Lloyd Menke | Our Saviour’s LutheranThe scripture for this sermon is Isaiah 35:4-7 found here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=403788307 and Mark 7:24-17 found here: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=403788180
She was young, maybe about three. I don’t remember exactly. What I do remember is that when we woke up in the morning our daughter, Katie, was not in her bed. So, we look aside of the bed, thinking she had fallen out of bed in the night. No. She wasn’t aside of the bed – nor somehow managed to wedge herself underneath it. In fact, she wasn’t anywhere in her room. We went downstairs and expected to find her sleeping on a couch. She wasn’t there.
Our anxiety started rising. We started calling her name. The basement – could she have gone into the basement? I had come up with the idea of “toy jail” for toys that the kids were supposed to pick up and didn’t. (By the way, toy jail never really worked very well. Our kids had too many toys, they just played with others.) Anyhow “toy jail” was in the basement, maybe she had gone down to play with the toys in “toy jail.” Still calling her name, we scrambled down the stairs. Katie was not in the basement.
Now our concern was giving way to an increasing sense of panic. Our hearts were racing. Where was our daughter? As I started to look outside, Gaye did a last frantic search of the house. Gaye found her, there she was sound asleep in the walk-in closet in her bedroom. She had crawled in far enough and the door was closed enough that she couldn’t be seen without a thorough search inside.
When concern gave way to panic there was nothing that would have stood in our way of our continuing the search for our missing daughter. Has there been a time in your life when you found your heart racing – when desperation made your goal clear and you would have allowed nothing to get in the way of accomplishing your purpose? Are there things that cause your heart fear?
The Syrophoenician woman is desperate to find Jesus as he comes to the region of Tyre to escape the crowds and find some rest. There is something very wrong with her daughter and she has heard a great healer is in town. In her desperation she is not only bold, she is downright brash and rude.
It is helpful to pause a moment to understand all the obstacles this woman had to overcome to seek Jesus’ help. The Jewish prayer book (siddur) contains preliminary morning prayers known as birkhot ha-shahar or the “dawn blessings.” Most of these thank God who “gives the rooster understanding to distinguish day from night…gives sight to the blind…clothes the naked…raises those who are bent down,” and so forth. But it also contains the prayer: “Blessed are You, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who has not made me a Gentile, a woman, or a slave.” These blessings are also found in the Jewish Talmud. In addition, there are some variations in even earlier references that bless God for not being made a boor or a beast.
Least we think this was only a Jewish way of thinking, there are similar blessings found in other cultures in the region: among the Greeks you can find similar blessings recorded in Plato, and among the Babylonians in the Zoroastrian blessings. The point is, from a Jewish male’s perspective at the time this woman has three strikes against her before she begins. She is a Gentile, she is a woman, and because the people of Tyre persecuted Jews, they were considered enemies – less than human – beasts – dogs.
Imagine yourself in her place for a moment. It is culturally unacceptable for a woman to approach a man, let alone fall at his feet. Her daughter has a demon further isolating her in the minds of people.
She is not only bold in coming to Jesus, she is brash, even rude. Yet, she comes and assumes a posture of worship and begs for the sake of her daughter. To witness this woman’s behavior at the time would have been shocking. What kind of desperation is she feeling that would drive her to do this? Was her heart racing?
But it is even more shocking what happens next. Jesus has come to Tyre to escape the crowds. He is tired. He wants to rest. He went into a house and didn’t want anyone to know he was there. But, he can’t escape notice. When this Syrophoenician woman comes and begs him for healing, he gives a shocking response. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
There are all kinds of theories about why Jesus said this. Some suggest that Jesus is testing her sincerity or persistence. But, nowhere is this mentioned in the story. Others minimize, Jesus’ dog comment, saying he was calling her a “puppy.” Seems lame to me. Others say, this is showing Jesus’ human side. Still others, that Jesus’ response demonstrates God’s openness to changing God’s mind like other stories in the Old Testament where God “repents.”
Perhaps the story is being offered as a counter to the Jewish piety present in the morning blessing prayers. It is interesting that the Jewish morning prayers contain prayers of blessing to God who gives sight to the blind…clothes the naked…raises those who are bent down.”
We may never know Jesus’ motive for saying what he said. But, we should be careful to note, Jesus’ words here can never be used as justification for denigrating women or treating those who are from a different race or culture as less than human.
We may never know why Jesus said this, but it isn’t helpful to get bogged down in trying to figure it out. Except to note that what Jesus says seems to echo the voices of the culture around her, telling her that she should not dare to hope for much, that she wasn’t worth it, that she had no business asking for help and healing. But, that doesn’t stop her. In spite of Jesus’ rebuke, she presses on, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Even the crumbs are enough! Remember a couple of weeks ago we talked about fragments of bread for fragmented people – broken bread for broken people? This woman gets it. Even crumbs are enough! She has an amazing understanding of God’s grace. She demonstrates a tenacious faith in the face of all evidence to the contrary – the illness of her daughter – the voices of Jesus telling her – her hope is misplaced.
Jesus by his actions demonstrates himself to be the fulfillment of the best part of the Jewish morning prayers – one who gives sight to the blind…clothes the naked…raises those who are bent down.” And the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy.
Isaiah says, “Say to those of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong do not fear! Here is your God.’” That’s not a bad translation, but literally Isaiah says, “Say to those whose hearts are racing, ‘Be strong do not fear!’”
Where are the places your hearts are in fear? What causes your hearts to race? Where are the places where you feel like all the evidence points to God not caring? When are you tempted to believe the voices that tell you that you have no reason to hope – when it seems like even God himself is saying you are not worth it?
At those times, in those places, remember what Jesus does! He shows himself to be the one who heals and restores all creation. Be strong and do not fear! Here is your God. He is the who gives sight to the blind…clothes the naked…raises those who are bent down.” He brings healing and restoration to the daughter of an enemy. Will he not care for you?