Old Testament Reading
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all. Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17
2:1 My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For the one who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment. What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Our scripture readings do not always fit together the way the readings for today do. You can see a thread running all the way through. Proverbs tells us that what we do says a lot about who we are, whether we are rich or poor, but particularly those of us who are blessed with more than enough.
The book of James seems to be speaking to how new people in the church are to live and reminding the jewish Christians that, yes, God does care.
If you grew up in the Jewish faith, you learned the Law of Moses, your entire life, doing good works, and doing the best you can, to observe the law.
Then Jesus happens and His birth, life, death, and resurrection, changes everything. All that is required of you is to believe in Him. Suddenly there are all these new people from different faith backgrounds who donâ€™t keep the sabbath, donâ€™t know the rules, and the Jewish Christians might be wondering if God cares about any of that any more. James addresses this issue.
John 8:36 says â€œSo if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.â€ And James doesnâ€™t dispute that. If anything, he expands upon it. There is a central theme running through James and if you read the entire book of James through the filter of this verse, then the picture becomes a little clearer. James 1:22 â€œBut prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.â€
We know we are not saved by works but through faith in Jesus Christ. Faith in Jesus Christ and what He did for us on the cross is what changes us and how we live is to reflect that change. If we go to church every Sunday but we do not love our neighbor as ourselves we are convicted of sin. I look out and I see some of the kindest people I have ever met and yet I know there is not a single one of us that has not had at least a moment when we snapped at someone, or at the very least, not done something for someone else when we had the opportunity. James is telling us that we cannot look at someone else and say they are a sinner. We canâ€™t say I may not be perfect but at least I am not as bad as Jimmy over there (sorry). No, we are all sinners and we all have need of a savior.
Itâ€™s always kind of interesting to me that this kind of text is speaking to the church. I think that is so very important. Because we (the church) are to be salt and light in the world. Jesus draws others to Him but it is our lives that point people to Him or turn people away from Him. Does God need us to accomplish His purpose? No. But God chooses to include us. If God himself chooses to act through humanity, who are we to say this one is worthy or that one is not worthy? Because, none of us are worthy, only through Jesus. Only through Jesus.
Then we come to this text in Mark. I admit that this text gave me fits. We talked about it at Monday morning bible study. The pastorâ€™s commentary said that in the verses before this, Jesus is teaching. In this verse Jesus is doing what He was teaching. I can understand that.
But for me, there is no way of getting around the sound of Jesusâ€™ words. It sounded, well, rude. And that doesnâ€™t fit with Jesus who heals people and loves the little children.
I feel like when we run across a text that kind of jars us, we are supposed to pay attention. I read several commentaries and there are a lot of opinions.
But here is where I ended up and it didnâ€™t come from commentaries. It didnâ€™t come from any smart theologions and it may not be a correct interpretation, but here is where I am.
We are taught that Jesus was both fully human and fully divine.
I have been going for early morning walks around the neighborhood. I put in my ear buds and listen to music and I pray over my neighborhood and sometimes, just enjoy the peace. I wave at people.
I have not able to do my walk for about a week. We had a string of early doctor visits and other things came up but Saturday morning I got up and drank my coffee and because of being out of the habit, I was very tempted to just do some things around the house and skip the walk, but I didnâ€™t.
I passed a man who was edging and I waved and said “your yard looks beautiful!” and continued on my walk. When I got to the bend in the street I turned and started back and the man was still working on his yard. I had the strongest notion that I needed to stop but I kept walking for a bit. But the notion just got stronger so I stopped and turned around. I do not know this man. But he turned off the edger and put his fist out toward me like we would fist bump. Instead of bumping his fist I put my hand out and asked if he would pray with me. He said yes and I put my hand on this strangers arm and we prayed for our world to be healed, for us all to keep our eyes on Jesus. I said amen and we both looked each other in the eye and had a moment. Told each other to have a good day and he went back to edging and I went back to my walking. I finished my walk and got home and told Dale about it. I cried a bit because it has just been an emotional week but it was a good moment.
Now I have to tell you that I have prayed at church, I have prayed before meals at bible study and I have prayed at CR, but to just walk up to someone I donâ€™t knowâ€¦that is a little out of my wheelhouse. I am usually kind of awkward with strangers. I donâ€™t know what to say.
But the part that I want you to notice is that for a moment, I kept walking. God was telling me to stop and I was not stopping. But then I did. My feet were walking on earth. but I think heaven was tapping on my shoulder. I donâ€™t know if that man needed prayer or if God knew I needed prayer. I may have walked off and left him shaking his head about the crazy woman that stopped and prayed. But I donâ€™t think so. He said several Amens. It was such a humbling experience.Â
So I thought about this for the rest of my walk and it hit me that maybe, just maybe, when the Syrophoenician women approached Jesus out of a motherâ€™s fierce desperation to help her child, Jesus was having a human moment. He had been teaching and preaching and healing and He had gone to an area where He might be a little less known. He may have been weary of all the sadness and pain around him. Maybe He needed a minute. Maybe Jesus was learning for the first time that God wanted to expand His plan beyond the children of Israel.
And just maybe Jesus responded in that moment, like we often do, out of His humanity.
Through this woman, God kept tapping on His shoulder.
Because of her determination, Jesus responded. Itâ€™s a sign of His power that He didnâ€™t even need to go to the womanâ€™s house, and by healing this child of a gentile woman, He also set himself up for more problems with the religious leaders. It is also worth mentioning that this woman saw something in Jesus that made her believe that all she needed was a crumb from the table. Just a tiny bit of the healing power from Jesus and that would be enough.
In the second story, Jesus heals a deaf and dumb man. We are not told specifically that this man or his friends were gentiles but the Decapolis region was predominantly gentile so it is quite possible that he was a gentile and even though Jesus instructed the people who witnessed the healing to tell no one, the word spread and because of that encounter there were new gentile believers.
There is a quote from Rachel Held Evans that I love â€œScripture nearly always works on at least three levels. Scripture teaches us, challenges us, encourages us in our relationship with the divine, with our neighbor, and with ourselves.â€
Gentiles were anyone who was not Jewish. They were other. Gentiles are us. Which is kind of odd to think about nowadays. Because we tend to think that we Christians are the norm and anyone who does not believe like us is â€œotherâ€.
What would have happened if Jesus had kept walking? What if Jesus had ignored the tap on His shoulder. Because of that encounter, healing took place, The gospel was spread. People were changed.
James reminds us that if we say we are followers of Jesus Christ, how we live and how we treat each other matters. He tells us that the best and truest response to the cross, is to love our neighbor as ourselves, no matter what they look like, no matter what they have, or don’t have. Proverbs tells us that those who are generous are blessed!
How often do we keep walking? How often do we ignore that little tap on the shoulder or nudge to do something that lets a little of the Kingdom, or “Kin-dom” peek through into our world?
What might happen if we listened? What might happen if we paid attention to that tap on the shoulder, even when it seems that God is asking us to do something that seems weird or makes us uncomfortable, because often there is where a blessing happens. When we draw near to God, He draws near to us! For me, the worst that could happen is someone will think I am a crazy lady and if you know me, you know that is not really a surprise. Amen? Amen!