23rd Sunday Ordinary time, September 9, 2018
Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2: 1-5; Mark 7: 24-31
When kids go back to school, they tell their friends and classmates about their summer vacation. When adults return to work after a summer vacation, they tell their co-workers about where they went and what they did. It may sound a little odd at first, but our Gospel reading today tells about Jesus’ “summer vacation”.
Jesus started his ministry by teaching the people at the local synagogue, and he healed a sick man there. The people were amazed! Soon everyone was talking about Jesus, and all the people in the city gathered around the house where he was staying. So many people came to see him and hear him that he had to go out in the countryside to have enough room.
All this was good. But some of the religious leaders from Jerusalem became jealous because Jesus had become famous. They wanted to be in charge, they wanted to be in power. So they started charging Jesus and his followers with sins – they didn’t want Jesus to heal the sick on the Sabbath, they even said that Jesus was evil, a terrible lie. But Jesus kept on teaching and healing and even raised a little girl who had died back to life. He was so busy that he and the apostles had no time even to eat! People followed him, and when he walked from one village to another, a new crowd was waiting for him. People recognized him, where ever he went He was working non-Stop!
Then Pharisees came to criticize him again for not washing his hands according to tradition. Jesus told them that what we eat or some dirt on our hands isn’t evil, but the evil we do comes from within us. It comes from what we think about and our failure to love God with all our hearts. The Pharisees were really angry with him, wanting to end his teaching & healing permanently.
Now, we’re all glad to go on vacation because we work hard, we’re busy, we need time for rest, to get away and do new things. If you think your life is hard, and that no one understands, you need to talk with Jesus. Sit down and tell Jesus that you work too hard, the demands are too great, and people around you are cruel. He’ll know exactly what you’re talking about.
So Jesus told his apostles, “Come away to a lonely place, and rest a while.” Jesus and the apostles got away from the crowds and the threats of the Pharisees. They got out of town, out of the country of Israel, away from Galilee, to the region of Tyre and Sidon (sy’don). It was very different there – the culture was different. And would you believe it? Immediately, a woman with a sick child had heard of Jesus, and came and fell down on the dirt in front of Jesus and begged him to heal her child, and she kept asking him, over and over.
So, here’s what you need to know to understand what he said to her: She was Greek, meaning she is not Jewish, as Jesus was. The Jews referred to themselves as “The Children of God”. Jesus is not calling her or her child a dog. He is saying that any Father (God) would feed his children before he would give that food to dogs, even cute little puppies. Remember the interaction he’d just had with the Pharisees. They were religious; they spent their days studying the Scriptures. Yet they had not only tried to block his teaching, they had refused to listen, and they were even plotting against him, calling him “evil”. But she answers with deep humility; all she wants is a little crumb of healing for her girl. She does not want riches or power or social status or fame, but only enough for her daughter to be well. What a contrast between this mother, who has thrown herself at Jesus’ feet, desperately begging for a crumb, and the Pharisees who threaten Jesus in their jealousy of his God-given power by which he helps people. Jesus praises her, and assures her the child had been cured.
The rest of Jesus’ summer vacation must have been the quiet and restful time he and the apostles had been wanting, for we hear no more of Jesus until he has returned to Galilee. It’s a walk that could have taken months. And now, like you, he is back to work. He is surrounded by crowds again. A man is brought to him who was deaf and whose speech couldn’t be understood. We have that word, “Ephphatha” (ef-fa-tha’), an Aramaic command to open, which gives the scene real authenticity. And immediately, says the Gospel, he could hear and speak plainly. Jesus says to tell no one; the crowd is already so large. Perhaps Jesus even thinks back to those quiet times he had on vacation. But the word spreads quickly. “And they were astonished beyond measure, saying, He has done all things well; he makes both the deaf to hear and the mute to speak,” they say, coincidentally matching the description of the Messiah in Isaiah 35.
When was the last time you were astonished beyond measure? When was the last time you heard something that left you breathless and so delighted that you were at a loss for words? Do you even remember? But there are those days when a heartfelt prayer is answered, when you laugh and cry at the same time; and those moments always seem to come from The One who does all things well.
Perhaps this day of Homecoming should not only be a day of returning to Church, and all the opportunities for worship and service, but also a day to return to astonishment, the type of astonishment that comes from a deep and certain confirmation that Goodness is alive and well and available to us in this world.
Perhaps it is time to get away from the anger and hatred of the Pharisees, and go to love and desire to help others, like the Mother. It is time to seek healing from God, like the deaf man. Change always takes courage, but the littlest crumbs from God’s table are enough to cure the soul. It is always the season for a change of heart. The time to open our ears to hear God and speak out clearly about God’s love is always right now.