Libby Caes' Homily from September 9, 2012

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Mark 7: 24-37


I don’t know about you but sometimes I get really, really tired. Exhausted. And then I am no fun to be around.

When I am tired life feels overwhelming and there is not much to be hopeful about. Even doing the dinner dishes is too much!

When I am tired my ability to hear decreases dramatically. Dave will say something and all I hear is sounds, I can’t make the sounds into coherent words.

When I am tired it would be really best go to bed and get some extra sleep. Instead, you might find me mindlessly playing game after game of spider solitaire on the computer. And, of course, when I am that tired, I don’t win any of them!

I am fortunate to have people who care about me.

“Libby, what is the edge in your voice” a co-worker asked me recently over lunch.

Or my husband will tell me to chill.

Like us, Jesus, also, got tired, exhausted.

One of the shortcomings of hearing only a snippet of the gospels each Sunday is that we don’t get the context. It is like those movie trailers…they entice you but they don’t give you the real thing.

Suppose that we had started at the beginning of Mark and read through to the end of Mark 7.

It would take half an hour or so.

Several things would stand out.

We would notice that Mark’s gospel is action packed. A favorite word of the writer is “immediately”

Jesus is baptized and the Spirit immediately drove him into the wilderness. (Mark 1:12)

Jesus steps out of a boat and immediately a man with an unclean spirit meets him.  (Mark 5.2)

A woman touches his garment and immediately Jesus knew that power had gone out from him. He stops and asks, “who touched my clothes?”  (Mark 5:30)

The disciples are terrified when they see Jesus walking on the water. Immediately Jesus spoke to them…(Mark 6.50)

It’s like the days when my pager keeps going off and I am wanted immediately!

We would also notice that Jesus repeatedly tried to get away so he could be alone or be only with his disciples.

Jesus got up while it was still dark and went to a deserted place to pray. Simon and others went looking for him. When they find Jesus they tell him “everyone is searching for you”  (Mark 2)

Jesus invited his disciples to come with him to a deserted place and rest awhile. Well, in that deserted place the feeding of the 5000 takes place. So much for solitude.

Then Jesus sent the disciples away so that he could pray. But then he notices they are caught in a bad storm in the middle of the sea and has to go rescue them. So much for some alone time. (Mark 6)

We would also notice the crowds.

They are constant, they are everywhere. It is chaotic and noisy.

All these insights shed light on today’s text:

From Jerusalem Jesus set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.

Tyre is up north, a long way from home.

Not even his disciples are present.

Maybe Jesus can remain anonymous, unnoticed and get what he needs-solitude and rest.

Instead he comes face to face with the ultimate cross cultural encounter.

A Gentile, a woman, a Greek…comes begging on behalf of her demon possessed daughter. She barges into his personal space.

Rather than be his usual compassionate self, Jesus gives a sharp retort hoping that his intruder will make a fast retreat!

Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

Jesus doesn’t want this woman in his face, he doesn’t want to heal her daughter. He wants to be left alone.

But this mother won’t let Jesus off the hook. She stands her ground and meets his challenge.

Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.

Jesus concedes the argument and then dismisses her.

“For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter”.

One of the rituals in the Mennonite Church is what is called “Sermon Response Time”. When the sermon is over, there is time for sermon feedback or discussion.

I always hoped that the responses to my sermons would not be a head trip but insights gained from the Scripture text or sermon. Sometimes there were very thoughtful dialogues.

I preached on this text in Fresno, CAA. In the discussion afterwards I said that some scholars believed that Jesus changed his mind in this encounter. Well, one young woman in the congregation didn’t like that at all and I think wrote me off as theologically off the deep end. I never saw much of her after that.

For many, it is inconceivable that Jesus would ever change his mind!

Suppose Jesus did change his mind? If he did, this exchange between the Syrophoenecian woman and Jesus is wonderful window into the humanity of Jesus.

Jesus didn’t want to heal her daughter, he wanted to be left alone. He had his own legitimate needs that needed attention.

The intruder was easy for him to write off…she’s not Jewish but gentile/unclean, she’s a woman, she comes from a different culture.

But, to her credit, she doesn’t let him off the hook. She is able to respond as an equal and challenge his assumptions…something that the Scribes and Pharisees never managed to pull off.

She tells Jesus there’s enough food for the dogs, too. There’s enough not just for Jews but also for her and her daughter.

In other words, there is room at the table and more than enough for everyone—Jew and Gentile, all cultures, male and female.

The kingdom of God is all inclusive, it is not a Jewish old boys club.

How human Jesus is in this reading—tired and needing a personal retreat, willing to be persuaded that he was wrong.

It is so easy for us to put Jesus on a pedestal…the gospels are written in such a way that we expect Jesus to always be the hero:

always doing the right thing,

always saying the right thing,

always winning the argument,

always able and willing  to give and give and give.

What happens is that Jesus becomes a super-human, someone that we cannot relate to.

Here is the human Jesus:

A human being, like you and me, who struggles to find time to nurture his relationship with God and care for himself. Jesus, like you and me, who doesn’t always say or do the right thing.

I hope Jesus got the rest he needed, the solitude and time of prayer that would sustain him in the challenging days and weeks leading up to to his suffering and death.

I also hope that the sisters get the rest and solitude that they need on their vacation this week and nobody barges into their personal space!

And what about us?? We push ourselves so hard. Why? So we can be superhumans?

That is not who we are. God created us human beings, not super beings.

I used to be puzzled by the Genesis 1 refrain, “there was evening and there was morning…the first day, there was evening and there was morning the second day”.

We live our lives the other way around…first morning and then evening.

We live our full days and then we go to bed exhausted, hoping to refuel for the next day.

Night comes first in the Hebrew worldview. Rest is more important. We are to rest and pray and then work.

Our type A society has it backwards.

There are times despite our best intentions when we are pushed over the edge. We are human. Then what? We must be gentle with ourselves, forgive ourselves, forgive others if necessary and then start again, renewing our intention to be centered, to grow in our relationship with God. Rest and pray and then work.

There are seasons in our lives when this is very challenging. What does one do when one is the caregiver for young children or aging parents?

God knows our challenges.

It may mean praying when we are in the bathroom!

It may mean being really creative in finding respite.

I want to close with wise words from Thomas Keating, Invitation to Love: the Way of Christian Contemplation.

The clarity with which we see other people’s needs and respond to them is in direct proportion to our interior freedom.

Isn’ t this what we yearn for…interior freedom;

Being rested, centered in God so that we can respond with compassion and clarity to the needs around us.


Let us pray:

To be a people of prayer, centered in You, we pray:

Loving God, hear our prayer.

For courage to make life giving choices, we pray:

Loving God hear our prayer.

For the Benedictine Women of Madison and all who are touched by their ministry, we pray:

Loving God, hear our prayer.

For what else shall we pray?

Let us name those we carry in our hearts and pray for those listed in our book of Intentions:

Pass the Peace.

In today’s Old Testament reading we are reminded of the extensive guidance and care that Wisdom provides.

James admonishes us, telling us that favoritism is wrong and that faith without works in dead.

And, in Mark, we hear the baffling encounter between Jesus and Syrophoenecian woman.

Let us pray.

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