The readings on which this sermon is based can be found at:

s135g12  Sunday 23  9/9/2012

'he could not escape notice'  Mark 7.24

I begin by noting that Jesus didn’t want to be here, even before he was confronted by this woman.   He wanted to hide, but couldn’t.   It begs the question of why he came in the first place.  Perhaps he was uncomfortable with people of a different culture.   Get me up in front of a congregation and all my shyness goes.   But ask me to do an after-dinner speech - I don’t know where to begin!   There are no parameters for guidance.   You have no idea of the world-view of those who might be listening.   And when I am put in strange situations, sometimes my reactions are not as considered as they might be.   

For whatever reason, Jesus was going from the familiar into uncharted territory, and despite his best efforts to remain private, being unable to remain hidden from strangers to the faith of Israel, yet on returning having to open the ears of someone who could have been expected to be receptive, someone who was neither female nor of Gentile birth.  

Perhaps this incident with the woman made Jesus realize that it would have been so easy to have continued on, going further and further from Jerusalem, away from those who didn't want to listen to him anyway, away from those he knew would have him killed - to those who would welcome him, would seek him out and who would receive blessings from him.   But Jerusalem always loomed, and Jerusalem always looms to this day.

The direction Jesus took - towards all others - was not to be fulfilled until the Ascension, his departure from Jerusalem and the strictures that the orthodoxy of both the old and the new community might place upon him.   For the time being he had to return to the centre of 'orthodoxy'.   Indeed as I think about it, the fact that 'he entered (the) house and did not want anyone to know he was there' is most likely a recognition that the conflict with orthodoxy was his mission.   The rest would take care of itself.

'Jerusalem' is known by various names.   I suspect that it is the Vatican for the US nuns about to be crucified by the establishment.  (1)   For me it is the orthodoxy that I learned, last century in another country.   And I see a progression in my own journey, that my time in New Zealand has played a pivotal role in my understanding of the faith.  

And it makes me wonder, did Jesus' journey to the edge of his world play a pivotal role in his understanding of the faith?   Did the approach of this alpha-female rock this conservative Jew more used to 'submissive' women, say something very powerful to Jesus?   Did it inform Jesus that God would be using him for blessing of all and not just reformation of the ancient orthodoxy?   Did this encounter with the Syrophoenician woman serve to reassure him that the crucifixion would not be an ineffectual localised squib but resound throughout the centuries for those who were strangers to his ancient faith?

Jesus could never escape notice, and Jesus continues to be unable to escape notice.   Perhaps in this encounter, Jesus realized that the rest would take care of itself; that he didn’t need to worry about humanity at large.

'Unfortunately' for the orthodox of Jesus' day as well as today's conservative, this encounter demonstrates that they were not the sole dispensers of truth.   Others see and hear, where they are deaf and blind.   The orthodox of Jesus' day as well as today's conservative continue to be deaf and blind, because they only look to see the divine in praxis identical to their own.   This incident tells us that others see the divine, hear the good news and claim it for their own, despite the howls of protest of the orthodox.  

This person was a woman, a foreigner, no 'wilting violet'.   She wasn't an ornament, to be seen and not heard.   She had desires and she made those desires known and not through the mediation of a male.   I wonder if a subservient female follower of Peter Jensen would say: ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs’ - let alone being commended for doing so.  (2)

So to take this incident and use it to commend submissiveness seems to me to entirely miss the point.   God does not bless us because we dutifully recite the words: 'We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table' before we receive the sacrament.   God does not bless us because we recite them, because we make ourselves worthy by reciting them.   Though when I think about it, perhaps there is some justification for this, because I suspect that we do include the 'Benedictus qui venit' in the liturgy of holy communion, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord', because Jesus says this is a precondition of his coming.  (Matthew 23:39)

Often when I 'loiter with intent' in the hospital I am happy to not be noticed, yet with a smile on my face, the staff and patients welcome me into their sacred space.

Jesus' mission was not to impress and convert the nations into believing in God (what conservative evangelicals think religion is all about) but to show that communion with all is what God desires, initiates and enables; and to show up the ultimate antagonism of orthodoxy, and conservative evangelicals to this ‘re-interpretation’ of the faith, then and now.

There are these two components of the message, the message of incarnation, as well as the message of the opposition to incarnation by the orthodox and the devout.

And if we want any confirmation that Jesus did not see his mission being to impress and convert others, we have only to look at the encounter he had with the deaf man straight afterwards.   Jesus ‘took him aside in private away from the crowd' and 'he ordered them to tell no one'.   The first thing this man heard was the order not to tell anyone else, by the very person who had healed him and still he was not able to obey this first command.

Indeed if what I say about sanctified selfishness is true, the message of the gospel is ever to those who would separate themselves from humanity, not to humanity at large at all.   The orthodox and the devout of today believe that God wants everyone to become like them, whereas God wants the orthodox and the devout to put aside this sacred selfishness and accept others.

Finally I want to contrast the blessing that comes with the mixing of cultures as demonstrated in today's incident to the antagonism that so often results within closed communities.   Blessing will come to the church as well as to society at large when the church is truly incarnated into society, rather than remaining on the fringes, offering a refuge from society or an alternative to it.

Jesus could not escape notice, because God will move heaven and earth to bring blessings to all.