The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Pastor George Pejakovich
Mark 7, 24-37

WHEN WE READ OR HEAR THIS GOSPEL PASSAGE, WE MIGHT WELL WONDER WHAT IS GOING ON. IF READ IN ISOLATION, THE FIRST PART OF IT DOESN’T PORTRAY JESUS IN A FAVORABLE LIGHT. HIS INITIAL RESPONSE TO THE REQUEST OF THE SYROPHOENITIAN WOMAN TO HEAL HER DAUGHTER SEEMS DOWNRIGHT RUDE; “LET THE CHILDREN BE FED FIRST, FOR IT IS NOT FAIR TO TAKE THE CHILDREN’S FOOD AND THROW IT TO THE DOGS.” VARIOUS BIBLICAL COMMENTATORS HAVE ATTEMPTED TO SOFTEN WHAT JESUS SAID BY POINTING OUT THAT HE USED THE WORD FOR DOGS WHICH IS BEST TRANSLATED AS LITTLE PUPPIES, BUT THAT SEEMS TO MAKE LITTLE DIFFERENCE. OTHERS POINT OUT THAT SHE WAS A GENTILE, AND THE JEWS CONSIDERED DOGS AS UNCLEAN, SO JESUS WAS SAYING THAT HIS MINISTRY IS TO ISRAEL FIRST. SOME CONTEND THAT JESUS WAS ANGRY ABOUT BEING DISTURBED ON HIS RETREAT. OTHERS EVEN POSTULATE THAT JESUS WAS STILL FIGURING OUT THIS WHOLE MESSIAH BUSINESS, AND ONLY GOT BACK ON THE RIGHT TRACK WHEN THE WOMAN RESPONDED, “SIR, EVEN THE DOGS UNDER THE TABLE EAT THE CHILDREN’S CRUMBS.” NONE OF THESE EXPLANATIONS REALLY WORK, BECAUSE SOMETHING ELSE IS GOING ON.

I KEEP STRESSING THAT MARK SHOULD BE READ AS A WHOLE, AND NOT IN THE PIECE BY PIECE WE GET AS THE READING FOR EACH SUNDAY. MARK’S GOSPEL WAS WRITTEN FOR THE GENTILE CHRISTIAN COMMUNITY IN ROME. WHICH IS WHY, LAST WEEK, IN JESUS’ CONFRONTATION WITH THE PHARISEES ABOUT WHY THE DISCIPLES DIDN’T RITUALLY WASH THEIR HANDS BEFORE EATING, MARK HAD TO EXPLAIN ABOUT THE JEWISH LAWS ABOUT WASHING HANDS, AND EVEN ABOUT WASHING POTS AND PANS. ANY JEW WOULD KNOW THIS, BUT IT WOULD HAVE TO BE EXPLAINED TO GENTILES, OTHERWISE JESUS’ REJECTION OF THE BURDENSOME MAN- MADE LAWS OF THE PHARISEES WOULD MAKE NO SENSE.

IMMEDIATELY AFTER HIS REJECTION OF THE PHARISEE’S OVERLY STRICT INTERPRETATION OF GOD’S LAW, HE WENT TO THE GENTILE REGION OF TYRE; MODERN DAY LEBANON. HE WENT TO REST WHERE NO ONE WOULD KNOW WHERE HE WAS; BUT PEOPLE HAD COME FROM TYRE TO HIM IN GALILEE TO BE HEALED, SO WORD QUICKLY SPREAD ABOUT WHERE HE WAS. THIS BRAVE GENTILE WOMAN SOUGHT HIM OUT AND BOWED AT HIS FEET, AND BEGGED HIM TO HEAL HER DAUGHTER. EVERYONE KNEW THAT A RELIGIOUS JEW WOULD NOT EVEN SPEAK WITH A WOMAN NOT OF HIS FAMILY, BUT SHE HAD TO TAKE THE ONLY CHANCE SHE SAW TO HELP HER CHILD.

THAT JESUS EVEN SPOKE TO HER WAS A BREAK WITH THE LAW OF THE PHARISEES, BUT WHAT HE DID NEXT WAS TO ACT JUST LIKE A PHARISEE AND TELL HER THAT HE CAME FOR ISRAEL AND NOT THE GENTILES. HER RESPONSE IS WHAT WAS THE GAME-CHANGER; NOT HER ARGUMENT, BUT HER ASSERTION THAT EVEN THE CRUMBS OF GOD’S GRACE WOULD BE SUFFICIENT FOR ANYONE WAS THE POINT THAT JESUS WANTED TO MAKE. WHETHER HE DID THIS AS AN EXAMPLE FOR THE DISCIPLES, OR FOR THE GENTILES OF TYRE, WE CAN’T SAY. WHAT WE CAN SAY IS THAT JESUS CONFIRMED THAT GOD’S GRACE IS FOR EVERYONE. MARK DRIVES THIS POINT HOME WHEN WE RECORDS THAT JESUS RETURNED TO GALILEE THOUGH THE GENTILE REGION OF THE DECAPOLIS, AND, ON HIS JOURNEY, HEALED A DEAF GENTILE WITH A SPEECH IMPEDIMENT.

SINCE MARK IS WRITING FOR GENTILE CHRISTIANS, THERE CAN BE NO BETTER GOOD NEWS THAN THAT THE GRACE OF GOD IS FOR EVERYONE; JEW AND GENTILE. FROM HIS CONFRONTATION WITH THE PHARISEES, THROUGH HIS EXCHANGE WITH THE SYROPHOENICIAN WOMAN, TO HIS HEALING OF THE GENTILE DEAF MAN, JESUS POINTEDLY REJECTS ALL THE FALSE DISTINCTIONS THAT SEPARATE US ONE FROM ANOTHER. HE MAKES NO DISTINCTION OF ETHNICITY, GENDER, OR ANY OTHER HUMAN DEVISED DIFFERENCE, BUT TREATS EVERYONE WHO COMES TO HIM AS A CHILD OF GOD, AND BESTOWS ON THEM GOD’S GRACE.

THIS IS WHY JAMES ASKS, IN HIS LETTER TO THE CHURCH, “MY BROTHERS AND SISTERS, DO YOU WITH YOUR ACTS OF FAVORITISM REALLY BELIEVE IN OUR GLORIOUS LORD JESUS CHRIST?” IF WE MAKE DISTINCTIONS BETWEEN PEOPLE, AND FAVOR ONE GROUP OVER ANOTHER, WE SET OURSELVES UP AS JUDGES OVER THEM; AND JUDGMENT BELONGS SOLELY TO THE CHRIST OF GOD. THE HOLY SPIRIT OF GOD CALLS ALL PEOPLE TO LEAD THEM TO CHRIST; RICH AND POOR, MALE AND FEMALE, ADULT AND CHILD, ALL THE COLORS OF HUMANKIND, STRAIGHT AND GAY, AND WE, AS THE CHURCH OF CHRIST, THOSE CALLED OUT OF THE WORLD, CAN MAKE NO WORLDLY DISTINCTION BETWEEN THEM.

WE HAVE TOO OFTEN SEEN HOW CONGREGATIONS WELCOME ALL INTO THEIR FOLD, ONLY TO TRY TO MAKE THE NEWCOMERS INTO BEING JUST LIKE EVERYONE ELSE. I SERVED A CHURCH IN OHIO WHILE IN SEMINARY, AND WAS ASKED TO DO A GROWTH PROJECTION FOR THE CONGREGATION. I DISCOVERED THAT THE CONGREGATION WAS COMPRISED BASICALLY OF SEVEN INTERCONNECTED LARGE FAMILIES, AND, IF YOU WERE NOT A MEMBER OF ONE OF THE FAMILIES, YOU WERE CONSIDERED AN OUTSIDER, NO MATTER HOW LONG YOU WERE THERE. MY CONCLUSION WAS THAT, UNLESS THEY CHANGED AND REALLY WELCOMED NEW AND DIFFERENT PEOPLE INTO THE CHURCH, THE CONGREGATION WOULD BE DEAD IN THIRTY YEARS. IT WAS NOT WELL RECEIVED. THE PHARISEES ARE EVER WITH US.

THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH, WHOSE HEAD AND LEADER IS THE RISEN CHRIST OF GOD, IS TO WELCOME AND ACCEPT ALL WHO COME TO JESUS, AND MAKE NO DISTINCTION BETWEEN THEM. LIKE JESUS, WE MUST MEET THEM AS THEY ARE, AND LIKE JESUS, BESTOW UPON THEM THE GRACE OF GOD. THE GRACE OF GOD COMES TO THEM THROUGH US; THE SINFUL, IMPERFECT, AND WEAK MEMBERS OF THE CHURCH, BY OUR WORDS AND ACTIONS. I CAN NOT SAY THAT GOD’S GRACE IS FOR HIM, BUT NOT FOR HER. I CAN NOT SAY “GOD BE WITH YOU,” IF I AM NOT WILLING TO BE WITH YOU. I CAN NOT SAY “I WILL PRAY FOR YOU,” IF I AM NOT WILLING TO DO FOR YOU. GOD’S GRACE COMES TO OTHERS THROUGH THE SPIRIT OF THE CHRIST WITHIN US, AND THE SPIRIT OF CHRIST REMINDS US AND CONVICTS US THAT WE MUST BE ONE WITH EACH OTHER, NO MATTER HOW WE APPARENTLY DIFFER ONE FROM ANOTHER. GOD IN CHRIST SHOWS NO PARTIALITY; NOR CAN WE. AMEN.

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