that.”
“And I believe it.”
“Or did I hear wrong?”
This is when the listeners say, “Oooooooh! This is getting interesting!”
Then I remembered something else about Mark’s healing stories.
Jesus only heals someone who believes he can.
It is the faith that heals.
Jesus understands this woman’s response to his surly comment as faith that Jesus will be … well … Jesus-like.
Like the Jesus she heard about.
Like the Jesus who has demonstrated enough power, authority and goodness to heal her daughter.
“Well said, your child is healed.”
So, the story does end well.
Smiles return to the Roman Christian listeners.
The Kingdom is for them, too.
They get miracles, too.
Good news indeed.
So, what does that mean for us in 2019?
Who are the folks we think of as non-persons these days?
Do we ever say to people asking for a bit of hope, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs …’?
But that is not what Jesus teaches us today.
Jesus says, do something, do what you can, even if it is just a little bit.
Here is an example of what that might look like today.
It’s a PCUSA program called “Freedom Rising”.
I need to give you some background.
Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell was a PCUSA pastor and a friend of mine.
Eugene was African American.
He was from Homewood, born and raised.
Homewood was, at the time, basically a black ghetto in the City of Pittsburgh with the city’s highest crime rate.
Eugene planted a church there called House of Manna.
Eugene’s primary focus was reaching out to African American men who were, as Eugene put it, and endangered species.
Considered by many to be non-persons.
Like anyone without hope, they often lived, and died, on the edge.
Eugene wanted to speak up for, and to, these men.
To give them help.
To give them hope.
That was Eugene’s mission.
Then Eugene found out he had cancer.
It first took his leg.
It would later take his life.
But in the interim, Eugene decided to do something for the African American men he was called to minister to.
He organized a group from Pittsburgh Presbytery who petitioned the 2016 PCUSA General Assembly to create and fund programs in several presbyteries specific to African American men.
The overture encouraged each participating Presbytery to offer support, development and healing in their respective cities in a manner that would be shaped to specific local needs.
GA passed the overture unanimously and named it “Freedom Rising” in honor of Eugene.
Funding for these programs comes through the PCUSA Peace and Global Witness Special Offering that we collect on World Communion Sunday, the first Sunday in October each year.
The work has begun but has a long way to go, but it is beginning to offer hope to young African American boys.
What does this have to do with our scripture reading?
Eugene Blackwell understood that like the Syrophoenician woman in Jesus day, African American men today are considered by many to be “non-persons”.
He, and subsequently the PCUSA, decided it was time to give at least some of our mission dollars to the cause of giving African American men hope.
Because Eugene, and the 700 or so commissioners to the 2016 GA, thought the PCUSA response to the plight of African American men had been historically un-Jesus-like.
He thought that was offensive.
And Eugene concluded that unless he did something to change the PCUSA response, he was being just as offensive.
So, he did what he could.
To the day he died.
So, what does it mean to us here at JMPC?
A couple of things.
First, we should make sure we direct some of our Peace and Global Witness Offering toward Freedom Rising.
Give a little bit of what we have to give hope to those who have been considered non-persons for too long.
Second, we need to pay attention to other “non-persons”.
Who is coming to us, looking for hope, yet being brushed off because we think they are somehow unworthy?
Would you call them dogs?
Something cringe worthy?
Maybe we all have one time or another.
If so, do what Jesus did.
Do something that demonstrates the error of you ways.
Even if it is just a small thing.
Jesus lesson to us might be that there is no person who is excluded from the Kingdom.
So, when someone comes to us and asks to be treated like a Kingdom dweller, we do what you can to do that.
We should give them a little compassion.
A little love.
A little healing.
A little hope.
They have probably heard that Jesus calls us to do that, and they believe we will.
Here at JMPC, we must do our best to confirm what they believe.
To give hope to those who come here.
Because we don’t want to be un-Jesus-like.
We want to live the Jesus way.
What really brings this home to me, is this Communion Table.
Here is where we come for compassion, love, healing and hope.
We can come here and say, “Jesus, I believe you have the power to heal, to save, and I know just a little bit of that will be enough for me.”
And Jesus says, “For saying that, you are saved.”
“This miracle is for you.”
“All of you.”