Sunday, 6 September 2015

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year B-Br Luke

Andre-Rublev's Saviour

Homily preached by Br. Luke at Springwood Sunday 6th September 2015

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost Year B

There are two quite separate healings in today’s gospel reading. The Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the deaf man. On first hearing these two passages, we may wonder what is happening. Usually when a person approaches Jesus and seeks a healing he does as they ask, yet here he does not. We have become accustomed to Jesus speaking the words of the healing, but here he touches and spits. I’m tempted to focus on the reading from James, but no I’ll explore the Gospel.

Let’s start by looking at the Syrophoenician woman. We could, and in today’s world many would, say that Jesus was being both racist and sexist. After she approaches him, he calls her a dog and practically tells her to go away. She however challenges him and he relents. Why? Is he testing her faith, has he suddenly decided that not everyone can be healed, or is he perhaps saying this for the benefit of those around him? There’s a conundrum here and one that we could all tied up in. I think the puzzle is easily solved, but it’s a resolution we have to be prepared to accept wholeheartedly and not try to explain away. And that will be a challenge to be sure.

The key to the passage lies in one little word: Gentile. The woman, and we assume her daughter, were not Jews. Remember that Jesus was, and his ministry had been among and to, the Jews. Yes, the Roman province of Palestine had many Gentiles living there and they had been there for many centuries. Remember also that it was the application of the Jewish law that the religious leaders invoked when they demanded Pilate crucify Jesus.

So why was that she as a Gentile is so important? I would suggest because Mark mentions this fact that makes it important. So let’s look more closely at the passage. Jesus was in a house and Mark says he wanted to be alone. Presumably the house was open and when people discovered he was there, came rushing to him. The woman must have been known to people in the house and they were friendly enough to her to let her approach him. They must also have known about her daughter.

When she approaches Jesus she kneels at his feet. The actions of a supplicant. We aren’t told her initial request, but we are told Jesus’s response. He doesn’t mention anything about faith or healing, but makes a somewhat cryptic comment about the children being fed first. We could ask, what on earth is he talking about? How on earth does food relate to this healing? Her response is equally as puzzling, she talks about dogs eating crumbs under the table?

There are two elements here. Jesus is giving a teaching, to his disciples and to those around him. In other words there is a teaching here, not for her, but his listeners. The people expected him to reject her as she was not Jewish. His comment about children being fed was intended to convey the message that his ministry was to the Jews.
But he is gently chastising the listeners. The woman was not to be deterred. She knew she was not a Jew. I think she knew he was speaking to the listeners, and not to her. I think she was smart and more in tune with Jesus than peopled realised. So her response was likewise, for the benefit of the listeners. She acknowledges that she is not Jewish and then says but please heal my daughter anyway. There is of course a strong display of faith in both Jesus’s ability to heal and her approach to him.

He says her words persuade him to agree to heal her daughter. And again he speaks the words of healing. There is not commending her faith, no instruction about what to do after he healed the daughter. We may have expected some sort of instruction, given she was not Jewish, but there was none. She goes home, and confirms that her request has been granted.

What is happening? Well as I mentioned earlier, this is a teaching for the disciples. Jesus is saying that the message of the Gospel will be for all people. The inclusion of a gentile in the ministry of Jesus demonstrates that the message is to spread beyond the children of Israel. There are hints of this elsewhere in the Gospels. When asked who their neighbour was Jesus uses the Samaritans. The centurion, a roman army officer asks for healing. But the clearest instructions are what we call the great commission and Peter’s dream as recorded in Acts.

Jesus is telling the people around him not become so caught up in the nationality of the person seeking healing. There is no place for exclusivity, the message is for all.
The second component of this passage, relates to the image of food and eating. I think the use food, is to remind us that Jesus is the word made flesh. It points us to the teachings about the Eucharist. It was last week that we read the passages about Jesus being the bread of heaven. As we discussed at Bible Study, Jesus’s words are the bread and when we consume them, we consume him and thus the word, and the Trinity dwells within us.

There’s a lot more here and we may leave this and the healing of the deaf man for Friday’s Bible study.