Meditation on Mark 7:24-37
Pastor Karen Crawford
The Presbyterian Church, Coshocton, OH 43812
Sept. 5, 2021
Here is a link to our livestreamed worship, including my message:
It’s been an emotional 4 weeks. The pandemic continues and has affected some members of our congregation. Hurricane Ida caused devastation and loss of life. Violence and chaos continue to reign in Afghanistan after the evacuation of U.S. troops, some of whom lost their lives in the process.
It’s also been a difficult time for me personally. A few weeks into Jim’s recovery from his knee surgery, I experienced my own health crisis. A week ago Thursday, I had surgery to remove my appendix and a mass that was creating a blockage.
I am getting stronger every day and praising God for his healing. But I find myself trying to figure out what the Lord has been saying to me through all these difficulties coming on top of each other. Definitely, that God is always with us in our struggles! And His love never ends.
But I also know that God is trying to change my heart. He wants me to let go of my anxiety and fear when I encounter trials. James tells us that there are godly reasons for our struggles, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” (1:2-4)
One of the most important lessons I am learning is that it is good to have help from the Body of Christ. That may be a hard lesson for some who feel more comfortable doing for others than having others do for you. Sometimes, we need help and are afraid or embarrassed to ask.
I am so grateful for my faithful brothers and sisters. You have been Christ’s hands and feet!
One of the most amazing gifts I received after my surgery is a little book of wisdom called, The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse by British illustrator Charlie Mackesy. I want to share some of it with you. I hope you will be blessed, too!
The mole asks the boy, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” “Kind,” said the boy.”
“What do you think success is?” asked the boy. “To love,” said the mole.”
“What is that over there?” “It’s the wild,” said the mole. “Don’t fear it.”
“Imagine how we would be if we were less afraid.”
Then the boy and mole encounter the fox. “I’m not afraid,” said the mole to the fox.
“If I wasn’t caught in this snare, I’d kill you,” said the fox.
“If you stay in that snare, you will die,” said the mole.So the mole chewed through the wire with his tiny teeth.
“One of our greatest freedoms is how we react to things,” said the mole to the boy.
And the fox reacts by making a heart in the snow.
Then the boy, the mole and the fox meet a horse. “Hello.”
“What is the bravest thing you’ve ever said?” asked the boy.
“Help,” said the horse.
“When have you been at your strongest?” asked the boy.
“When I have dared to show my weakness,” said the horse.
“Asking for help isn’t giving up,” said the horse. “It’s refusing to give up.”
We run into a few characters in our gospel reading in Mark who refuse to give up—and ask for help and the kind of healing only Jesus can give. First, the Syro-Phoenician woman who seeks help for her child, and then a group of people who seek healing for a man, their friend presumably, who is deaf, with a speech impediment. Jesus will cure them both, but he doesn’t embrace the opportunity to help the Syro-Phoenician woman’s child, at first.
What’s the problem? Yes, she’s a woman, coming to Jesus alone, which was not culturally acceptable. Some scholars say that the request should have come to Jesus from a male head of the household. But what’s an even larger problem? She’s not Jewish. She is “Syro-Phoenician.” She is a Gentile.
“Syria was the name of the Roman province that included parts of present-day Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel. Phoenicians were an ancient Semitic people related to the biblical Canaanites, who inhabited city-states throughout the Mediterranean. One of their population centers was Tyre, a coastal city in present-day Lebanon, about twelve miles north of the border with Israel. So, both geographically and ethnically, the Syrophoenician woman represents someone on the borders between Jews and Gentiles.” Her language and culture are Greek, “which also designates her as a non-Jew.” — Claudia Setzer, Professor of Religious Studies, Manhattan College, Riverdale, NY.
The Syro-Phoenician woman, unlike the Samaritan woman at the well in John, may actually be a woman of means with some power. Gentiles were often more well off than their Jewish peasant neighbors in the Roman Empire. Some artwork depicts her as fair-skinned, well-fed, and well dressed.
This painting shows her stroking the head of a dog, which were occasionally pets in the more well-off families, but more often they lived outside as scavengers, eating anything they could find.
In this time and place, calling someone a dog was one of the worst insults you could call anybody. When the woman begs for healing for her little daughter, Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The children Jesus is talking about? The Jewish people—God’s chosen people. Jesus believes, at this time, that his mission is only for the Jews—the “lost sheep of Israel,” as he says in this same story in Matthew 15:24.
Some scholars say that his answer only reveals his single-minded focus on the mission he believes God has called him to do. Others suspect that this may be a weak moment for Jesus. He has been caught with his “compassion down.” He has left his disciples and gone to Tyre—a Gentile community—hoping he won’t be recognized! He wants to be left alone. But in all fairness, he reveals a common bias against the Syro-Phoenician woman that every Jewish male in his culture would have shared with him at the time. Perhaps this is a test—especially for his original audience who would hear the story and ask, “Why is Jesus even talking with her?”
With Jesus’ response to the woman desperately seeking healing for her young child, we are seeing the human Jesus here—probably tired, wanting a break from his relentless mission, with all its frustrations. Scholars debate whether what Jesus says and does here constitutes a sin—turning away someone in need in such an abrupt, insulting manner. But that’s not the point of the passage—to reveal the weakness of our Messiah, of which the writer of Hebrews says, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”—Hebrews 4:15.
God wants to surprise and challenge us to see that this woman, a Gentile outside the covenant of Abraham, is the one who doesn’t take no for an answer. She is bold with her request and is rewarded for her boldness! The outsider stirs Jesus to see the situation in a new light. With her persistence and faith in his power to heal, she leads Jesus to see that his mission is not just to the Jews, but to the entire world that God so loves, as Jesus will tell Nicodemus in the gospel of John. Bowing to him, humbling herself at his feet, she says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Jesus models that the Son of God can learn and grow while he seeks to know and be obedient to God’s will, putting aside his own personal preferences, as he teaches his disciples to pray, “Thy will be done.” He models that there is no shame in admitting when we are wrong, and it’s never too late to do the right thing! He says to the woman, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” She goes home, finds the child lying on the bed. And the demon gone!
This is what I am hearing the Lord teaching us through His Word: Persevere and ask for help—from the Lord and the Body of Christ, when you are in need. And as we pray for one another and serve one another, we see the Lord and come to know Him and reflect him, more and more–His goodness, His glory, His compassion and mercy. Walking in our Savior’s footsteps, we discover the truth of the epistle of James—that real religion is shown by acts of kindness to people in need, even if we are tired out, as Jesus seemed to be, and wanting some time alone, hiding out in Gentile country. If we claim to be religious, without caring for and praying for others, then we have no faith at all.
As for more personal lessons through my struggles…. God has also been dealing with my own unrealistic desire to be perfect and for my life to be perfect. But life is messy. And we are flawed and make mistakes, though always trying to be more faithful and obedient to God’s call.
Says the wise mole in Charlie Mackesy’s book, “The greatest illusion is that life should be perfect.”
The boy sees two beautiful swans swimming serenely in a pond and asks, “How do they look so together and perfect?”
“There’s a lot of frantic paddling going on beneath,” said the horse.
“We don’t know about tomorrow, “said the horse. “All we need to know is that we love each other.”
“When the dark clouds come, keep going.”
“This storm will pass.”
“Do you have any other advice?” asked the boy. “Don’t measure how valuable you are by the way you are treated,” said the horse.
“Always remember you matter, you’re important, and you are loved, and you bring to the world things no one else can.”
“Sometimes, all you hear about is the hate. But there is more love in this world than you could possibly imagine.”
Let us pray.
Holy One, you invite us to come to you boldly, like the Syro-Phoenician woman, so we come to you in faith with our requests, knowing that you will respond to our cries. You want to hear us. And we long to hear your voice! Thank you, Lord, for your kindness to us, for sending your perfect Son when human beings were a perfect mess and couldn’t fix ourselves, no matter what we tried. Thank you for all your good gifts to us, especially your healing—body, mind, and soul. Help us, Lord, to see the needs around us and respond with wisdom, generosity, patience, and compassion, without prejudice, as your Son models for us. Help us to be gentle and use our words to lift up, never knowing what struggles others are facing. And when we make mistakes, Lord, as we always do, help us to see our wrongs and do our best to make them right—as Jesus did when he healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman. In His name we pray. Amen.