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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising, Michigan

God Works Through Human Jesus - 09/09/2018

The humanness of Mark’s Jesus is one of the greatest gifts of this gospel. That’s not to say this isn’t God come among us in human form in this portrait of Jesus. That is made clear from the get-go when he is baptized by John in the Jordan River.

“And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’” (Mark 1:10-11) The true identity of Jesus is not a secret to us. That fully divine Jesus, awesome as his is, isn’t so easy to relate to though. So it’s nice for us ordinary people of God to have this grittier, more emotional Jesus from Mark.

When we hear him demand silence of those he’s healed we wonder if he feels physical human fear. Maybe he’s leery of attracting too much attention from those in power who would rather Jewish rabbis just towed the company line quietly in their neighborhood synagogues. It didn’t take very long for the scribes and Pharisees to come down from Jerusalem and see what this rabble rousing rabbi was up to with their own eyes. They hang off on the sides of these stories often like vultures waiting for Jesus to be silenced.

Maybe when we hear that Jesus sometimes needs to get away from the growing crowds we remember how we can feel trapped and boxed in by too many people or opinions or distractions … how we need to find a quiet place to listen for God and sort things out in our heads.

I personally find a very relatable Jesus a little later on this this Gospel when he cures the blind man at Bethsaida. Jesus put his spit on the man’s eyes and laid hands on him. And then the man could see a little, but not very clearly. “I can see people, but they look like trees, walking,” (8:24) the man said to Jesus. And so Jesus laid his hands on the man’s eyes again, and then he could see clearly. I love this teaching that if something doesn’t work out and it’s something you really feel strongly about, have faith and keep trying … and that it’s perfectly OK to not get something right at first. We can’t pick up our greatest lessons in life like a meal at a fast food drive up window.

So we have Jesus here in this very human experience of life on earth and then the gospel writer takes us into these situations with this very human … and yet completely divine Jesus.

We have before us today, one of those gritty, human situations... this encounter with the Syrophonenican woman that is brief and packs a big punch. And first, let’s remember what has led us to this house in Tyre.

Today’s reading directly follows last week’s reading in which the scribes and the Pharisees – who have Jesus under a microscope – actually come in from the edges of the story to question Jesus … well, in truth, their questions reveal that they are really accusing him of not knowing God’s laws, of throwing out the traditions of the elders, like the tradition of Moses and his 10 Commandments.

We read this story as something that is quite removed from our own experience and so it’s kind of easy to forget that this would have been an encounter of heightened human anxiety, with a crowd around it to witness and react as well.

Just before that intense experience, Jesus had miraculously fed 5,000 people with five loaves of bread and two fishes, and then he walked on water. And despite his teachings and the miracles that happened at his hands, Jesus core followers just don’t get it. The ones he was preparing to go out proclaiming: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” (1.15) – their hearts were hardened, Jesus realized. There’s a frustrating situation many of us can relate to – we can imagine Jesus would have felt discouraged, disappointed, doubtful in his role as teacher and leader.

And going back a little more we remember that Jesus is also dealing with the gut wrenching news that his beloved friend and colleague John the Baptist has been executed by Herrod for preaching this Good News.

And if that weren’t enough, Jesus has also been rejected in his hometown of Nazareth.

This is not what any of us would probably call a successful or smooth-going time in our own lives. And it is from that backdrop Jesus comes into this scene today, which is a very unusual scene.

For one thing Tyre is pretty far north of the places where the Jewish people mainly resided – pretty far by foot anyway. Jesus here is a guest in a foreign land among people who are of different religions and ethnicity and culture.

We do get a clue as to why he’s ventured so far from the Jewish communities on the east side of the Sea of Galilee where he spent so much of his life and time in ministry. He must have known someone in Tyre because he has been received into someone’s house as a guest, which is no small thing in this place and time.

And he seems to be looking for a place to escape … maybe he needs some downtime to pray and listen, process all that has happened and determine what to do next. He did not want anyone to know he was there. And we can imagine why our very human Jesus may have been feeling that way, right?

He cannot move an inch without being judged by the scribes and Pharisees. His students are failing. Maybe he worries that these mounting crowds, all these people who are hungry for his teachings and healing, could easily change from crowd to mob in that tense political climate – Gee, I wonder if that’s something we can relate to?

And then, also, don’t forget, that in his personal human life, Jesus is grieving the death of a friend and has no home community to retreat to.

That’s the very human Jesus this Syrophoenician woman encounters when she comes to the house of one of her people to seek out the help of the foreign man of God she’s heard about. She is also having a human experience some of us can relate to – she’s a mother and her child’s well-being is in serious jeopardy.

When these two, very intense stories of human experience collide in that house, it’s messy, it’s kind of uncomfortable and unpredictable. It might make you feel some discordant human reactions.

The social justice side of you might feel alerted for this woman. She surely should be able to expect the life-giving presence of God in her life, especially for the sake of her child – even if she is of another race and religion. She is being “othered” here and according to our Christian beliefs, we should always feel alarmed when someone is being treated as something other than a sacred part of God’s creation.

At the same time – this is Jesus – we cannot presume to call him out on the very callous and rather snarky and “othering” response he has to this mother … can we?

Well, rest easy. We don’t have to because she does it for us.

And I would suggest that the reactions that come from the collision of these two experiences are what instructs and emboldens our faith in this story of the very human Jesus in a very human situation.

The Good News here is twofold.

First, God works through humans. We are emboldened by the woman’s response… emboldened to speak out when something, even something quite powerful, is getting between God and any of God’s people. To speak out when the situation turns too far inward and away from love of neighbor. We are emboldened to speak that response, pray it, let it frame the words we release into God’s creation from our mouths, let it guide our actions and movements through our homes and schools and workplaces. The boldness of the Syrophoenician woman reminds us that God hears and sees us in all things and God works new and glorious re-creation through us in all these things.

And secondly, God works through humans. What Jesus example of humanness shows us here is that even in times when we feel frustrated and dejected, when we are deep in grief or feeling trapped and suffocated. Even in those places where we just want to disappear for a little while and process our thoughts or decompress, even in those very human moments when we find that we are “othering” another person, God can find a way to get through and work through that situation too.

And where the Syrophoenician woman’s response emboldens us, Jesus’ response I think is meant to instruct us to also be vulnerable enough to listen to those we might see as “other.”

What Jesus says to the woman here, more closely translated, is “For that (logos or word), you may go, the demon has left your daughter.” Through the woman Jesus heard God’s word and was able to see beyond his humanness, his religion, his gender, his race, his culture. He was able to see that God was working through his very human experience for all people, equally and unequivocally … a vision we are called to mirror here in our assembly and around our table, both emboldened and vulnerable to the ways in which God is working through all of our gritty and emotional humanness too. Amen.

Pastor Ann Gonyea

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Eden Evangelical Lutheran Church ~ Munising Michigan ~ An ELCA, Northern Great Lakes Synod Congregation
P.O. Box 360 ~ 1150 West M-28 ~ Munising, MI 49862 ~ 1-906-387-2520 ~ contact@edenonthebay.org

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