HUMAN AND DIVINE - A SERMON ON MARK 7:24-37 - FR. TONY MOON, SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY EPISCOPAL CHURCH, OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 05, 2021
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
In this morning’s Gospel reading, we hear two distinct miracle stories—stories of Jesus healing a woman’s daughter of a demon-possessed spirit, and a story of Jesus healing a man who could not hear or speak plainly.
This first story is often perceived as portraying Jesus as definitely more human than divine. This passage leaves us feeling uncomfortable. Jesus appears to be both inhospitable and biased against people from other cultures—after all, Jesus just implied that this woman was a gentile dog while suggesting that he is there to serve only the Jewish people. Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first.” Why does this text put Jesus in such a bad light? His mistreatment of the Syrophoenician woman cannot easily be explained away. Was Jesus being a Jewish exceptionalist—seeing himself as only there to serve Jewish people? Or was he just tired, another all-too-human quality?
In essence, as Jesus states, ‘it is not fair to take what is intended for his people and throw it to the gentiles,’ this woman’s humble reply extends Jesus’ riddle rather than opposing it. She answers “even the dogs must eat the children’s crumbs” or “Give me any small portion.”
This exchange is often misunderstood as this woman correcting a naïve and biased Jesus. It is misunderstood that she teaches Jesus that he is not in the world only to serve and save the Jewish people, but he is here for everyone.
Since we know that Jesus really is human and really is divine, and since we know that Jesus is in unity with God, is God—since we know that Jesus is without sin, and even though we know that Jesus grew up in a culture riddled with biases and prejudices, we also know that Jesus was in that culture but he was not of that culture—in other words, he lived in his culture but was not a product of it. As a divine being, he would not have been subject to this sin of xenophobic pride.
Instead, it appears that this is a story about Jesus’ teaching. This is a theological bait and switch, in which Jesus mimics the racism of his contemporaries, and then pulls the rug out from under them by healing this Syrophoenician woman’s daughter. Jesus was teaching his student, this woman, to mount a victorious argument against the foil of his own reluctance. As a master teacher, he serves this woman as a “devil’s advocate” as it were, and is not disappointed to be defeated in this argument by her. As a result, we become aware of the problem with Jewish-Gentile relations and the important step Jesus took to overcome it. As a result, the healing of Jewish-Gentile relations begins first, and then this woman’s daughter was healed in an instant. The little girl is found lying on her bed when her mother arrived home.
Rather than a reckless show of xenophobia, quite the contrary, Jesus was calling others to transcend cultural pride and to treat others with compassion and caring.
Compassion and caring are also shown on a personal level in this second healing story, when Jesus removes the man with impaired hearing and speech, and leads him away from a crowd of onlookers, shielding this man from embarrassment. It’s easy for me to imagine the thing that sticks out most in this story for most of us is that Jesus uses his spit to heal this man’s infirmities. But, know that there are other references in the Gospels of Jesus doing this, and come to find out, it has been a practice in various cultures through the ages. This is actually considered one of the most intimate acts of healing. Jesus, of course, did not dismiss this man because of his physical affliction, but healed him. Our reading from the Book of James cautions us not to make distinctions, judging others based on their looks, level of wealth, health or abilities. Jesus not only does not judge, but elevates the person.
In addition to this physical act of putting his fingers in his ears and mouth, Jesus looks to heaven, indicating that he is asking God’s favor on this man, he speaks the word for the man’s ears to be opened, and we are told, “immediately his ears were opened, his tongue released and he spoke plainly.” Jesus is not simply giving this man something at the physical level, but is opening him up spiritually, as well.
On the surface, we read two stories about Jesus healing two people: A child possessed, and a man unable to hear or speak. Digging deeper, we understand that there is a correction of a culture, and that there is teaching in these stories about treating others—all others—regardless of wealth or physical appearance, with kindness and compassion. And these are not just stories for those characters immediately involved in the story; they are not just stories for the first hearers. They are stories for us all, Christ followers through the ages, to glean and learn from. They set examples for us, examples for molding our thinking and our behavior into that which imitates Christ. This is not just a mental or psychological re-forming of our natural human tendencies, but we must know and remember that the Holy Spirit dwells within us and enables us to love as Jesus loves. When we invite the Holy Spirit to take part in our reforming, the Holy Spirit responds.
Jesus did not engage the other by only looking at their surface appearance. He always looked deeper. Jesus was always willing to see beyond the leprosy, beyond the deafness, beyond the hemorrhaging or paralysis, beyond the sinfulness or criminality—Jesus was willing to see even beyond death. Jesus looked within a person to see a person’s faith, and to see what was to be healed. Today’s lesson from the Book of James and the healing stories of our Gospel call us to see what Jesus sees—the interior of others, their infirmity, their limitations and struggles, as well as their heart for God. Seeing as Jesus sees, moves us from exterior to interior, from solely seeing looks and nationality, health, wealth, or poverty.
If your retort sounds like, “Well, yeah… but he’s JESUS! I can’t be like that!” Let’s remember that Jesus was both human and divine. And, guess what? As sons and daughters of our Lord, so are we! We all embody both human and divine since we have been created in the image and likeness of God. The divinity that resides within us can be remembered when we recall the words of Jesuit, Teilhard de Chardin, “We are not simply human beings having a spiritual experience, but we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” If Jesus, no less, can mistakenly be depicted as more human than divine, maybe we can mistakenly be seen in that same way, too! Amen.
~Fr. Tony Moon, Saint Augustine of Canterbury Episcopal Church, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
 Epperly, B. (2021). The adventurous lectionary.
 Paul, Ian (August 31, 2021.) Psephizo: Scholarship serving ministry. Did the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7 teach Jesus not to be racist?
 Epperly, B. (2021). The adventurous lectionary
 Schwager, D. (September, 2021). He has done all things well.
Various Clergy and members of St. Augustine contribute to authoring the blog on a variety of topics.