We've got two stories today of healings by Jesus. And they both are rather unique as accounts of healings go. First is the woman who begs for the demon to be cast out of her daughter, which isn't unique. But the seemingly cruel response of Jesus is. And then the blind man being healed has details seldom given, Jesus, “put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha,"”. This morning I want us to consider the different views of Jesus we might recognize in the gospels.
The Syrophoenician woman comes to Jesus with a request that is never denied by Jesus in the gospels. But this is not his normal 'customer'. She breaks many traditional barriers in approaching Jesus She is a Gentile, she is a woman unac-companied by a husband or male relative and she has a daughter possessed by a demon. Our traditional picture of Jesus would have him welcome her with open arms and heal her daughter. But Jesus didn't do that. He tried to put her off. "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 he refers to are the children of Israel; the dogs are Gentiles. Not the gentle savior of which we sing. Why? Lots of reasons have been suggested; he was really tired. He was testing her faith. It was meant as a humorous exchange. Whatever reason we can come up with, Jesus was rude and did not reflect the wide-reaching grace which we profess. But just for that moment. He does respond and the demon is cast out.
At face value, the comments of Jesus to the woman are offensive. It seems she did not take offense. But have you ever found reason to be offended by the words of Jesus? What?!? Offended by the Prince of Peace, the Good Shepherd? That shouldn't happen, right? But what if it doesn't happen because we have cleaned up Jesus to such an extent that he is not offensive; we pick and choose the type of Savior and Lord we want. For Jesus does offend. He offends the conservative, self-righteous Pharisees in his day. And if we are honest, sometimes we are offended when His words challenge our way of thinking. Last week's lectionary reading had Jesus saying that defilement comes not from outside the body; sins that are listed in our bible lists are often outside the body as such. The strict works-focused Christian may be challenged by this idea.
On the other hand, the more liberal Christians may be deeply offended that Jesus would say anything as offensive as we read today. And for a dynamic woman to accept the slur is just as challenging. C. Clifton Black of Princeton Theological Seminary wrote this, “Her acknowledgment of Jesus’ superiority, the implied acceptance of his insult, the lowering of self beneath the table,,,, acceptance of crumbs: all these elements anticipate Jesus’ own definitions of discipleship, congruent with the Son of Man’s self-condescension. Jesus’ offensiveness is a fact we must face.” Jesus goes from saying that what proceeds from the mouth defiles us then... defiles this woman with his words. Crazy, huh? But it does remind us that Jesus too will be insulted and treated as a criminal; and he too accepts. And we know the rest of the story; like the woman here, Jesus is ultimately vindicated. Her daughter is saved and Jesus is crowned in glory.
So where do we go with this? Can we accept a Jesus who is at times at odds with our comfort zones? An expression of the purpose of the job of the pastor or of the church goes like this: to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. That's what Jesus did. That's what kept him in hot water all the time. He spent time with the outcast, the afflicted, the sinner. Jesus brought comfort, healing and hope to the downcast. But the powerful religious leaders did not like that. And to add insult to injury, Jesus brought discomfort to the religious leaders. He called them hypocrites, white washed tombs, blind leaders of the blind. And for both of these actions they killed him.
After my 12 years as pastor, you all know that my passion is for comforting the afflicted. I preach grace and grace and grace. When our church suffers loss, we all bring comfort. But when our church is stress-free, comfortable; my job is to remind us that Jesus calls us from the comfort of this sanctuary into the world. It is easy to escape into the realm of faith and grace and feel all is well. But that is not the way Jesus lived. He seldom had comfort or even a roof over his head. And when things seemed to be going good, he always stirred things up again.
As we look at our two people in our gospel reading, they were both living in a world where they had little or no voice. Whether we realize it or not, we are part of the privileged in this world. We are used to being comfortable and at least somewhat in control. Perhaps this strange story of two healings can remind us that we can't put God in a box; a box that fits our ideas of what God should be and do. We all come to God as lost and blind and needy. It is always about God's grace, a grace that we've received and are called on to share; not just to each other but to others who are lost and blind and needy. There are many faces of Jesus; many aspects. If none of them make us uncomfortable, we have probably put Jesus in that box that fits what we want. Again from Clifton Black, “The deeper question is whether we can follow a Christ so repulsive as to die by crucifixion. Jesus flummoxes everyone who boxes him into conventional expectations: the pious, his family, his disciples, and even some petitioners. If we, too, are not gobsmacked, it’s a safe bet that we have domesticated Jesus and have neutered the gospel.” Strong words but our reading forces us to face the uncomfortable. Today, ask God where you are being led to make a difference in your world; not just where it is easy and comfortable but where Jesus would go if he were in your shoes.
As we sing our next hymn, one of my favorites, notice the words of hope, confession and desire. “O to grace how great a debtor daily I'm constrained to be! Let thy goodness like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee. Prone to wander Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” It is easier to wander from God than to walk forward into uncomfortable duties. Let our prayer be that God show us where we need to go and guide our actions and bind our often wandering heart to Jesus. As we take the bread and cup today, remember that Jesus gave us this sacrament on the eve of his death; not on a peaceful, comfortable evening with his disciples. And let us follow Jesus from this place, not just in peace but in action. Follow, not the comfortable Jesus but the Jesus who calls us to follow no matter the cost. Amen.
Hymn: Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing 356 PH 3 verses