One time Jesus said, “When you throw a party don’t invite the usual suspects – the partners at the firm, your accountant, your mom’s bridge group, your mom…no, when you throw a party go down to the Salvation Army, honk the bus horn and say “if you want to party…climb aboard.”
Another time Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is like a party (notice Jesus loved talking about parties)…and all the invited guests and their plus 1’s never RSVP’d – I mean they had the invitation card, but no one came. So the host threw open the doors and brought in random people just passing by including the beggars and the ragamuffins – all the down n’outers and vagabonds…” None of them had invitation cards, none of them were club members, but they all were dragged into the party.
Can you imagine…you’re just walking down the street with a grocery list in your hand and a song in your head, not really paying attention and then someone grabs you and pulls you into a big room, shoves a drink in your hand, hands you a plate of food, and says “get ready for the toast!”
“The toast!? What or who am I toasting?!” How crazy would that be? I’ve never been to a party like that. Maybe that’s because I went to a Baptist college. But I don’t think many people have gone to a party like that.
Or….maybe we have and we just didn’t know it or even forgot
…Jesus did say that’s what the Kingdom of God is like – it’s for everybody. It seems that entry into the kingdom of God is an event that we find ourselves in the midst of and not something which requires an admissions process.
So if Jesus said all that what is he doing in our story from Mark this morning.
A woman comes before him, and not just any woman – a Syrophoenician woman, a Gentile woman – but that shouldn’t be a big deal, right? Not after we’ve been listening to him teach and confront the whole exclusionary religious system. And, he is in Gentile territory – so he can’t be that surprised, right?
Her daughter is ill, possessed. She begs him to heal her daughter. And Jesus’ response:
Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs.
What? Did you hear that? Jesus called her sick child a dog.
Why? Where’s the compassion? Where’s the Jesus who’s unafraid to cross all those cultural boundaries so the healing love of God can be shared with all? A dog…really?
Now, scholarship is all over the place on this. Some New Testament scholars say, “Well, in the Greek dog is diminutive – like Jesus is calling her “a house pet” and not a wild dog. He’s joking with her – kind of a nudge, nudge, wink, wink encounter.” Other scholarship suggests Jesus is vocalizing the internal voice of the disciples, wrapped up in all their prejudice toward Gentiles and their offense that a Gentile woman would even think of approaching Jesus. And there are others still who believe Jesus, being not just fully God but also fully man is tired, worn out, and wrestling with his own cultural bias.
Ultimately, we don’t know. As CS Mann put it, “We are face to face with something of which in the nature of the case we can know nothing – the human self-consciousness of Jesus.”
We don’t know.
But here’s what really intrigues me. That this story is in Mark’s gospel at all. That it wasn’t left out. It’s included. If you’re composing the narrative of Jesus, wouldn’t there be at least a temptation to omit this story – if for no other reason than it’s a little hard to understand and Jesus comes off looking like a jerk. Wouldn’t there be some pull to just edit this one out.
But there it is. And here we are – still hearing about it.
Which makes me wonder who or what we’re supposed to be paying attention to here. Is it Jesus? Or is it this woman? This woman who might teach us something about the kingdom of God. Could Mark have been so bold in his day and age to have included a story where that kind of woman is the teacher?
Afterall, her response is pretty fantastic.
Jesus said, Let the children be fed first, it is not fair to take the children’s food and feed it to the dogs.
And she says, Yes - but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.
Nowhere in the Gospels does some one verbally spar with Jesus on that level. No Pharisee. No Sadducee. No Scribe. No disciple. Not even Pontius Pilate. Only her.
Look at her. I don’t care if Jesus is joking, being slick, or mean…LOOK AT HER.
This woman, this mother, her tenacity, her wit and intelligence, her understanding in a way that the disciples don’t. LOOK AT HER.
Because for over two thousand years she’s been showing up at our doors saying, “I heard there was a party and everyone is invited. So does that even mean me and my sick little girl? I know I’m a woman. I know I’m a Gentile. I know I’m poor. I know what your people think about me. I know you consider me unclean. So…even me? You said everyone, right? So, how bout it Jesus?”
Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs.
For saying that, Jesus said, you may go – your daughter is healed.
And not only was her daughter healed, and not only do we get to hear her words, but she shows us something about the kingdom of God….which, as far as kingdoms are concerned is rather contrary and upside down. Philosopher John Caputo writes,
The kingdom of God is not a mundane circle, assembly, or club…the conditions of admission to the kingdom are quite unaccountable: the ones who get in are the ones who are (outsiders); on the other hand, the ones who end up left out are the insiders who did not take the invitation to heart.
Another of my favorite philosophers is Marx who once said he’d never want to belong to any club that would have him as a member. That’s Groucho of course…but I bet I scared some of you when I said Marx, huh? There’s something of the kingdom of God in that statement. Because clubs are about club rules and creating a circle of insiders who passed the admissions test.
But the kingdom of God is not a club…it’s an event. It occurs in the event of hospitality, in the event of justice, in the event of reconciliation, in the event of sacrificial love. It is an event all of us can participate in…
And this morning it’s unfolding in our imaginations in the event of an outsider demanding healing for her sick child.
Look at her.
Look at her.
“You said everyone, right?” “How ‘bout it Jesus?”
How ‘bout it St. Andrew’s?