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Pentecost 15B

“Mother Love and the Dream of God”

Mark 7:24-30

by The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones

Some sermons need to be prefaced by a
“Hearers’ Discretion Advisory.”
This is one of them.
Things will be said about Jesus that
are not normally said in a church.
But they are words spoken with wrestled faithfulness,
seeking hidden blessing.
So let us pray……

Jesus is on the road,
travelling away from the harsh encounter with the Pharisees,
and the frenetic pace of healing, and teaching,
and walk-on-water miracles of the past few days.
My guess is he’s exhausted, wrung-out, emptied.
Mark tells us he went to a house and holed up,
telling no-one he was there.
Hoping for some peace and quiet.

He should have gotten it.
For he was in foreign territory.
Tyre is well beyond Judean land, nestled on the coast,
a wealthy, populous commercial town.
A good place for an itinerant Jew to go unnoticed for a day or two
to recharge, refocus, renew.

But, there’s this mother in the town.
She has a daughter who is sick.
Not with a cold, or a tummy ache,
but the sort of sickness
that can’t be cured,
not with the fierce tenderness of a mother’s love,
nor with the medical skills of the Egyptians and Greeks
who inhabited her bustling port town.

We don’t know her name,
but from the little we know about her,
and for the purposes of this sermon,
I’m going to give her a name:
Hope. “Espérance.”

Mark said she was a foreigner,
but Mark’s a bit confused.
Jesus is the foreigner in this story,
he’s the one who’s far from home,
not her. He’s on her turf.
Be that as it may, let’s get on with the tale.

Espérance finds out that a healer is in town.
….What would you do? (to the parents) if your child is sick?
I know what I’d have done if one of my babes was sick like this.
I’d move heaven and earth to get help for my child.
We all would, wouldn’t we?

There was a movie 10 years ago starring Denzel Washington
in which he plays John, an ordinary working class factory hand
who has a little boy, Michael,
who needs heart surgery that John can’t afford
and his insurance won’t pay for.
John will do anything,
he will move heaven and earth,
to get what his little boy needs.
He does.
He breaks laws, acts out of character,
sacrifices his own freedom, risks his own life,
he moves heaven and earth
so his child can be helped.

Well, so does Espérance.
She tracks this Judean Healer down.
She finds the house where he is hidden.
No closed door keeps her out,
she steps inside, finds him,
and kneels at his feet.
We don’t do that anymore, but we know enough
to know that anyone who kneels at your feet
is desperate, willing to abase themselves,
to count themselves as nothing,
for the burden on their heart.

She begs him to heal her little girl.

We think we know what’s going to happen next,
don’t we?
This is Jesus, the one Mark calls “Son of God,”
the healing, teaching, preaching miracle man,
the prophet of the Dream of God.
He’s going to heal. Course he is.

But he doesn’t.

Here’s where the 2000 year old
Interpreters Anonymous Damage Control Crew
swings into high gear
with the most creative, elastic
cover-ups and excuses,
and theologizing rationales
for Jesus’ pastoral gaffe, racist slur,
his lack of compassion.

Some hit the fast forward button,
flip to the back page of the story, pointing saying,
“He heals in the end, okay!
The wee conversation with the foreign lady is irrelevant.“
(I don’t buy that one!)

Others soothingly suggest that
Jesus must have been tired,
he didn’t mean to be rude.
(But he was! Racistly rude.)

Those who are concerned to preserve
the image of Jesus as divinely all knowing;
they say that Jesus was “testing her faith.”
(What?!)
….
Is there any fidelity more persistent,
more vigilant, more steel-girder strong
than a good parent’s love for their child?
How dare he ‘test her faith’ when her daughter’s life is on the line?!

….. And so they go on, excuse after excuse to protect
the pious reputation of Jesus.
But, aren’t we beginning to discover in Mark’s Gospel
that Jesus isn’t particularly interested in a pious reputation?

We need to come at this text another way,
take our eyes OFF Jesus for a change,
and look instead through his eyes, to what he sees.

A woman, foreign to him, on her knees.
Her back is aching and her knees scratched against the floor in her
determination to stoop down low enough
to move heaven and earth,
to have her daughter healed.
He sees that on her knees she may be
but she’s feisty, fierce, faithful.

You know what it’s like to take it on the chin,
to sway with the punch, but never back down,
to swallow the pride, bite back the anger,
all in the cause of a greater love that demands everything of us.

Jesus looks at her, and sees…..
Truth, staring him down, with outstretched arms,
tear-stained face, a quick wit and a psalmic riposte
that calls forth from him, the Healer, the Son of God,
the preacher of the Dream of God,
the very best of himself,
when he thought he had none more to give.

He looks at her and sees…. in incarnate female form
nothing less than the mirror image of the Love of God,
Mother-fierce moving heaven and earth in
her/God’s desire to heal.

Once again, Mark the Gospeller
has turned the world inside out and upside down;
it’s the unnamed foreign mother
who becomes the face and voice of God!
Showing and telling Jesus
that God’s healing reach extends beyond
“the chosen,” the “nous” to les autres to the other,
beyond Judea to the ends of the earth.

Awesome!

But, what if we were to try this new perspective on ourselves?
What messengers of God’s fierce, feisty, faithful,
and tender, healing mother-love might we see in one another?
in these mothers and fathers,
in the guests in our midst today?
What incarnations of hope and healing might we see
in the AA group that meets on Thursdays?
What playfulness or wisdom of God might we see
in the eyes of the senior in the pew next to us?
What hope for a blessed future do we see in a baptized baby?

What amazing things happen
when we truly begin to see that each person
who knocks on our church door, or office door,
or Tot-time door, or choir room door, Bridge club door,
the Meals on wheels door, the Garderie door…..
is, like this woman, Espérance,
each a mirror image of God’s love?
What amazing things happen when we see
every child, woman, man who crosses our threshold
as God’s gift to this community,
and to the world, incarnate in ordinary, extraordinary human form?

If Jesus can see all this in her,
what’s going to happen when we see it in one another??
God’s Dream will happen,
Kingdom will come, that’s what!

© The Rev. Elisabeth R. Jones September 2012

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