Wednesday, September 05, 2012
September 9, Proper 18: The Woman's Daughter and the Man Who Could Not Hear or Speak
Isaiah 35:4-7a, Psalm 146, James 2:1-17, Mark 7:24-37
They were Gentiles, and they were living outside the Promised Land, this deaf and dumb man and the woman and her daughter. They were not to be counted among God’s people, nor reckoned among the citizens of the Kingdom of God, which the Messiah was supposed to bring. They were not part of the Messiah’s mission plan. Yes, in the long range plan the Gentiles had a place, but only after all the Jews were in, only after the restoration of Israel and its elevation to the primacy among the nations. That restoration of Israel was the mission of the Messiah, not the healing of Gentiles here and there.
Mark has juxtaposed their stories in the commonality of their being Gentiles, but also for the dramatic difference in the manner of their healings. This is the sharp adjacency of contrast which is typical of Mark and of the Hebrew mind. The man is silent, the woman is a talker. The man can’t hear what Jesus says, the woman hears him and debates him. The man’s healing is described in graphic detail, while the daughter is off-stage and never do we glimpse her. Her healing is distant, abstract, and the narrative is theological. It’s all about the conversation. His healing is tactile, physical, and emotional, and it’s all about the bodily contact. The one is a process in the mind of Jesus, and the other is a process in his gut. They are juxtaposed for us, and I think it’s to show us a process in Jesus’ own experience.
Jesus has taken a vacation. The opposition against him has been mounting, the resistance against him has been hardening, and Mark has shown us that Jesus could get disheartened and exhausted. To get away from his own people he heads up north to a bed-and-breakfast in the Gentile region of Tyre. To protect himself he puts a boundary around himself, and his first response to the woman is to protect his boundary. He tells her it’s not her place, it’s not her time. He is following a plan, a stated plan of God. He’s like a hyper-Calvinist. Your people have not been chosen, you are not part of the elect.
She does not disagree, she accepts his terms, but on his terms comes back at him. "I will take your insult and you can keep to your plan but you can help me anyway." Well. I think she triggers a little bit of a conversion in Our Lord. She teaches him a thing or two. That he learns from her does not detract from our belief in his divinity. We must rather convert our notion of his divinity. It’s a divinity we could not conceive of, with attributes that look illogical.
One the one hand, God is sovereign with a sovereign plan. God has chosen a certain pattern and elected a certain people, God prepares us and predestines us, God has purposes and God has freedom to pursue God’s purposes in spite of us. At the same time, God responds to us and our immediate requests. God says, Okay, if that’s what you are asking for. God listens to your prayers and responds to your initiatives and God is moved by you.
This sovereign God is moved by you. That this is true may seem illogical and paradoxical. But we may not use our patterns of intelligence and logic to set a boundary around the sovereignty of God and the freedom of God. There is a benefit to us in this. There is a take-home here for you. You can pray to God from your immediate experience, you can call on God from the needs of your impending circumstance, you can assume your own free will, and God listens and responds to you. Because your own free will and your initiative is part of God’s own plan and purposes, your own individual experience is one of the goals of God’s election and effective sovereignty. Your freedom is part of God’s plan. You can expect God to be moved by you, and you can depend on God to be constant and faithful and sovereign in the universe.
There is a theme of freedom here. The woman is very free with Jesus, and then her daughter gets liberated from the demon, which Jesus does freely without touching her or even seeing her. Jesus takes her freedom into his own mission plan, so he goes home through the Decapolis, outside the boundary of God’s people, which opens him to still more Gentile persons.
He uses his freedom for even closer engagement, as we see with the deaf and dumb man. He doesn’t just touch him, he connects with him. He puts his fingers in his ears and channels the groaning of his lifelong misery. The translation in our text is weak. He didn’t just "sigh", he groaned, a groan too deep for words. All the groaning of the Gentile peoples, the groaning of all the pagans outside the blessings of the Torah and the covenants, the misery of the nations to whom the God of Moses had been silent, the millions of humans outside the boundary of God’s people, Jesus channels the timeless groaning of their souls and raises it to God.
"Be opened," Jesus says in Aramaic, which is the same as Syriac, not Hebrew. Give voice, let your sound come out and your experience, your misery, your rebellion, your idolatries, your sins, your bondages, your warfare, your violence, your self-defeat, your cutting yourself, your burning of your children, your fears, your dreams, your hopes, your best, your worst, your need for the living God, be opened, be healed, begin to hear, begin to speak, begin to hear the voice of God, begin to learn the love of God, begin to speak the praise of God. Jesus channeling us and God.
Scholars are not sure why Jesus spits. Even in his humanity he is something of a mystery. Who is this Jesus whom we had thought we knew? So physical, so emotional, so biological, so wrapped up bodily experience. Why did we ever think that the purpose of his salvation was to get our souls up to heaven? How did we miss that his purpose is the salvation of this world, the healing of the earth, the resurrection of our bodies, the reconciliation of real-live human history, and the redemption of real-live human experience?
Look at Jesus, and in his physical humanity see the fullness of God’s divinity. God’s fingers in your ears, God’s spit upon your forehead, God groaning for the groaning of all humanity. What can it sound like, the groaning of God? It sounds like us. When you talk to God, God does more than hear it, God repeats it. When you cry to God, God echoes it and cries along.
Yes, this sovereign God, this majestic God, this holy God. God does it not only for God’s people, but for everyone who ever lived, no matter when they lived or where or under into what religion they were born, all the groaning of all the nations of the world are heard by God and voiced by God through the physical body of this Lord Jesus.
Yes, God had a sovereign plan through Israel, God is faithful to the church and calls us to the church, but do not assume thereby that God is not busy and loving and faithful and gracious with all the millions and billions of the nations who are outside the church. God does not tell us how because it is beyond our boundary. The sovereignty of God is not bounded by our expectations and our obligations. And that’s fine, we have lots of our own business to attend to. The theme is freedom here. The freedom of God, which is freedom for us and for our mission.
There is one more take-home. From the Epistle of James. The little congregations he wrote to were suffering discrimination and exclusion, as I said last week. So whenever a Roman bigwig was kind enough to come by and show them some respect, they would naturally respond with gratitude and seat the Borough President right up front. And show him their homeless people sitting in the back, to prove how positively civic-minded we all are. That’s what I would do. Our little congregation needs all the legitimacy we can get. But we can be free of all that. We need only trust the sovereignty of God, that we are in God’s plan, that God protects us and preserves us, and that our church is loved by God with the love God has for every one of you.
Copyright © 2012, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.