After 5 weeks in John’s Bread of Life Discourse, the RCL dropped us back into Mark’s Gospel in a very labored way (Get it, Labor Day Weekend?). Bits and pieces of Mark 7 that all dealt with religion as an institution full of rules and regulations instead of a relationship with the Most High God. In my preparation for last Sunday’s sermon, many commentators suggested that the preacher skip the chance to preach on the lesson from Mark and instead wait until this coming Sunday to dive back into the rapid pace of Mark’s Gospel narrative.
I assume that those who suggested this hadn’t actually read ahead to the lection for Proper 18B because, quite frankly, this set of reading from Mark 7 aren’t any easier to deal with. The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman might be one of the hardest passages in all of Scripture. Here we have Jesus, the Messiah, the Good Shepherd, calling this desperate woman a dog. Not a puppy, like some will explain it away, but a mangy mut that begs at the master’s table. This isn’t exactly the way we like to picture our Lord and Savior, but there it is.
The preacher might hope that the RCL has done him or her a favor by not taking this story in isolation. Instead, it is the first half of two encounters between a tired Jesus and a needy person in the land of the Gentiles. Maybe the congregation will forget the whole dog issue when they hear what Jesus does in the second story. Here, the crowd brings Jesus a man who was deaf and had an impediment in his speech and “begs that he might lay hands on him.” Jesus takes the man aside, and does much more than “lay hands on him,” and instead heals him putting his fingers in the man’s ears, then spitting and touching the man’s tongue, and sighing “Ephphatha” toward heaven. This too isn’t exactly the way we want Jesus to be marketed.
But this is the Jesus we have in Mark 7:24-37: a down and dirty Jesus who is living fully into his Incarnation. We often forget, amid images of a clean-faced, bright-eyed, smiling Jesus that he was a human being who got tired, frustrated, hot, smelly, dirty, and, on occasion, ornery. And he redeemed every bit of the messiness of human existence.
For a second week in a row, the RCL probably hasn’t given us the best place to re-enter Mark, but it is what we’ve got. In the Incarnation, God got down and dirty with us, and we are called to do the same. I’m guessing that’ll preach.