A Bigger Tent

hospitality02September 9, 2012

Mark 7:24-37

The words of our hymn “Pass Me Not” are perfect for today’s gospel lesson. Just exactly the sort of thing the Syrophoenician woman is saying, “Include us too.”There is a moment in the story when it appears that Jesus will pass her by.

Let us put this incident in the context of Mark’s larger story. In Mark 1 Jesus began his ministry, calling twelve disciples, about the time John the Baptist was arrested by Herod. In Chapter 6 we learn that John the Baptist has been executed about the time Jesus multiplied his ministry by dispersing the twelve in teams of two, advance teams announcing the coming of the kingdom of God and calling for repentance as preparation

It is interesting to note how the shut down of John the Baptist related to the increased pace of Jesus’ ministry.

The twelve return probably as exhausted as they were excited. There is a lot to talk about. Time for a retreat and debriefing. They take off in boats to a deserted shore, or so they expected. When they arrive a huge crowd has gathered. Jesus accepts the interruption and spends the whole day teaching, healing and then feeding. The twelve had thought it justified to send the multitude home and let them tend to their own needs.

So, still no down time. All the gospels indicate that after the “Big Feed” Jesus got into some kind of head butting with religious authorities. In John it is about the difference between Moses giving bread for the day and Jesus giving bread to eternal life. In Mark the argument starts with the disciples not washing before breaking bread,

And Jesus comes down hard on the obsession with unclean hands when the problem they should be worried about was unclean hearts. They have used tradition to their own advantage, perverting piety in the process.

Still no down time.

That, I think, is the explanation for Jesus leaving Jewish territory altogether and heading for Tyre and Sidon.

Mark says he wanted to hide out for a while.

Well, it did not work. Word gets around and someone spied him going into a house. And yes, one more person in need corners Jesus.

So what we have today is one more interruption that postpones the retreat.

Now, to jump ahead Jesus does have the retreat in chapter 8 in Caesarea Philippi – beyond Jewish settlements. And it will be a turning point. Out of that debriefing comes Peter’s breakthrough that Jesus is the Christ and the even more important revelation of what is to come. The execution of John the Baptist ought to be enough to tell Jesus that the Kingdom of God talk could result in violent end.

This world is a place of violence. Unpleasant people doing stupid, impulsive things, and justice being run over by the powerful. Upset righteous folks turning on Jesus.

Jesus tells them, “I am going to be killed.” Never once did Jesus talk about changing his course.

You see, I think Jesus had a lot on his mind when that woman came barging in to beseech them to heal her daughter. Jesus comes across a bit stern, a bit dismissive.

Jesus’ parable about feeding the children before you feed the pets suggests “children of Israel” ought to get his attention before he ministers to ‘dogs’– the unflattering slur Jews used sometimes of Gentiles who they considered unclean.

Now to be perfectly fair the word “dogs” in Greek is the diminutive “little dogs” “puppies”

And Jesus says “first”– he tells her “not now,” “not yet.”

That seems to be Jesus plan as the Gospels roughly indicate. Matthew puts it that after the resurrection Jesus send his followers out “into all the world” but first to Jerusalem, Judea.

John says word that became flesh came to his own (people) and was rejected by the very folks who ought to have recognized him. Nevertheless to all –all, not just “his own”– who did receive him he gave power to become children of God.

But this woman in not interested in grand designs. Her daughter is ill. And she doesn’t care if it is golf day for the doctor or if he has a vacation with his family. It is her daughter who is suffering. Help me now. Like you have helped so many others. You have one more blessing, I know. “Savior, Savior, hear my humble cry. While on others thou art calling, Do not pass me by.”

“But dogs don’t have to wait till dinner is over, Don’t they get crumbs that fall on the floor? I may only be a little dog, but don’t deny me the crumbs of your abundance.”

Has she heard about how much was left over after the “Big Feed”?

There is abundance enough in God. The blessings won’t run out if you give me some now.

Reminds me of that widow in the parable in Luke. She nagged the judge till he took her case. And Jesus commends her example. It is okay to persist in prayer. Let you petitions be made known to God.

Well Jesus responds to her pushy impertinence by saying “Since you put it that way, go on. Your daughter is healed.”

“Many, or even most people find this is a disturbing story because of the negative light in which it casts Jesus. We don’t think of Jesus as someone who would insult the mother of a sick child, seemingly as a way of dismissing her request. We must remember though that Jesus was, after all, a Galilean Jewish man of his time. His disciples would not have thought it odd. Remember that they thought it odd that he would give the time of day to children!…Yet, her faith in Jesus’ power is such that she believes with all of her being that “a mere crumb” of his power will do the job. In her reply, she turns the insult into a _ statement of strong faith. (Beth W. Johnston)

Never again would Jesus turn down or put off a non-Jew who came to him. On the heels of this he cures a deaf man in Decapolis and feeds 4,000 in the same non-Jewish region.

In Matthew 8 we read

5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help. 6 “Lord,” he said, “my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.”

7 Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

8 The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. 9 For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

10 When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 1

I don’t know what you make of it, but it looks like Jesus lays aside the original agenda, inspired by a woman’s great faith, and the thing that wins out is “All are welcome.”– gentiles included

All are welcome. All are invited.

So James, the brother of Jesus (some identify him), writes– if you are going to have the faith of Jesus you must share his hospitality. You cannot practice partiality.

The people who walk into your life are your neighbors whom God sends your way to love as if it was yourself in their shoes.

Jesus was not a respecter of persons. Even his enemies, the Pharisees, gave him credit for that when they said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality” (Matthew 22:16). (Ezeogu)

James is concerned in his letter with how well people who are down and out are received. Are they treated with the same off- the- cuff hospitality that is usually shown people who look successful and powerful?

All are welcome.

A professor told of helping serve hor d’oeuvres before a conference. He tried to engage one fellow in talk as he passed the trays of goodies, but the man looked right through him, in the dismissive way people sometime treat those who are waiting tables or serving the public. When the discussion began the professor sat behind the circle of those invited to the conference, right behind that gentleman At one point in the discussion the convener said, “I think we ought to defer to our resident expert on that area of New Testament studies.” They all turned around and there was a look of shock on that gentleman’s face. He never apologized for his earlier treatment; he just made a point of coming over and talking to him. What a change. How do you see your neighbor?

James says it is ironic that you automatically treat the rich and powerful with so much deference when it is people like that who routinely rip you off in their legal proceedings and make fun (blaspheme) of your faith. Meanwhile the poor who share your faith you overlook. Your attention may be drawn to power, but God pays attention to the poor. God is called “defender of the poor.”

God did pick the Jews first. And after them we Gentiles got grafted into the vine. Because in the grand plan Abraham is told he will be blessed/chosen but through him all peoples will be blessed. All are welcome.

A Catholic church in Florida posted this welcome sign.

We extend a special welcome to those who are single, married, divorced, gay, filthy rich, dirt poor, yo no habla Ingles. We extend a special welcome to those who are crying newborns, skinny as a rail or could afford to lose a few pounds.

We welcome you if you can sing like Andrea Bocelli or like our pastor who can’t carry a note in a bucket. You’re welcome here if you’re “just browsing,” just woke up or just got out of jail. We don’t care if you’re more Catholic than the Pope, or haven’t been in church since little Joey’s Baptism.

We extend a special welcome to those who are over 60 but not grown up yet, and to teenagers who are growing up too fast. We welcome soccer moms, NASCAR dads, starving artists, tree-huggers, latte-sippers, vegetarians, junk-food eaters. We welcome those who are in recovery or still addicted. We welcome you if you’re having problems or you’re down in the dumps or if you don’t like “organized religion,” we’ve been there too.

If you blew all your offering money at the dog track, you’re welcome here. We offer a special welcome to those who think the earth is flat, work too hard, don’t work, can’t spell, or because grandma is in town and wanted to go to church.

We welcome those who are inked, pierced or both. We offer a special welcome to those who could use a prayer right now, had religion shoved down your throat as a kid or got lost in traffic and wound up here by mistake. We welcome tourists, seekers and doubters, bleeding hearts … and you! –Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/27/our_lady_of_lourdes_catholic_community_bulletin_n_1710757.html

Someone commented on this sign, “I love the thought that a few members of Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Community getting together and saying, “Let’s invite everyone to come meet Jesus!” And then they started writing their list. And it got long. Why?

Because everyone needs Jesus. Everyone changes when they meet Jesus.

And they wanted to make sure everyone knew they were invited to meet him.”

What a big tent the church is– or should be.

The woman tells the gospel a different way. “Depth of Mercy, can there be, mercy still reserved for me?” “While on others thou are calling, do not pass me by.”

It was not impertinence, but desperation and humility that put that woman at Jesus’ feet. And should we not realize that is how we come too. Not assuming that we deserve grace, but just confident enough that God is merciful that we come. Over 500 years ago a leader in the English church, Thomas Cramner, adapted words centuries older into a prayer for believers before they take communion:

We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.

Thomas Cramner


1 I am intrigued by the mention of banquet, dinner, feast in these two cases.





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