Even Jesus can Learn!

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September 5, 2021

Mark 7:24-37

Being human can be a challenge. Many times, we are ruled by our emotions and many times this is good, however, sometimes we let our emotions get the better of us. One of those emotions which can run rampant is anger. Now, there is a difference from righteous anger, such as around a social justice concern, and the anger which we spill onto others in spite.

Now, I like to think of myself as a mellow, laid-back person. However, I can count a few times when I have let my anger get the best of me. Each of these times are etched in my brain. The first was in my position as a manager at a grocery store and I got quite upset and angry with one of my employees on the frontend of the store. It was totally inappropriate, and she would teach me later that in front of everyone is not an appropriate place to call out concerns. She was humiliated and customers were concerned for her. I learned a lesson and never did that again. Another time was while I was in seminary. I was working on homework in my study nook by a window in our apartment and I looked outside to see one of the older boys picking my son up by the front of his shirt in a forceful way. I am not sure if I had ever traveled down the stairs that fast to go outside and investigate. I let my anger go as my son was fearful of what the older kid was going to do. I am sure my voice was loud enough for the entire complex to hear.  These were not my best moments and I learned from each of them.

I bring up anger because I believe we witness a little of that from Jesus in our gospel lesson. First, we are told he entered a house upon returning to the region of Tyre and he did not want anyone to know he was there. He wanted some rest for both himself and the disciples. They had been traveling all over Palestine and they now wanted the chance to recuperate. However, if we have learned anything, it seems Jesus cannot escape being noticed no matter how well he tries to evade everyone. I picture him about ready to sit down to have dinner and he hears a knocking on the door. It was the Syrophoenician woman, and she requests healing for her daughter who was possessed by a demon.

There is a problem here though. While I am sure Jesus was in a Jewish household, the region of Tyre was not all Jewish. It would have been culturally unacceptable for Jesus to interact with the woman. She shouldn’t have even come asking for help. I think in his tiredness and being perturbed he could not get rest; he goes off on the woman. He tells her the dogs do not get to eat before the children. Really, Jesus just called this woman and her daughter dogs?

Scripture can surprise us. We are expecting one thing and get something completely different. In the story of the healing of the Syrophoenician woman, it is okay to be surprised by Jesus’ demeanor. The language Jesus uses would have been familiar, although not appropriate today, to the disciples and his hosts. The children in which he refers are the Jewish people. The dogs are the gentiles, or non-Jewish people. It was not appropriate for the Jews and the Gentiles to interact in such a way. There was an imaginary boundary in place. A boundary which had been placed by human notions. While Jesus refutes the Syrophoenician woman, she persists. She reminds Jesus of his mission by her words that even the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the children. She knows her place in the culture and yet she has a strong desire for her daughter to be healed. She reveals a wisdom which Jesus is looking for in his followers. Her faith is unbound, and she has no doubt Jesus is the Christ. It is a great counter story to last week’s lesson of Jesus being concerned about those things coming out of the heart and defiling others. The Syrophoenician woman’s heart reveals her true faith.

Even Jesus can still learn. In this lesson, Jesus has learned from his misspoken words. This is a great reminder that Jesus is also human and gets tired and can get snippy. She reminds him of his call of compassion and mercy as he travels the countryside. It is a call which should extend to all Christians today. However, we too are still learning. We continue to erect those boundaries which separate us from others. It may be a literal physical barrier or one which we have conjured in our minds and culture. Wherever we feel someone is different from us we have erected boundaries. Those boundaries could be around race, ableness, gender, sexuality, religion, ethnicity, tradition, political affiliation, etc. You name it, humans have a tendency to separate. Humans become protective of their territories, not acknowledging it is all God’s.

However, Jesus reminds us that we are not called to create borders or boundaries. We are not called to divide. Jesus has come to erase any boundaries which have been established. Jesus taught us last week all food is clean. This week Jesus teaches us all people are clean. No one is excluded from the love of God. God has compassion and mercy for all of creation. This is what the kingdom of God looks like, and that kingdom has already begun. We are amid it and sometimes we must be bold and persistent like the Syrophoenician woman in what we are asking for. In the kingdom we are invited to be open. To borrow from our siblings in the United Methodist Church, we can learn from their tagline: Open Hearts, Open minds, Open Doors. In it we hear an invitation to learning. Keep your heart and minds open to the word of God, not only in scripture but in creation around you. Doing so by keeping your door open to all. These are words we could live by.

We never stop learning. Jesus is a great example of continued education as he learns from the Syrophoenician woman. We can learn every day from the people and places we encounter, by what we watch, by what we read, and so much more. And while Jesus learns, we witness a persistence in the words of the Syrophoenician woman. Her desire is for her daughter to be cured and she has faith Jesus is the one who can do it. She initiates the breaking down of boundaries through her wisdom. Jesus is quickly reminded of his mission and heals her daughter from a distance as boundaries are erased and love is shared. May you experience the love of God as it knocks down any walls or boundaries you have established or have been erected to deter you.

By Alex Steward

I am a husband, father, and pastor within the ELCA. I did not grow up in the church and thus come at this pastoring thing with an unique perspective.

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