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First Impressions: Mark 7:24-37

September 1, 2009

This week’s text seems to be composed of two unrelated healing episodes.  I can discern no connection between the exorcism of Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and the healing of the deaf-mute man aside from the fact that both are healing stories and both seem to take place in Gentile country.  If you can ferret out any other connections, please let me know.

7:24 Apparently, even Jesus became burned out on pastoral ministry and needed time away.  Unfortunately, needy people found him anyway.  This may explain his sharp address to the woman in verse 27.

7:25-30 M. Eugene Boring and Fred Craddock warn preachers not to mitigate the harshness of Jesus’ words to the woman (The People’s New Testament Commentary [Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2004], 140.).  Calling a person a “dog” is insulting in almost any language, though the woman’s own description of a dog made it appear more of a family pet than an unclean scavenger (Boring and Craddock, p.141.).  One of my colleagues has suggested that the woman used Jesus’ own trick of cleverly turning his own words back on him to make her point.  It is her words, rather than any obvious faith, that seemed to save her child.

I may use the sermon to describe the ways that outsiders can prophetically call the church back to its own best self.  I could use a story of one of my own encounters with someone in need.  I’m tired and worn out, not ready to be bothered, but someone comes to me seeking help.  If I’m in a particularly grumpy mood, I may resist or refuse.  Sometimes the words of the stranger—“but this is a church, isn’t it?”—remind me of our call to serve even those who do not “belong” to us.

A similar sermon could emphasize that God’s grace is so full, overflowing even the table, that everyone can be filled.  This episode defies any limits we may want to place on the Gospel.  It is for us, but we do not possess it.  The good news includes all the people we would rather ignore, from my boorish uncle to the filthy man on the street corner…and even to me.  In the grace of the Gospel, all of us eat at the table.

7:31-37 There is a lot of action in this story.  Like the previous one, faith did not seem to play a role.  This time it was the physical action of Jesus—placing spit on the tongue, looking up to heaven, sighing—that worked the healing.  Jesus urged silence, but no one payed any attention.  They spread the word about his powers everywhere.  A member of my Lectionary discussion group said that Jesus may have great healing powers and can work miracles, but he seems to have no power over human conduct.  He tried to escape from the crowds, but they found him anyway.  He told the people to be quiet, but they spread the word even more.  There is a sermon in there, I am sure.  We certainly respect Jesus, but do we obey him?  He will never force his will on us.  It is always our choice.

What text will you use this week?  Is the Spirit leading you in any particular direction?

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