A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho, September 9, 2012
If you recall where we left off last week, Jesus had just called the Pharisees hypocrites for caring about how clean the things were that went into their mouths, without having a care for how clean were the things coming OUT of their mouths.
And no sooner has Jesus said that it is what comes OUT of your mouth that gets you in trouble, he meets a woman. At this point, they have moved to Tyre and Sidon, or as we would say today, Lebanon. He appears to have gone there to escape the crowds, the critics, and maybe even his friends. He needs a break. He goes to escape notice and recharge his batteries. And a Canaanite woman finds him and asks him to cast a demon from her daughter.
And Jesus says to her, “It isn’t fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs. Oh, and by children, I mean the Hebrew people. And by dogs, I mean you.”
Remember the guy who just said, who just said, “it is what comes out of your mouth that defiles you”??
Yeah, that same guy just told her she wasn’t part of the chosen people.
She knew this, of course. She’s a Canaanite woman, so she would have been under no illusions about this.
But still. He just said that.
Some people want to make this story nicer than it is. They want to say that Jesus is testing her with his replies. Maybe so.
But I think Jesus is at the end of his rope, in need of a nap, and feels like he has nothing left to offer to anyone.
I think this is one of the glimpses we get in the gospels to remind us that Jesus was Fully Human.
Let’s think about that for a minute.
We claim that Jesus is fully human, fully divine. But then, when he does something fully human, like turning over tables at the temple, or losing it with the Pharisees earlier, or making snarky comments to poor Canaanite women who are just seeking some help for their kids for goodness sake, we run screaming from the text and pull out our pictures of Jesus with the Halo, the nicely bleached robe, and the perfect smile and we say, “fully divine. fully divine. fully divine.” (big sigh)
Why is that? Why is the idea of Jesus behaving like you and I so troubling to us?
In any case, we don’t want Jesus to say what he says to this woman. “Why should I take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs?”
Oh. No. He. Didn’t.
Oh. Yes. He. Did.
Luckily, our Canaanite Woman isn’t going to let the fact that Jesus is fully human and is having a no good very bad day get in her way. She knows what she needs. And she’s not leaving until she gets it. He can tell her that salvation is for someone else. He can call her a dog. Doesn’t matter. She has a voice and she will not be silenced.
“Even the dogs eat the crumbs under the table, Jesus.”
And with that, he snaps out of it.
Crumbs, he realizes. That’s all she needs. Crumbs. Just enough to heal her daughter. She isn’t asking for boatloads or buckets of anything. She doesn’t want everything he has. Just crumbs. And I wonder if he remembers the loaves and the fishes and how many crumbs were left over after that meal on the hillside.
And he thinks, “it is going to be okay. I can get through this day AND I can help this one woman”. And he turns away from the scarcity of not enough energy, not enough salvation to go around, and he remembers abundance.
“For saying that, your daughter is free of the demon” he tells her.
Even when his good manners were in short supply, her faith was abundant. Her voice was persistent.
And maybe this is where his fully divine part kicks in.
Because he recognizes when he’s wrong.
When I show my fully human side like that, saying the wrong thing to someone, snapping at the person who is in front of me rather than the person who actually upset me—when I have those moments, I want to crawl under the table and pretend I’m not there. And that’s if I even recognize when I’m wrong.
So I’m thankful that this moment is recorded in scripture.
Because, even if we’d rather think of Jesus as only divine, this reminder that he’s also fully human ought to help us be more fully human ourselves.
When we read these stories of Jesus, where he seems so familiar somehow, I hope we’ll remember he’s fully human. And so are we. And so are our friends and family and fellow journeyers on the road.
I also hope we’ll remember that being fully human isn’t a bad thing. Yes, we say things and do things that hurt people.
But being human has advantages too.
Look at our Canaanite woman. If this story illustrates Jesus’ bad day, I think it also illustrates one of her better ones. She’s a foreign woman with a demon possessed daughter.
In other words, not a lot going on for her.
But she knows what she needs. She uses her voice and calls out for healing for her daughter, for a chance for her daughter to live a life free of possession.
And after Jesus tells her to go home, she does. She doesn’t need proof or reassurance more than he gives.
She trusts his voice and that is the last we see of her.
And Mark doesn’t tell us if Jesus gets any time to rest in Lebanon. Next thing we know he is headed back to Galilee and some people come to him to tell him about a man they know. He is deaf. He can’t speak. He has no voice. Nor can he hear their voices. The communication we take for granted is not available to this man.
But these people come to speak for him. To beg for healing on his behalf.
Another good illustration of full humanity. They don’t come to Jesus to seek their own favor or success. They come to make someone else’s life better, recognizing that our humanity is a shared experience. When one of us is suffering, all of us should feel that suffering as well, and should use what we have to help each other along the way. Our voices need to ring loud and clear on behalf of the voiceless, advocating on their behalf.
And Jesus pulls the man aside and offers some high tech medical procedures of spitting on his tongue and sticking his finger in the guy’s ears.
Full humanity indeed.
Touch. Spit. Tongues.
And the man who has been silenced his entire life suddenly is able to speak clearly and plainly. He will now be able to speak on his own behalf, as well as on behalf of others.
All week long I have been thinking about voices. And about the privilege we have to use ours. I know that not everyone is as fortunate. I am an educated white woman with privilege. I have an actual pulpit. My voice is heard. I can use my voice far more easily than the syrophoenician woman, or than a refugee to this country who doesn’t speak the dominant language, or than a person whose voice has been lost to illness or disease.
And so we should be aware of people whose voices are not being heard. And we should be aware of people who are seeking to silence people’s voices.
We’d like to think that in 2012 that doesn’t happen. But people want to keep people from voting. Pay attention to how many voter suppression cases are in the news as we head toward November, because in this country, voting is how you use your voice.
Some people want to limit women’s ability to use their voices to make choices for their own bodies.
An elected official in Maryland this week tried to silence a Ravens football player from speaking out in favor of a piece of legislation with which the elected official disagreed.
Our voices are another piece of what it means to be fully human.
They call out words of justice and love. They also speak insult and injury. How are we going to use our voices this year?
I invite you to consider that this week as the new program year for the church gets under way.
Maybe this is your year to join the choir or handbell choir.
Maybe it is time for you to be an advocate for children, homebound, homeless, or others whose voices are not often heard in the halls of power.
Are you being called to join your voices with other people in a house church as those get off the ground today?
We are called to lift our voices in learning, prayer, music, service, praise, consolation, advocacy, and justice.
How will you use your voice?