6th September, Trinity 14: Proverbs 22,1-2 8-9, 22-23, James 2, 10 14-17 & Mark 7, 24-end.
I really enjoy going to the cinema and it is never just about the film itself, for I really enjoy the whole pre viewing experience. Okay, what I really mean is I enjoy buying the pick and mix, or sometimes pop corn.
I enjoy filling my tub with a wide variety of confectionary some of which taste sweet and others sour. I enjoy the contrast. I think sweet and sour, and sweet and salty work well together, although I have to admit I recently bought a tub of salted caramel ice cream and wasn’t at all convinced.!
And today’s bible readings feel, at least to me, a bit like a bucket of pick and mix. The readings from Proverbs and James are wonderful, full of sweetness and the gospel, at least at first reading, tastes in some ways to me a little sour. Yet, the readings as we shall see really do enhance each other.
Lets chew on a few verses from Proverbs, part of the Bible’s wisdom literature: ‘the rich and poor have this in common, the Lord is the maker of them all,’ ‘do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate, for the Lord pleads their cause and despoils the life of those who despoil them.’
James, in his pastoral epistle continuously stresses that all, yes all, are equal before God, irrespective of rank or position. If you remember from last week, James defines religion that is acceptable before God as ‘caring for the widows and orphans in their distress and keeping oneself undefiled by the world.’ Equality, justice, compassion, being doers of the word are James’ great themes, all of which allow him to finally assert that ‘faith by itself if it has no works is dead.’
I suspect that none of us would want to disagree with the sentiments expressed through the wisdom of Proverbs or the pastoral imperatives of James? But what of the gospel reading, how to you experience it, or even taste it, on first encounter?
Well for me, compared to the other two readings, initially it tastes a bit sour. If James’ pastoral pre-occupation is with equality and, the wisdom of Proverbs stresses the commonality of all before God doesn’t Jesus reaction to the outsider, the Gentile, appear at best a little rude and at worst down right racist? I suggest that it does at face value. But our task is to dig a little deeper for that is where we find real meaning.
Imagine for a second or two that you are watching this encounter, as if you were at the cinema.
Because the story is set in a house capable of receiving guests this means that you are probably male (the women would be out the back) and well educated. You know your Old Testament Scriptures and have no difficulty in accepting that salvation will come from the Jews, and for the Jews.
And then a foreign women, with a demon possessed daughter walks into the room, uninvited. This is not part of the script. Then it gets even worse she throws herself on the floor at His feet. What on earth is happening? Then she asks Jesus to heal her daughter; an impossible and, heretical demand. She is not a member of the chosen race, she is not male, and she doesn’t even know her manners.
And, he talks to her. What is he doing? Debate, theological debate is an exclusively male and Jewish pastime. At first it seems as though Jesus is set on rebuking her. It feels like Jesus is on your side, or our side, after all. But then it starts to go wrong again. This gentile, it appears, is not too interested in race and gender; she is in fact quite happy with the idea that salvation will come from the Jews and, is for the Jews. She makes absolutely no attempt to persuade Jesus otherwise. But, she does understand this:
That God is there for all, that ‘rich (both materially and spiritually) and poor alike have this in common, the Lord is the maker of all.’ She understands that God doesn’t want to see her ‘despoiled.’ She understands that unlike those who regard themselves as supremely worthy in human terms God isn’t that bothered by rank or status. She has a better understanding of the God’s radical equality which has been evident since Genesis 1 than the so called religious elite. She, this Syro-Phoenician woman, knows that real faith is about doing, and specifically about healing and reconciling and she dares to challenge Jesus to agree with her; in front of a Jewish, male and theologically educated audience. It is a scandalous story. And the sting in the tale is this:
Jesus agrees with her. He affirms her he gives her what she desires.
The challenges from today’s readings are that:
We must never be complacent or even self possessive about our faith, or overly protective of our community. We must all the Church must have porous boundaries.. We must constantly seek to welcome the stranger into our community. We must reach out to all, affirm all, feed all and bless all; these I think are the challenges from today’s readings.
Are we willing to accept them?
Rev Andrew Lightbown