There is no getting around it – Jesus is anything but nice in the gospel we just heard this morning. There is nothing all that unusual about outsiders regularly being ignored or insulted by the crowd or the religious authorities – sometimes even the disciples – but not Jesus. He’s the good guy – the good shepherd.
But not so much this morning. Not, until, after a mother’s retort insisting Jesus do a good work – regardless of how he might feel about it. Jesus in fact, uses an ethnic slur of his time, when he tells this woman that the “food” – the bread of life – he offers is not for her or her tormented daughter. It’s for those of his tradition – his tribe.
Shocking, don’t you think? I hope – or at least want to offer – the consideration that his behavior is shocking in a good way. In a way we could relate to. A shocking reminder of Jesus’ humanity. It’s always to put Jesus on a divine pedestal – always behaving in ways beyond our ability. But when he acts all too human it’s a shockingly good reminder that he is like you and me. And we, are like him.
Maybe Jesus was tired – and not at his A-game. I can relate to that. He’s been working hard – casting out demons left and right – with people and crowds coming to him for food and teaching and healing. He was trying to sneak away, remember – we read “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”
A shocking reminder that all of us – in some deeply programmed way – often lean into the ways we are different – instead of what we share. Even Jesus.
Not two chapters ago – a father, who got a name even, Jairus, a leader in Jesus’ faith tradition – came to Jesus begging for the exact same thing. Healing for his little girl.
Jesus didn’t even answer or speak– he just turned and followed.
But the anonymous woman is not treated the same. Thankfully for us, she does not let how she is treated, stop her. Like many a woman in scripture – she persists.
One scholar I read said – this woman doesn’t miss a beat with her comedic jujitsu. She does not get angry. She does not debate. She flips Jesus’ slur on its head – with deference.
Sir – she responds as she points out that while dogs may not have a seat at the table – they can at least they can gather the scraps.
I agree with the “comedic jijitsu” description – because I always picture Jesus smirking at this, as he say – hmmm, well, just for saying that – your daughter is healed.
Maybe he was shocked. That there was no back and forth, insult-trading debate. Just a quick-thinking mom, pointing out that it’s the food – the healing, the grace, the works – what falls from the table that matters – not her or Jesus’ opinion of her.
Just for saying that – for keeping Jesus honest – for getting him to see – to be open to who stands in front of him – a daughter of God - shocks him into doing –renewing his awareness that healing is for all.
I’ve been thinking this week about New York – next week I will also be thinking about New York – but this past week it’s because the recent catastrophe of Hurricane Ida and the floods. I was standing in the foyer of our church on Thursday afternoon waiting for someone and decided to look at the New York Times – and I saw the pictures.
Massive flooding in places I’ve never seen such flooding – Yonkers, and Brooklyn – and Queens. Heartbreaking stories of basement apartments filling so quickly with rushing water that families quickly drowned – including children. I lived in an apartment that had one of those basements. And a family lived there.
In that neighborhood, Astoria, I was in the ethnic minority – Greek, Italian, middle eastern – that was the make-up of the neighborhood.
My years living in Queens and New York City, about six years – have really been the only time in my life where on a regular basis I would find myself in situations, in places with people where my ethnicity – basically, white if I’m checking a census box - was not in the majority. That’s a good thing, I think.
A few times I’ve talked with people who have served in the Peace Corps – and all of them has said – being the minority – being the outsider – was the most important aspect of their experience.
On Ditmars Avenue in Queens few days after 9/11 I went into houseware store – the city version of a Bed Bath and Beyond – way smaller store with an odd assortment of Pyrex. I walked in and got what I needed and went to pay. What I remember was the way the owner – who was middle-eastern, Arabic I assumed, looked at me when I paid. He asked how I was doing. Doing OK and we talked very briefly about what had happened. He told me how much he loved this country – and God bless America – and I remember thinking – he looked scared? Nervous?
Or were both of us just all of a sudden very aware of our different tribes – and he wanted to assure me – that I had nothing to fear?
“Be opened” – Jesus says a little later to another outsider – the deaf man. Just like the mother comes to Jesus on behalf of her daughter – this man has his supporters too. Maybe his family, maybe friends – but people bring him for healing.
Interesting don’t you think – one person uses words to get what she needs – and another does not have the ability to do so – and in, again, what is kind of a shocking to our sensibilities ear plugging with spitting demonstration – Jesus heals this man.
Opening his ears – and freeing his tongue. In some ways the man Jesus heals embodies what had just happened – an opening was created for healing where initially there was thought to be none.
I remember coming home from the hospital with my daughter when I lived in that apartment in Queens. My neighbor, a grandmother who always sat on her porch often times watching her grandkids – went and knocked on several of the doors of our neighbors.
All of a sudden there was a gaggle of older women around me – saying things in Greek and spitting on the ground. She told me they were warding off the evil. A tradition in her tradition – I felt honored – I’d joined the tribe of motherhood – and they were sharing something with me and my daughter.
Be open. I hear that this morning. Persist in prayer – persist in requests for healing – especially on behalf of those who need it most. Be open to the good works you and I are called to offer in service and in thanksgiving. And be open to humanity – our common good – and the ways in which you and I are called to break through stereotypes and fears – to reach out with the shocking power of love.