My sermon for this week was based on Mark 7: 24-37.
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I have a deadly weapon in my house, and I can almost guarantee that everyone reading this has exactly the same weapon. It is the remote to my television set.
Why do I say that is deadly? Well, TV can be a great source of knowledge, inspiration and even sometimes wisdom, but the reason why I say our remotes can be dangerous is that with the flood of information we find on our TVs or on the internet, realistically there is absolutely no way we can take it all in. So we have to choose. Not only do we choose what we want to see, but we also choose what we don't want to see.
In weeks past, most of us have seen the tragic photos of Aylan Kurdi, the 3-year-old Syrian boy who drowned as he and his family were fleeing from Syria. As if his death was not disturbing enough, what disturbed me more were comments from people who were upset that people had posted the photo on their FB feeds, comments like, "The world is bad enough, why would you post this depressing shit?"
We need to post that shit because that shit happens, and we need to know that shit happens. In light of current affairs, I think we have officially burned through our privilege to change the channel and pretend that this shit doesn't happen and isn't happening as we speak.
Why do we feel we can just change the channel? Because this shit is happening to other people. It is happening to "the others". It is happening to "them".
Let me run something by you, and you tell me if this doesn't describe what most of us feel: most of us would be willing to impoverish ourselves for our spouse, parents, children or siblings. We might be willing to go to great lengths to help cousins, uncles and aunts, but maybe not impoverish ourselves. We might be willing to bend over backwards to help a close friend, but an acquaintance? Maybe bend over a bit, but not much. We might be willing to help our immediate neighbour, but the guy two doors down? He can handle it. Do we even know the name of the guy three doors down? We might be willing to help out a homeless person that we see all the time in our own neighborhood, but across town? Let his neighborhood help him.
The point I am getting at is that most of us operate under the assumption that those closest to us are more important that those farther away from us. The farther away one gets, the more these people are "othered" or "them-ed". I am not trying to argue that or say that is bad, but what I would like to challenge is the notion that one human life is more important than another.
In the Gospel for today, Jesus has his famous exchange with the Syro-Phoenician woman. To understand why this exchange is so poignant, we must understand the mentality of Judaism during Jesus' time, a mentality that Jesus himself likely ascribed to.
First century Judaism was convinced that they were the chosen people of God. That meant that anyone who was not Jewish was despised by God, and as a consequence, it would seem that a significant number of Jews during Jesus' time also despised anyone who was not Jewish.
So when this woman asks Jesus to heal her daughter, he responds, "It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs".
So while many Christians and commentators attempt to save Jesus in this passage by claiming that he said this with a nudge and a wink, I think the truth is that Jesus was actually responding to her request from a deeply-held belief that he had been raised with: Gentiles were less important than Jews. Jesus is actually saying, "You are like a dog to me, less important and worthy than a person. God's gifts and love are not for you".
The woman knows Jesus feels this way, and so she responds not by defending her dignity or intrinsic worth, but by responding humbly and in an even self-deprecatory way. She says, "Even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs". She is essentially saying, "I might be less important in your opinion, but God still has some love for me".
And here is where I actually consider this passage to be a miracle, the one miracle that happens to Jesus rather than being performed by him: because of her response, Jesus' eyes are opened, his heart is softened and he comes to realize that "the other" is not really "an other" after all. This woman is still a child of God who loves her daughter and is willing to go to any lengths to help her. A Jewish mother or father would do no less.
From hereon in, Jesus message and ministry throughout the rest of the Gospel changes focus. No longer is he preaching and ministering exclusively to the Jews, but his message is opened up for all.
Surely if the Messiah can change his mind, so can we.
Like I said, it is only natural to love those closest to. But my prayer today is that all our hearts may be softened so that we would cease to "other" people, that we would stop "them-ing" people because they have a different religion, skin colour, sexual orientation, etc.
In reality, there is much more that bonds us than separates us. That is something Jesus realized thanks to the Syro-Phoenician woman. May her wisdom and humility pierce all our hearts.