My Scripture today comes from Mark 7:24-37- You know we humans are a strange breed. Why on earth do we feel as if we have to discriminate between others based on where the others were born, or where they live, or what color their skin is, or if they are rich or poor, a Southerner or a Yankee, blue collar or white collar, English speaking or Spanish speaking...or if they just have a different accent based on where they have been raised...? A former student of mine told me a story about how, on his first day of pre-school, he met his very first black person...another little kid. When Jim’s mother came to pick him up from school that day, Jim wanted to show his mom this neat and fantastic thing he had discovered. "Come here mom. Come here. This is Johnny. Feel his hair. Isn’t it neat?!" How wonderfully different our world would be if we were to see the differences between us as fascinating and neat...as they are seen through a child’s eyes...instead of threatening or not as good! In our Epistle Lesson for this morning, James the brother of Jesus tells us "as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism...If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ’Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right. But if you show favoritism, you sin." We have the "royal law," which refers to the whole law in the Old Testament and the New Testament as it is interpreted by Jesus...the Author of Life. It is summed up in the commandment to love your neighbor. James then takes it one step further...to show partiality is to sin.. ...I wonder if this is true of showing partiality to the poor as well? I think so.
I think this is radical stuff that says: ’show no partiality toward anyone.’ God does not show favoritism and neither should we! Everyone we see, everyone we look at, everyone we meet...is to be Jesus to us...whether they are dressed in rags, or in the most expensive designer clothes. For all are sinners in need of God’s love, mercy, kindness and salvation. A pastor was once looking through some old church records of a Norwegian congregation which listed it’s membership as: "52 souls and 2 Swedes." And in a sense, this is the kind of thing Jesus was facing in our Gospel Lesson for this morning. Remember last week’s sermon. Jesus was in a discussion about what is ’clean’ and what is ’unclean.’ Well, the Jews certainly thought that any foreigners were to be deemed ’unclean.’ And here, again, Jesus shows us that there is quite a contrast between the "commands of God" and the "traditions of men" as to what is clean and unclean...
It is "from within"-- what comes "out of men’s hearts"-- that make a person ’clean’ or ’unclean’. God does not judge people as people judge people. God looks at the inside...we, often tend to look at the outside. What does God see when He looks at the inside of us? Are we clean or unclean? Anyhow, Jesus is approached by a woman "whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit." And this woman came and fell at Jesus’ feet. "She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter." The Gospel tells us that this woman was a Greek, born in Syria Phoenicia. She was a Gentile. She was not of the Jewish race. She was not thought of as one of God’s ’chosen’ people. She was not a natural descendant of Abraham. Now the Gentiles were sometimes described as ’dogs’ by the Jews. This was quite an insult. We have the equivalent of this insult in our culture...the meaning of which is a female dog.
Now, Jesus says a very strange thing to this Syrophoenician woman. He says: "First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs." Israel felt as if they were God’s children...and that everyone else were dogs. So, Jesus, in teaching us another lesson about God and His kingdom, says what He knows the people around Him are thinking. They are thinking that this woman is a dog, and she has no right to ask for the healing of her daughter...or for anything for that matter! And by making this reference...Jesus is making a distinction between the claims of the children of Israel and what Christ’s ministry is really about.
Jesus was often confronted by the self-righteous, by those who thought that they were better than everyone else simply because of their race. For example, in John chapter 8, Jesus was speaking to a group of Jews...or a group of people who were natural descendants of Abraham... "Abraham is our father," the people shouted to Jesus. And Jesus’ reply: "If you were Abraham’s children then you would do the things Abraham did. As it is, you are determined to kill me, a man who has told you the truth that I heard from God. You are doing the things your own father does.’ ’We are not illegitimate children,’ they protested. ’The only father we have is God himself.’ Jesus said to them, ’If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here...You belong to your father, the devil, and you want to carry out your father’s desire.’"
So here we are brought back again to the distinction between what is ’clean’ and what is ’unclean.’ The natural descendents of Abraham thought that they were ’clean’...but Jesus is telling those who do not believe in Him...natural descendants or not...that they are ’unclean’...that they are in fact children of the devil...for from within their hearts come the desires of the devil...not the desires that come from God. They just didn’t get it. Abraham was justified by faith when God tested him by asking him to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. And the Lord declared to Abraham: "I will surely bless you and make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore." This was because Abraham believed God.
Faith is the key for God...not our flesh, not the color of our skin, not where we were born. The real descendants of Abraham are those who believe! It is a spiritual ancestry...not a natural one.
In the first chapter of John we are told that all who receive Jesus Christ, to those who believe in His name He gives the right to become children of God-children born not of natural descent (as the natural descendents of Abraham felt), nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God." Everyone who is born of God, or born again through faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior are Abraham’s descendants. "Consider Abraham:", Paul tells the Galatians, "He believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Understand, then, that those who believe are children of Abraham...
...You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." Wow! How radical is that. Our God is truly an awesome God! He is big, really big! Much too big to put in a box! Much too big to keep for ourselves and ourselves only!!! "For God so loved the world..."...not just the white man, not just the black man, not just the red man, not just the rich man, not just the poor man...the whole world!!! The Syrophoenician woman wanted Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter...and she wasn’t about to let the prejudices of those around her get in her way! She had a persistence and ingenuity brought about by her love for her daughter. She was not about to let anything stop her. She had a love that would not let her child go! Suppose that all Christian parents and all churches had the same persistence and ingenuity in bringing their children the saving influence of Christ! If parents had something of this woman’s relentless determination to bring into their homes Jesus’ power, His power to heal, His power to save...how much smaller would the number be of children who drift away? If a church felt the same way about bringing Jesus’ influence into the lives of all its children, all the children in the community...what a changed church and community there would be!!! I’m talking about the love that never gives up! "First let the children eat all they want," Jesus told her, "for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs. Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ’but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he told her, ’for such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone." It would be an awkward name for a church-"The Syrophoenician Woman United Methodist Church"! But a church marked by her spirit would be a joy to God and a saving power in the world! The woman clearly understood where Jesus was coming from... ...and she neatly turned the discrimination of the Jews for the Gentiles to her advantage... ...the crumbs dropped by the children, after all, are intended for the dogs! If the dogs eat the crumbs under the table, they are fed at the same time as the children!!!
Jesus did not just come to save the children of Israel...the natural descendants of Abraham...He came to save anyone who would believe!!! The woman’s interpretation of Jesus’ statement delighted Him! It bore witness both to her humility and her faith in His love for all humankind...and His power to overcome evil!...even the evil of prejudice! There are no foreigners in God’s sight. God has compassion for all who are in need of Him...and all are! We are to see Jesus in the face of every man, woman and child...for God created every human being in His image...to love and be loved. We must continually pray to God that we too, like Jesus, will be able to look past the prejudices of our culture and love everyone equally---just because God loves them and died for them! Everyone of every race, sex, nationality, and class is in need of the saving grace of Jesus Christ...and let’s face it...we live in a very diverse community! We must find a way to overcome any and all racial barriers... ...we must find ways, as a congregation, to reach out with the gospel of Jesus Christ to others around us whether they look like us or not!!! We all must call on the name of Jesus Christ in order to be saved!!! As humans, we are a strange breed...because we live in an evil and fallen world. As Christians, we are a strange breed...because we live in an evil and fallen world... ...but we are not to live as part of this evil and fallen world! We are in this world...but through faith in Jesus Christ...we are no longer of this world… ...we are of the kingdom of God...and in God’s Kingdom...there are no foreigners!