I love this story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman. Admittedly, it’s a love that had come in more recent years. We get to witness a moment of growth in Jesus’s life. Yes, he was a man of his times and schooled in all the prejudices and human foolishness of his day. He meets a woman who challenges him and broadens his understanding. It’s no coincidence that the healing that follows is one that opens ears and releases a tongue. The texts this week all serve to underscore what Proverbs clearly states: The Lord is the maker of them all.
Faith can seem challenging in these days. Many people who claim faith have little, to know evidence of their beliefs in their daily living. All of us can have days in which our faith is forgotten and all of our emotions take over, leading us to act like fools. From the Proverbs text through the Gospel this week, we are encouraged to be open – open to those who are different from us, open to God’s presence, open to God’s power, open to living in the fulness of our faith, and open to experiencing all people as being God’s beloved children. Pick any text this week and openness is at it’s core – openness, growth, and change.
Proverbs cautions us to care for the poor because they are no different from the rich. Psalm 125 reminds us that trusting in God holds us firm through all kinds of challenges. A similar theme runs through the Isaiah passage in that we are invited to combat fear with God’s strength which will heal all manner of things. Psalm 146 invites us to praise God for all that God has done because it is God who saves us from ourselves. James gets at the heart of what it means to be a Christian in any age: faith without works is dead. This all culminates in the Mark text. First with the Syrophoenician woman pointing out where Jesus has a closed mind. Then with Jesus opening the ears and freeing the tongue of another man, possibly a gentile.
I know it is late in the summer here in the U.S. and many of us will have lower attendance this weekend. However, for those remaining, these texts could have profound meaning. What closes us off from living fully in our faith as individuals and as a church? In what ways have we bought into the prejudices and false narratives of our day – who do we treat as unworthy or undesirable? Are we open to the truth that God is the maker of us all, including those we dismiss and devalue? Do we act in faith or do we act as if worshipping on Sundays is enough? Does our faith inform all our decisions and actions or only when it is convenient? If Jesus were to say “Ephphatha” to us or our congregrations, what might “be opened”?
There is no shame in needing to have our ears opened and our tongues released. Even Jesus needed to be schooled by the Syrophoenician woman before he recognized that he believed the false narrative of his day (that anyone other than Jews were unworthy and “less than”). The shame would be in thinking (believing) that we don’t need to be opened, that we have everything right. We are human and subject to a whole lot of foolishness. Why else would so much of scripture be dedicated to setting us back on God’s holy ways?
Whatever your preaching this week, please join the conversation so that we may share this journey together.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.