By Pastor Cherie Johnson
We’re spending another week hanging out with Jesus in the Gospel of Mark. One of the things that Mark emphasizes is the “Big Secret.” Jesus does these amazing miracles, but he doesn’t want anyone to talk about it. And in this week’s scripture he does it again.
Mark 7:24-37 (NIV)
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”
28 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.
33 After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “”Ephphatha!”” (which means, “Be opened!”). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
I don’t know if you keep up with the current musical trends, but how many of you are familiar with the Beatles? Seriously, this week I heard something about Paul McCartney recording with Kanye West in an effort to remain “relevant.” You can be forgiven if you don’t know who Kanye West is.
When I was thinking of the crowds around Jesus getting bigger, I was reminded of the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night, the 1960s version of a music video. The fellas would be hanging out peaceful as can be, and they would be spotted. Suddenly, everyone, especially screaming girls, would be chasing after them.
If Jesus was chased around by screaming girls, it certainly didn’t make it into the Gospels, but he was being overwhelmed with people bringing the sick and injured to him for healing. It didn’t matter how much he told them not to talk about it. The news could not be contained. He even left the Jewish area around Galilee and Judea to go to the Mediterranean coast, more of a Greek or Gentile area, and even they had heard about him and sought him out.
The most difficult part of this passage is where Jesus seems to reject the Syrian-Phoenician woman. Caroline Lewis said that this was the only place in Mark where anyone won an argument with Jesus. Actually, she may be the only one anywhere that has won an argument with Jesus. I know I never have.
On the surface it looks kind of heartless, and we don’t like to think of Jesus that way. We like to think of Jesus accepting and loving everyone.
One perspective on this is that Jesus isn’t saying “no.” He’s saying “not yet.” Notice that Jesus says in verse 27, “First let the children eat…” He’s not saying never. He saying not now.
As Israel’s Messiah or Savior, Jesus was performing signs, miracles such as healing, and he didn’t heal everybody he came across in Galilee or Judea either. It is after Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter that provides the way for all the nations of the world to be blessed, but this woman is not willing to wait. She’s not willing to make her child wait. As NT Wright says, “The disciples, and perhaps Jesus himself, are not even ready for Calvary, [Jesus’ death]. This foreign woman is already insisting upon Easter [and the resurrection].”
Isn’t that what we do so often in prayer? We ask God to do now things that other people are happy to wait for.
What’s going on in the world today? We have a Syrian-Phoenician woman in the Scripture passage. This week the news was full of stories of Syrian refugees, whether it is pictures of the child who drowned, or the masses of people in Hungary trying to make their way to Austria and Germany. Their passage was blocked, but they have since been allowed to go.
There’s a desperation, desperation for safety and security on the part of these migrants and refugee, and with the migrants that come to this country. There’s also a desperation with the people flocking to Jesus. That’s why no matter how often he asks them not to say anything, they can’t help it.
There’s a desperation now in society that goes beyond that of the migrants and refugees. You see it every time the topic of “spiritual but not religious” comes up.
Several months ago, I was talking with a group of people and the topic of “spiritual but not religious” came up, and a young lady of about 86 stated emphatically that she was spiritual not religious. This was despite the fact that she went to worship every Sunday and was very involved with her congregation. She didn’t want to be associated with what she thought of as “religious.” What she meant was hypocritical and judgmental. Demanding people follow rules that they couldn’t even do. Caring more about the rules than a relationship with God or helping people. She associated religious with going through the motions without it having any meaning. We were surprised because she isn’t in the demographic we normally associate with this “spiritual not religious” phenomenon. We decided that she was ahead of the curve, before her time.
Regardless of the dictionary definition of these words, this is the attitude that’s out there. People who are desperate for spirituality, something that gives meaning to their life, something that addresses the broken places in their lives, but they want it to be authentic and real, not merely going through the motions.
And more than, they are desperate for community and feeling like they are important to someone. That’s why Facebook has over 1 billion, that’s billion with a B, users and people who evaluate their self-worth by how many “friends” they have. It’s not really important if they know them or not, but each “friend” connection is some kind of validation that someone cares what they’re doing, what they post. I’m not saying that it’s healthy, but it is an indicator of desperation for connection with something bigger than themselves.
It’s part of the human condition. This is why Jesus had thousands of people following him around. He couldn’t escape them. When it got to be more dangerous to be associated with Jesus, most of these people disappeared, but that comes a little later in the story.
What can we do? How can we help people connect with the spiritual and not worry about the religious. Jesus didn’t have much patience with the things that my friend associated with “religious” either.
The Church gets nervous when it sees surveys about the decreasing affiliation with any denomination, and the United Methodist Church is right in the thick of it. There are two things on the surveys that are very interesting. The number of people who believe in God in the United States is still pretty high, and they seem to like this guy Jesus. They like what he did. They like what he taught. They may not be so sure about this resurrection thing, but we can work with that. It’s the people that they associate with the word “Christian” that they have a problem with, the people they see on the news every day.
How do we introduce people to the spiritual Jesus? The non-religious Jesus. How do we show people what he’s like and what following him can mean. People want more than crumbs for their brokenness.
Last week, I mentioned an idea of having a shorter worship service once a month or once a quarter, then going out into the community for a work project, as a way of showing God’s love.
We already do that with the Magic Garden, but what are other ways that we can go out and meet people where they are? That is what Jesus did. That is what Paul did in the early church. We don’t have to go all around the Mediterranean, but what can we do around the Joseph and Enterprise communities to introduce people to Jesus, the Jesus we know?
Earlier in the service, I called us and outpost for the Kingdom of God, but it doesn’t work if we stay huddled in here, no matter how good our intentions are.
Let’s not be content to wait. With God’s help, as the body of Christ, let’s be bold in providing a response the desperation in the world, for connection to the spiritual, and support of community. God has given us the people and the gifts to do it. They are people right here in this room … your gifts, your talents. Don’t wait. Say yes to God!