Can we dare to imagine a grumpy Jesus? That is certainly the way he sounds in this most embarrassing of all Gospel lessons today!
Today we meet a Jesus who just wants to get away from it all. Throughout Mark’s Gospel we are told that Jesus sought out lonely places to pray and to renew himself in the task of ministry. He urged the same for his disciples. “Come away to a lonely place…”
But that lonely place has been harder and harder for Jesus to find as the word about his ministry spreads far and wide. Today he has retreated to the Gentile territory above the Sea of Galilee, to the area around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. He has left behind the crowds, the questioning Pharisees, and the demands of his own people back in Galilee. He’s on vacation, if you will from the lost sheep, from those “children of Israel” that he has come for. He is far away from anyone who should ask anything of him. But even here, word of him has spread, and so this gentile woman, this outsider to the children of Israel comes with her great need, and her request.
There is absolutely nothing unreasonable about her. She kneels in Jesus presence, she begs him humbly not for herself, but for the sake of her daughter. There is really nothing in this story to prepare us for the outburst from Jesus that she receives.
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and give it to the dogs….”
He so much as calls her a dog, an ultimate insult in that time and that culture!
We are almost embarrassed by Jesus here! What would possess our gentle savior to lash out with such an unkind remark as that?
Dare we believe that this is one mark of Jesus true humanity? Jesus did come to be as one of us, to live as one of us, and to experience what it is to be human, and we humans can get cranky. We can get short and impatient, particularly when requests are made of us when we are trying to get away from things.
It seems to happen to me every time we get ready to leave on vacation. The car is packed, the tickets are in hand, the arrangements all made, and just as I’m about to my start vacation, something intrudes.
A call from the office, and now I have to re-adjust my mind and handle the details I had hoped to be escaping.
You have been here. You have known this kind of frustration. Is this what Jesus is experiencing today? A demand upon his time from an outsider no less, when all he really wanted to do was get away for a while?
That does not explain his terse remarks, but it does help us perhaps understand them, and that is important because we also have to understand what comes next.
The woman, instead of slinking away, stands her ground. “Yes Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
I’m not asking for that much Jesus, just the crumbs, that’s all my daughter needs.
Her response pulls Jesus up short, and he is visibly moved. His demeanor changes; “For saying this, you may go, the demon has left your daughter.”
You can sense the shift in Jesus’ voice. He is moved by her trust and faith, and shifts from the terse response, to an act of compassion.
What are we to take from this Gospel lesson? What does it mean for us?
Well first of all, this Gospel lesson seems to be about Jesus himself learning about the true nature of his mission and ministry. He thought he could get away from it by going outside his home territory.
What Jesus discovers is that there is need here too, and recognition of his power, and that here too, God’s grace is to be extended.
We need to be thankful for this woman, because you see, she is coming to Jesus on our behalf.
You and I, we are not of the children of Abraham in the strictest sense.
I am not of Middle Eastern descent. I have no familial connections to the tribes of Israel. We could not trace our families back to anyone who wandered in the Wilderness with Moses or who lived in Galilee. We are of the West, and Gentiles, like this woman. When she comes begging for crumbs, she’s begging for us. “Jesus, isn’t there something in what you’ve come to do for my family?”
Jesus discovers that he cannot escape his mission. It comes to find him. It comes in the form of a Gentile woman. It comes in the form of a deaf and mute man in the Gentile region of the Decapolis. Jesus cannot escape his mission.
Neither can you or I. It will come to find us.
And how will we know our mission? Here too, Jesus seems to show us how we will recognize it.
Compassion toward what angers you will reveal your mission.
It is perfectly clear to you and to me that Jesus goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon so that he can meet this woman, have compassion, and heal her daughter.
It if perfectly clear to you and to me why Jesus wanders into the Decapolis, he is there so that he can restore the speech and hearing of that man.
It was not perfectly clear to Jesus why he was in those places. He was just trying to get away from it all, and got a little hot when he found out he couldn’t get away. But now that he has done this, now that he has compassion on these outsiders, he sees his mission in a new way, a broader way. He understands the will of his Father in heaven a little better, and we see it as well.
A few years ago, I had the privilege of meeting “the pancake man.”
We were traveling through Rapid City on a youth trip here from St. James. We happened to stay at a KOA campground that had an all you can eat pancake breakfast for $1.00. This was a “no-brainer.” We had over a dozen mouths to feed and you can’t do it for less than that, so we went to the campground pancake breakfast.
The man behind the griddle was doing his work, with joy, flourish and flair. He started pumping out pancakes, and was doing so with an artist’s eye. He would take a squeeze bottle of batter, make a design on the griddle, let it cook for a few seconds and then fill in the spaces, and when he flipped the pancake over, there was a picture. Spider man’s masked face, a daschaund that was wandering under the tables. He copied designs off of the kids t-shirts, made pictures of their faces, of all the while engaging in conversation and encouraging the kids to be the best they could be.
We struck up a conversation, and got his story.
He was an alcoholic, and about 10 years ago he had been suicidal, ready to end it all. He was angry at the world, and mostly angry with kids. They used to make his life miserable at the school where he had worked as a janitor.
At his lowest point, he’d lost his job and blamed it on the kids at the school who were mean to him. In the midst of treatment, he had revelation. The kids had been mean to him, because he had been mean to them.
He resolved to change all that, and decided he would start doing something that would lift up and inspire kids. He would make up for all the time he had spent tearing them down.
“I didn’t have much that I could do very well, but I could make pancakes.” He said. And so, he started working at the KOA in the summer, and making pancakes that made kids laugh and smile. That was the beginning.
It was compassion toward what had previously angered him that revealed to him his mission. Now he not only makes pancakes at the KOA, but he travels the school circuit during the year with a positive message of how you can make a difference in this world by doing what you do well.
It is compassion toward what angers you that reveals your mission.
What is it that moves you?
What is it that angers you, or that makes you want to run, or makes you want to fight?
It could be that your mission is being revealed to you in that moment. You might even snap at it at first, but if is your mission that God is revealing to you, it will be as persistent as the woman, and as clear as the opened ears.
You can’t escape your mission. It will find you. And the good news this day is that even when you’re cranky and even when it isn’t all that clear, God is present and working to reveal your mission to you.
Be opened, this day. Prepare for what God may have in mind for us, for what God has in mind for us all, is mission in his name. Amen.