“Jesus’s very, very bad day”
Highlands Presbyterian Church
September 9, 2012
I want to tell you a story of Jesus’s very, very bad day, a true story from the 7th chapter of the Gospel of Mark and the 15th chapter of Matthew. I will be reading from the Bibles and Beer translation of the Gospels.
Once upon a time…a group of scriptural scholars approached Jesus. They saw his disciples eating without washing their hands, something they themselves would never do.
These scholars confronted Jesus, “Why,” they demanded, “why are your followers not following our traditions?” Jesus looked at them and said, “Amazing!” With all the problems in the world…wars, hunger, poverty, racism, homelessness…you worry yourselves with whether those who follow me wash their hands before a meal?”
A crowd had gathered to listen to the argument. Jesus turned to them and said, “There is nothing that can go into your mouth that will defile you. But what comes out of your mouth can.”
Then Jesus walked away. When he and his disciples were alone, his disciples started asking him questions, trying to figure out what he meant. He shook his head, closed his eyes and said, “I am surrounded by dimwits. Do I have to draw you a picture?”
And then he carefully explained that food comes into the body through the mouth, passes through the stomach and comes out through the outhouse. It is what passes through our hearts and comes out of our mouths that causes troubles; things like envy, prejudice, arrogance, deceit, and a lack of good sense.
Tired and frustrated, Jesus walked away, seeking some down time to himself, a chance to eat alone and to rest. Jesus was walking through the village of Tyre. He was dreadfully tired. He didn’t want anyone to know he was there…as though that were even remotely possible. There was a woman who heard he was in the village. She was a Syrophonecian woman, that is she was a Phoenician woman from Syria, not a Jew, but a gentile.
As he ate alone, she approached him, begging that he help her daughter, crying loudly, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." Jesus ignored her and his disciples begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is making a scene of her self."
This was the last straw. Jesus looked at the woman and realizing she was a Canaanite reacted abruptly. He said, “The food I bring is for the children, not the dogs!”
Now…she had been treated badly by so-called religious folks before. She thought this one would be different. Still she was ready and would not be put off. The life of her daughter was at stake. Calmly she said, “Perhaps the dogs could eat the crumbs that fall from the table onto the floor.”
Jesus was moved; he looked at her again, this time with compassion. Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone.
True story…you can read it yourself in Mark chapter 7 and in the 15th chapter of Matthew. I have combined the stories paraphrased them somewhat but without changing the facts. The fact is that even Jesus has very bad days.
You know…when you study the Gospels…sometimes you have a hard time reconciling what you read with what you’ve been told by others. I read stories like today’s and I wonder whether Jesus would see himself in what Marilyn Monroe said about herself.
“I've never fooled anyone,” she once said. I've let people fool themselves. They didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. I wouldn't argue with them. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't.”
Did you hear that? “They didn't bother to find out who and what I was. Instead they would invent a character for me. They were obviously loving somebody I wasn't.”
If you want to be an actress, you’d do well to study Marilyn Monroe. If you want to be a Christian, you’d do well to study Jesus. But often we invent a character for Jesus or allow others to do so and we end up loving somebody that he was not.
Take today’s story for example. You don’t hear many stories or sermons where Jesus calls his closest friends “dimwits” and uses what amount to racial slurs to ward off those who seek him. So let’s be honest…Jesus had a very bad day and the Gospel writers put the story in the Bible for a reason.
What are we to learn from this troubling story…about Jesus and about ourselves? Let’s take a look at the characters in this story. There is, of course, Jesus. There are the scholars who know the scripture and all the proper social conventions coming from its interpretation. There are the disciples who have followed Jesus around Galilee, hearing him preach and teach who don’t get it, have to have everything explained in basic elementary terms and then try to run off a poor woman trying to get help for her ailing daughter.
And then there is this woman. All we are told about her is (1) her gender; (2) her race, she is a Canaanite, in other words someone on the margins of life in a community mostly dominated by people of other cultures and religion; and (3) she has a sick daughter for whom she is desperate to find help. Oh yeah…one other thing…she has heard about this faith healer who seems to be a different sort from the others she has encountered.
Throughout the first two scenes of this play…Jesus is the teacher. Jesus first teaches the scholars that their social conventions do not serve God as they might think. Then he teaches the disciples that it is not what goes in but what comes out of our mouths that matter to God.
In the third scene Jesus tries to teach the Syrophonecian woman a lesson…a hard lesson about her place in the pecking order of the community. And of all his encounters that day…with the scholars, then with his dimwitted disciples…Jesus reserves the harshest language of all for this marginalized Canaanite woman.
What happens next is one of the greatest miracles in the Bible. The teacher suddenly becomes the student. He who is weary from teaching others all day…is taught the most important lesson of the day. And his teacher is someone to whom no one else has ever listened. Jesus not only listens. He hears. And he learns…he learns something about who he is and who he was called to serve. Jesus is changed.
This is a moment every bit as big as the day he was baptized or the day he was transfigured. This was the day of his transformation…and the day he taught us what being baptized, transfigured and transformed is all about.
You see…each Sunday morning we light two Christ candles…two because Jesus has two natures…one is divine…the other is human…and that day at Tyre when this woman boldly approached him and presumed to challenge him…Jesus was human and was taught a lesson about becoming more divine.
Jesus learned that we all have a lot to learn about love from those who have not been loved. We all have a lot to learn about ourselves from those we think most unlike ourselves. We have a lot to learn about how God calls us to live when we live among those with whom God calls us to live.
Think for a minute how different Jesus would have been if the woman had walked off quietly after being chastised by Jesus. It would have been easy. There in the presence of all these judgmental men, Jesus called her a dog, said she was unworthy of his help. How many of us would have had the courage to remain in his presence much less challenge his cruel assertion.
And yet the character invented by many of us who claim to follow Jesus is the one created as though the story ends there with Jesus saying, “The food I bring is for the children, not the dogs!”
But the story doesn’t end there with judgment and rejection. The story is allowed to continue until it can teach a very important lesson…and the story continues because this woman is permitted to speak and Jesus teaches us to listen even to her.
In the end…this story about Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman is a story about us. Whose stories do we not hear? Who do we stay away from and keep from us? Who do we judge as unworthy even though we have never heard their voice, never known their story? This story of Jesus’ very bad day is in the Bible because God wants us to know that unless you are willing to learn, you will never be able to teach. AMEN