The text of the sermon, based on James 2.1-17 and Mark 7.24-37 with a reference to Proverbs 22.1-2, 8-9, 22-23, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 5, 2021.
James, writing to his Christian community, is not happy! Compelled by his love for his brothers and sisters in faith, he confronts them, chastises them for their zealous cultivation of the favor of the rich and powerful.
In the first century Roman Empire, “gold rings and fine clothes” were outward signs of nobility; perhaps that of an aristocrat or a senator. Thus, in James’ reprimand, there is an insinuation of political deal-making, say, a legislator, as a powerful potential benefactor, offering protective services to the community in return for the people’s support. (And given the ages-old pre-election practice of politicians making pilgrimages to houses of worship in pursuit of votes, it seems that through time and change some things remain the same!)
But, then or now, who can begrudge the ostensibly enlightened self-interest of a politician and a community, whether secular or religious, seeking to establish a symbiotic, mutually beneficial relationship? James can! Because the seeking of special favors always excludes, ignores the poor who have nothing to offer in the oft-crude commerce of quid pro quo. Even worse, the unity of the community is destroyed by dissension as socio-politico-economic class distinctions become the standard of defining a person’s worth and, therefore, deciding how one is to be treated.
Proverbs reminds us of the divine design of equality: The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.
And James pleads, “Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters”, reminding them that God calls and commissions the lowly to work out of the divine will in the world.
Amen! So be it that the heart of the Old Testament witness is that a people – enslaved in a foreign land, Israel in Egypt, once liberated under the leadership of Moses, though consummately contentious in resisting the divine will, thus, made to wander in the wilderness for forty years before standing on the threshold of the Promised Land – is a light to all nations, drawing the whole world to God!
Amen! So be it that the heart of the New Testament witness is that a child – born to an unwed mother in a feeding trough for animals who grows up to be a common carpenter, inaugurates an itinerant ministry supported by handouts, seeks the friendship of pariahs and prostitutes, proclaims a message of liberation that flies in the face of established authority, fails, in worldly terms, in his mission, being arrested and tried, convicted and condemned, nailed to a crude cross – is God’s Messiah!
Amen! So be it that God uses the lowly to work out of the divine will in the world!
Catering to the powerful may be…is the world’s way, but, for James, to dishonor the poor violates God’s will; the essence of which is: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
Love. Unconditional kindness. Impartial benevolence. Love. Not in word alone, for words alone are dead, but in action for the sake, for the good of another. Any other. All others. Love. So universal that James considers it “the royal law”; the sacred statute of God, the Ruler of the universe!
It is this lesson in love that we behold in Mark’s gospel. In two ways. The first, Jesus is taught how to love. The second, Jesus demonstrates the love he has been taught.
A Syrophoenician woman, a Gentile, a non-Jew begs Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus declares, metaphorically and tersely that his mission is only to Israel, whom he characterizes as God’s children who enjoy God’s kingdom-food, that is, God’s life and presence. All others, including Syrophoenicians, are dogs; dispatched to dwell under the table of nourishment.
(Now, biblical scholars, preachers, and others, for generations, have sought to clean up Jesus’ language, suggesting that what seems to be his reproof of the woman was his stern test of her faith or that he spoke in jest. Although on this last point, I do not know how one can joke about another in dire need! In either case, I take Jesus’ word at face value as self-descriptive of his sense of his mission only to Israel.)
The woman, in love, acting for the sake, for the good of her child, boldly steps across the clearly marked cultural line of bigotry. In love, she risks rejection. In love, she retreats not in the face of the harshest rebuke. In love, she replies with a heart-rending, soul-stirring word of God’s love that speaks truth to the Son of God, who, then, heals her daughter.
Then, when a deaf man is brought to Jesus, he, with love’s sensitivity, “took him aside in private” away from the curious, perhaps uncaring eyes of the crowd, “put his fingers into his ears, touched his tongue, looking up to heaven,” with love, in pantomime, demonstrating what was to take place, “speaking” in an intelligible language that the man could understand.
This, in both cases of the Syrophoenician woman with Jesus and Jesus with the deaf man, is love in action.
This is love in flesh.
This love, unconditional benevolence, impartial kindness for the sake, for the good of all others, by the Spirit, is enfleshed in us.
Therefore, let us go to be and to do likewise!
© 2021 PRA
#GodusesthelowlytodoGodswill #faithwithoutworksisdead #loveisunconditionalbenevolence #loveisimpartialkindness #loveforanyone #loveforallpeople #Jesusistaughtalessoninlove
 See Isaiah 42.5-9, 49.6, 60.1-3
4 thoughts on “A Lesson in Love x 2”
I so appreciate this sermon. I so appreciate your not sugar-coating Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician woman. I so appreciate your giving the woman the credit for her humility, for her courage, for her faithfulness to her child, and to her own need for Jesus’ attention and healing. I so appreciate the suggestion that even Jesus’ heart was not programmed to be automatically pure and loving, for that would deprive him of the humanity that we all know he possessed in at least equal measure with his divinity.
I love seeing Jesus as human, but I love seeing Jesus even more as susceptible to human longing, human need, and human faith, as moveable, changeable, capable of being cracked open based on his own humanity in concert with God’s great love within him.
I find this to be one of my very favorite stories about Jesus, because I feel and understand it in my own human terms. I don’t look UP to Jesus in this story; I look ACROSS human time and space and see him clearly and fully in my world, where people come up to you on the street, as happened to me tonight, and ask you to help them. And the human heart responds as it will – and is unmoved or moved, or both in succession, according to its awareness of the love of God present within it and the unearned grace that sustains it.
Thank you, Paul, thank you for reminding me, candidly, of this tender, moving, recognizable story.
Thanks, Paul. Good to hear your sermons again.
Love and peace.
Ah, my beloved sister, as the Syrophoenician woman preached truth to Jesus, so you proclaim truth to me: “I don’t look UP to Jesus in this story; I look ACROSS human time and space and see him clearly and fully in my world, where people come up to you on the street, as happened to me tonight, and ask you to help them. And the human heart responds as it will – and is unmoved or moved, or both in succession, according to its awareness of the love of God present within it and the unearned grace that sustains it.” Amen!
One additional point. What convinces of Jesus’ temperament and intent of self-describing his sense of himself and his mission in this encounter with the Syrophoenician woman is Matthew’s version (15.21-27), which is clearer, more explicit, I think:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Thank you, my dearest sister, for reading.