Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost / September 6, 2009 / Rev. Carol H. Kniseley
Text: Mark 7: 24 – 30 / Title: Lines in the Sand / Resurrection Lutheran Church
Yesterday, we had an unannounced visitor at our door. Having just let our dog, Bailey, downstairs to go out, I noticed a dark figure just standing at the front door. He stood about two feet tall…had coal black hair…and two pointy ears. Well I knew right away it wasn’t Pastor Jim (which was a good thing) but instead was the Black Lab from down the street named Pepper. There he stood breathing heavily on the glass pane as he looked in with expectant eyes. He wanted in…which wouldn’t have been a problem except for the fact that he had been swimming in the creek and was covered with mud. He was hot…he was tired…and he was in need of a cool drink of water.
I have to say, at this point, I believed that we were both much smarter than a dog. So...being the dog lovers that we are, we decided to just barely open the door just enough to push a bowl of water onto the front porch. What we didn’t anticipate was that Pepper had been taught that once a door was opened (no matter how small the space) it became an invitation for play. Not only did he bolt through the opening, pushing the door wide open…he made a bee-line for Bailey’s food bowl! Snatching a mouth full of nibbles with Pastor Jim following close behind even managing to snatch up some Milk-Bones before bounding out the door, he brushed by each of us…leaving mud on both of our pants. I don’t know which one of us was more dumbfounded. To be outwitted by a “dog” is a really hard pill to swallow…and yet.
I have no doubt, that Jesus was brought up…like each one of us…believing certain things to be true. One for sure being that ‘to remain clean’…one simply had to stay clear of those “things” labeled: “unclean”. No problem. Stay away from “unclean” food…”unclean” practices…and especially “unclean” people. In fact, Jesus had come to believe that his ministry was not to be wasted on the “unclean” of this world: i.e. the Gentiles…which, by the way, included every single person who was not a Jew. That, dear friends, would include you…and me.
Given what I have just stated, today’s story raises a number of questions for us. First of all, why did Jesus choose to travel to an area that he undoubtedly knew had “unclean” people? Granted he was trying to get some much needed rest in order to recharge his battery…but to go so far out of his way…really doesn’t make much sense. At best it allowed him to bump into folks that he wouldn’t ordinarily see. And according to Mark’s Gospel…(and Matthew tells the same story)…that is exactly what happened.
Whatever “she” had heard…was enough to send her to her knees once she eyeballed Jesus for herself. We know only that she was a Gentile, a non-believer, whose little girl was said to have a demon. Her posturing or bowing down in front of Jesus is really a sign of submission…to his authority. Notice on the front cover of our bulletin how Jesus responds to her. His posture says it all. Initially he wants nothing to do with this so called “outsider” of the faith. His actions indicate that he has learned his lessons well and doesn’t think twice about closing his mind to her request…”believing” that he is doing the right thing. Try putting yourself in the place of this woman…as she hears Jesus say:
‘Let the children be fed first, for it isn’t fair…to take the children’s food…and throw it to the dogs.’
We all know that Jesus isn’t literally talking about eating food. What he said sounds harsh. It sounds degrading…and yet, isn’t he just repeating what he’s always been taught to believe? The assumption, that you really do have to draw the line somewhere…or else everything is up for grabs. Like Pepper, who saw a crack in the door and decided now was his chance…the woman decided to take a leap of faith all on her own. Reading from another NIV translation, one that I believe hits closer to home, she replied:
‘Yes, Lord…but…even the dogs under the table…eat the children’s crumbs.’
At that very moment, something in Jesus snaps…begins to dissolve. Like a pop-sicle left out in the sun, his anger and hardened stance begins to find softer ground on which to stand. What happened, was the line he had drawn between himself and this woman had simply disappeared. The age old boundary lines no longer came into play. And Jesus himself began to realize that because of God’s unconditional love…not one person can be considered ‘off limits’…unclean…untouchable…even undesirable in the sight of God. What Jesus had come to realize was that his very posture must now reflect the all encompassing love of God, not just for those in the family…but for those who have been kept at a distance…and for much too long a time.
No doubt, changing one’s posture can even be painful…as it was for Jesus to hear an ‘outsider’ call him “Lord”…when those in his own family would not. Imagine how painful it was for him to step far beyond generations of ‘tradition’ and long held truisms…in order to respond to her faith in him. Now imagine how earth-shattering it seems for anyone to step over the boundaries we have erected in the name of self protection…in order to heed a call to love one’s neighbor…any neighbor…as one’s self.
Drawing lines in the sand is always risky business…not to mention opening doors to a stranger in need. Yet, I have come to believe…that with Jesus as our model…we are called to step over the lines we have drawn for ourselves. Not because we have to. Not because we ought to. And not even because we want to. But…because we have come to believe…that it is God’s own self who waits for us…on the other side. May our postures toward one another now reflect what we believe. Amen.