SUNDAY BETWEEN 4 SEPTEMBER AND 10 SEPTEMBER
Sunday, September 9th, 2018
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37
Collect Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people, that richly bearing the fruit of good works, we may by you be richly rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.
Alt 1 God of power and compassion, in Christ you reveal your will to heal and to save. Open our ears to your redeeming word and move our hearts by the strength of your love, so that our every word and work may proclaim Jesus as Messiah, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. (Opening Prayers (1997) alt.)
Alt 2 Maker of us all, you call us to love our neighbours as ourselves and teach us that faith without works is dead. Open us to the ministries that lie before us, where faith and the needs of our neighbour come together in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour. (Revised Common Lectionary Prayers (2002) alt.)
Prayer over the Gifts
Great and holy God, accept our offering of labour and love. May we bring you true and spiritual worship and be one with you. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.
Prayer After Communion
Father, your word and sacrament give us food and life. May we who have shared in holy things bear fruit to your honour and glory, in the name of Jesus Christ the Lord.
[8AM – THE FIRST LESSON IS TAKEN FROM THE 22ND CHAPTER OF THE BOOK OF PROVERBS, BEGINNING AT THE 1ST VERSE.]
A READING FROM THE BOOK OF PROVERBS
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favour is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
[8AM – THIS IS THE WORD OF THE LORD.]
HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCH.
THANKS BE TO GOD. (PROVERBS 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23)
REFRAIN Those who trust in the Lord stand fast for ever.
Those who trust in the Lord are like Mount Zion, which cannot be moved, but stands fast for ever.
The hills stand about Jerusalem; so does the Lord stand round about his people, from this time forth for evermore. R
The sceptre of the wicked shall not hold sway over the land allotted to the just, so that the just shall not put their hands to evil. R
Show your goodness, O Lord, to those who are good and to those who are true of heart.
As for those who turn aside to crooked ways, the Lord will lead them away with the evildoers; but peace be upon Israel. R
[8AM – THE SECOND LESSON IS TAKEN FROM THE 2ND CHAPTER OF THE LETTER OF SAINT JAMES, BEGINNING AT THE 1ST VERSE.]
A READING FROM THE LETTER OF SAINT JAMES
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favouritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgement will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgement.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
[8AM – THIS IS THE WORD OF THE LORD.]
HEAR WHAT THE SPIRIT IS SAYING TO THE CHURCH.
THANKS BE TO GOD. (JAMES 2:1-17)
[8AM – THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AND WITH THY SPIRIT.
THE HOLY GOSPEL IS WRITTEN IN THE 7TH CHAPTER OF THE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO SAINT MARK, BEGINNING AT THE 24TH VERSE.
GLORY BE TO THEE, O LORD.]
THE LORD BE WITH YOU. AND ALSO WITH YOU.
THE HOLY GOSPEL OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST ACCORDING TO MARK
GLORY TO YOU, LORD JESUS CHRIST.
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. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He 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.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
THIS IS THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST.
PRAISE TO YOU, LORD JESUS CHRIST.
[8AM – PRAISE BE TO THEE, O CHRIST.] (MARK 7:24-37)
Let us pray.
Holy God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer.
I promise you that I have done nothing to change the readings for today. This week in churches all over the world, we and everyone else using the Common Lectionary, hear Jesus call someone of a different ethnic and cultural origin a dog.
The Syrophonecian woman appears in the Lectionary this Sunday for the second time in just over a year.
She came to us last year in a reading from Matthew. Now she comes to us again, this time from Mark’s Gospel, just as the nearly ten year old civil war in Syria jumps uncomfortably onto the front pages of the newspapers and leads off the nightly newscasts again as the governement of Syria retakes control, and as Nike and Colin Kaepernick launch their newest commercials.
She is still confronting us.
Still challenging us.
Still laying bare our prejudices.
She has the audacity to keep shouting when Jesus’ disciples tell her to be quiet. She will not protest on their terms. She will not submit to their notion of respectability. She resists their attempts to control and dismiss her.
The Syrophonecian woman forces us to think about how we treat the “outsiders” in our world today. As we reject the dignity of others in the name of God, as we close our borders and our hearts to refugees from the same part of the world this woman called home, as we try to silence the voices of those who dare to tell us that “black lives matter”— she is there. Still watching. Still waiting. Still exposing our prejudice.
So – Who was she, I wonder? This annoyingly tenacious, desperate woman, with such quick wit and—as Jesus himself points out—such great faith?
She has no name. She’s not an individual—at least, the disciples aren’t looking at her that way. She’s just a label, a representative of an outside and despised group. Easily ignored and easily dismissed… until she refuses to be.
And that’s when this woman becomes a problem.
It’s always a problem for the dominant culture when people who differ refuse to stay quietly on the margins, especially when what they say—what they are—offends, challenges, or chastens our prized sense of superiority.
This woman, whoever she was, not only appears in different gospels, but she appears in every age, in every culture, in different guises. You can still see her today: a hand outstretched, trembling with fear at being reviled, or with anger at being mocked, or weariness at being continually silenced. She still seeks a blessing, and she is still told to go away. She is no longer a Canaanite, but she is a Christian being persecuted in Iraq, a Palestinian killed in Gaza, a gay person beaten and arrested in Russia or Nigeria, a black person in the United States apparently so threatening to the authorities that the President needs to devote some of his precious time to putting him down.
All because she still won’t shut up and go away.
Demanding to be heard and seen causes problems, for those doing the shouting and for those who just want them to be quiet and go away. But according to today’s gospel, this steadfast refusal to be silenced also opens the door to healing, not only for the woman’s daughter, nor even just for the woman herself but perhaps most for the disciples, whose vision of God’s kingdom is suddenly expanded, however tightly they’ve closed their eyes.
That’s the blessing. But first, the problem:
The woman is a Gentile, so she is automatically “unclean” according to all the religious rules. She is also unaccompanied—no husband, no father, no brother. Any woman who approached a man without a male escort could only be judged as one kind of woman.
Yet driven by concern for her daughter, she strides right up to a man from a people who have despised her and condemned her all her life and implores his help. And then Jesus—our Jesus, the Good Shepherd, the Prince of Peace—calls this woman a “dog.”
Now that aught to shock us.
But it wouldn’t have shocked anyone else standing within earshot. “Dog” was a term commonly used as a label for anyone not Jewish. The Jews were God’s chosen people. Encouraged by the Pharisees, most believed this identity obligated them to honour that status with laws and customs that rigidly set them apart. Jesus fully accepted this. Israel is set apart by God.
Where Jesus differed from the Pharisees was not in the belief that Israel had been set apart, but in his idea of what Israel had been set apart for. For Jesus, Israel was set apart not to hold itself aloof from the world nor to condemn it; but to show the world, through its own experience, that their God was a God who was more pleased with pure hearts than with pure sacrifices; their God was a God who remained loyally committed to his people, even when they betrayed him; their God was a God who provided for them out of loving concern, not simply as a reward for good behaviour. Their God would send the Messiah to bring all nations under his just and loving rule.
Yet the only person there who seems to really believe this is not a disciple, but a dog.
Jesus calls her a dog to show that from the perspective of his religion, she’s an outsider. From the perspective of his kingdom, though, she’s the only one there who is actually inside it. Which begs the question for us: are we in Jesus’ kingdom? Or just part of a religion?
It is no coincidence that Matthew places his version of the story immediately after the feeding of the 5,000. In that story, the disciples want Jesus to send the hungry people away to feed themselves and Jesus tells the disciples bluntly: No. YOU give them something to eat.
So the disciples have seen the generosity of God with their own eyes—that there is plenty to go around, that all can be fed for the asking. And now, confronted with someone who is asking, their response is still, “Send her away.” How slow, how blind, how hard of heart the followers of Jesus could be! How slow, blind and hard of heart many of us still are!
Then again, Jesus himself comes across as rather hardhearted in this passage. After the woman calls him “Son of David”—a title that indicates her belief that Jesus is the Messiah—he reminds her that the Messiah has come only for the lost sheep of Israel. At this point the woman could have slunk quietly away, or screamed in outrage at Jesus. She refuses to sacrifice her dignity in either way. She’s come this far. She isn’t going back now. So she kneels at his feet. Its not passive submission I see here, but faith—in Jesus and in herself.
I always thought she simply ignored Jesus’ words. “I don’t care if I’m not an Israelite sheep—help me anyway!” But I wonder.
Perhaps what she was actually saying was, “Can’t you see that I AM a lost sheep? Maybe Israel is more than just a plot of land. Maybe God’s chosen includes more than just a few tribes. Maybe the kingdom is less about the right genetic code and more about the right relationship with God. And if it is—and if you are the Messiah—then help me!”
I wonder if at that moment, Jesus thought, “Finally! Someone gets it.”
Which is why I don’t think that the harsh sounding question that follows is really meant for the woman at all. Many argue that Jesus is struggling with his own prejudices—that this is a moment of revelation for him, in which he realizes his ministry is in fact to more than just Israel. I don’t agree. I think that while Jesus, being human, must have grown in wisdom and understanding just like anyone, he was also God. So I don’t believe Jesus held the same prejudices. Prior to this he had already healed two Gentiles, so I don’t think he saw this woman as a dog.
I do believe that his disciples did, however—and that’s the problem.
Jesus is speaking to the woman, but he’s really asking the disciples: Is it fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs?
I believe that when Jesus asks the question, the answer he wants—the answer he’s looking for—is, “Lord, we’ve been with you long enough to know that in your kingdom, we are all God’s children. She is no ‘dog’ but our sister.”
Sadly I think Jesus is still waiting for his followers to give him that answer.
This woman, who has finally found the courage to speak, is not about to wait for a bunch of men who have called her a dog her entire life to decide whether she’s worthy or not. She knows she is, because she, unlike Jesus’ own disciples, seems to understand who it is she’s talking to.
So she says: Even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.
So much lies behind these words. It is not just a witty reply but a profound challenge:
You guys keep saying that your God is Lord of the world. Are you telling me that your God is any less generous than earthly masters? Is your God really deaf to the cry of a mother, because of her religion or blind to a child’s suffering because of its skin colour? Is your God really so prejudiced as to justify cruelty towards anyone because of who they are?
Does your God really call human beings “dogs”? Or is that just you?
It’s not just the woman’s quick wit that impresses Jesus—her ability to cleverly turn a phrase. It’s her understanding and acceptance of God’s great generosity, something the disciples themselves are still struggling with.
“Woman, great is your faith,” Jesus says. And her daughter was healed instantly. After all, that’s why she’s there, putting up with all this name calling and theological debating.
That’s often the way it works, isn’t it?
When it’s only ourselves suffering, we can stay silent. We can justify keeping our heads down and our mouths shut. But when staying silent threatens someone or something we love, suddenly we find the courage to speak. To protest. To challenge even those who claim to speak for God. For the sake of our children and grandchildren and generations yet to be born. As many do today on behalf of all those still excluded by racism, sexism, or economic injustice—the Canaanite women and men and teenagers and children that we, in our own fear and prejudices, still want to silence.
Do we, the disciples of Jesus today, respond any differently from those in the gospel passage? How do we keep in mind that there is enough feast to go around? How do we expand the seating to allow for even more to sit at God’s table?
Perhaps it begins with remembering that we—God’s people, the body of Christ, the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church—are also Gentiles. And that, brothers and sisters, makes us dogs as well. Dogs to whom God has given far more than crumbs, but seats at the table. Dogs who get to partake in the whole meal. Dogs who are loved, and welcomed and nourished by God because, as it turns out, we aren’t dogs at all, but God’s children.
And if God has made space at his table for dogs like us, who wouldn’t God make room for?
Let us pray.
Maker of us all, you call us to love our neighbours as ourselves and teach us that faith without works is dead. Open us to the ministries that lie before us, where faith and the needs of our neighbour come together in the name of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
http://benirwin.me/2015/09/03/even-the-dogs-daniel-brereton/ (Accessed and adapted 15-0904)