Sermon-Proper 18, Year B

September 5, 2021
Morning Prayer, Nara Christ Church. Mark 7:24-37

                         Rev. Misa Furumoto

We are taught that Jesus lived on earth as 100% God and at the same time as 100% human, but it is not so easy to understand how He was so. But from today’s Gospel episodes, I get a feeling that, yes, he was indeed also a human just like us. That is why Jesus is close to us and he knows every pain and suffering each one of us experiences in our life. The biggest suffering in our life, I believe, is to lose God by hardening our hearts.

One day, Jesus left a Jewish town and went away to the region of Tyre where gentile people lived and was thought to be unclean by Jewish authorities. Why do you think Jesus went there? We don’t know for sure, but probably because he wanted to hide from the crowd who was following him everywhere. He was tired. He wanted to sleep. He just wanted to be alone with God. So, he went into a house alone and did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not stay hidden as a woman suddenly appeared in the doorway, screaming to him. She bowed down at his feet and said “Please Lord, please help me. My little daughter is being possessed by an unclean spirit.”

Jesus looked at her and knew that she was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by race which meant she was a Gentile. He usually says ok and accepts people’s any kinds of requests no matter how tired he is, and no matter how hungry he is. Wherever someone is crying, he feels compassion towards that person and heals him or her. That’s Jesus; that is the Son of God. But this time, he stopped. He refrained from helping that woman who was sobbing in front of him. Why? Not only because he didn’t want to see another person for a while, but because the woman was a Gentile, not a Jew.

The mission God the Father had given to Jesus was to save the Jew first. That was the God’s plan told for thousands of years as written in the Old Testament. God approaches the Jew first out of all nations and once they are saved, through them the love and salvation of God will spread into the world. Growing up as a Jew, Jesus naturally believed in that. So, he says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

What a harsh saying! That is absolutely a racist comment. And Jesus here just sounds like another Pharisee or Scribe. “This is the rule of God. No way that I can ever act against it.”, like that. What happened to Jesus? At this point, Jesus may have been a bit toward his human side. I don’t know, maybe because he was too tired, or maybe he had been reading the Bible just till the woman appeared on the doorway. Anyway, it can be said that his mind had been closed at that point.

Next moment, his mind suddenly opens up as he hears the woman’s reply. “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” What a humble and clever answer! This much she was serious and trusted that God would hear her cry.

Something in Jesus had popped. As he heard the woman’s words, he instantly noticed that his ears were opened and that a voice from heaven came into him, “She is my daughter, too.” Jesus said to the woman, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”

A miracle happened. Here, a miracle is not only that Jesus healed someone at a distance, but more importantly, he overcame of prejudice and boundaries that separated persons. What opened Jesus’ mind was the woman’s strong faith.

Then Jesus travels again, and now in the region of the Decapolis. There was a man who was deaf and could hardly talk brought to Jesus by some people. We are not sure whether he was Jewish or again a Gentile. But it didn’t matter anymore to him. Jesus without saying anything, took him aside in private, away from the crowd. And he put his fingers into the man’s ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. The Lord then looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him “Be opened.” “Ephphatha!” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

When I hear these two stories of the Syrophoenician Woman and Healing a Deaf Man together, I can’t help interpreting as they share the same theme. The common theme is not just physical healing but opening of our closed minds towards God. There was a time even Jesus our Lord needed his mind to be opened. And once it was opened, he could not help asking God to open someone else’s mind up so that he could hear God’s voice too.

What about us? Are our minds not hardened and closed? Are we sure that we are hearing God’s true voice and not a human voice with which we think we are just? Let us ask our Holy Spirit to open up our hearts so that we can hear what God is truly telling us and receive God’s ample love. Once that happened, we won’t be able to wait to help opening someone else’s mind which is still closed to God.  

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