This is the second sermon in our series on the book of James
The gospel story for this Sunday is the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30. Jesus is in Tyre. While there, he does something rather un-Jesus-like. He’s pretty rude to someone seeking his help.
He’s in Tyre for a little down time – time to rest and recharge. And this woman, this GENTILE woman seeks him out to heal her daughter.
Tyre was outside of Judea, a in a land of Gentiles. Not only that, but the city of Tyre was a wealthy city. The residents of Tyre were living the good life – one blogger pal likens it to ‘living on the right side of the tracks.’[i]
Was the wealth and status of the woman what got to Jesus? He’s in this Gentile land to get away from the crowds that follow him back home. He’s tired and worn out. He’s seeking some rest from the endless job of loving his neighbors - the Jewish peasants, poor, sick, without an advocate, without anyone who will stand up for them.
But that’s what Jesus does. He stands up for them. He understands their needs and hopes and fears and dreams. He is busy doing God’s will, caring for the poor and widows and orphans and the most vulnerable of society.
This woman is everything his people are not.
And his first response is to send this rich, non-Jewish woman away, with a rude insult. He equates her request for healing to asking that the food meant for the master’s children be given to the dogs. It’s unbelievably rude – yes, Jesus calls her a dog.
His human nature gets the best of him.
Jesus does exactly what James is talking about – except that in Jesus’ case, it’s the rich getting shoved to the side in favor of the poor.
James is writing to people who don’t have a problem showing honor and respect to others – as long as that person is rich. It’s the poor person who will get pushed aside, relegated to the corner – getting the crumbs, so to speak.
James calls them on it. Reminds them about God’s love for the poor. James takes it a step further and reminds them that the rich person they honor may just be the same person who will have them in court later in the week.
Sometimes, this passage gets interpreted to mean, “Treat the poor better than you treat the rich.”
James never says that.
James says to not treat the poor less honorably than you would someone who is rich.
Treat the rich with honor. Treat the poor with honor, too. Treat everyone with the honor and dignity deserved by a beloved child of God – which they are.
James calls us out on our partisanship.
No dividing people into ‘in’ and ‘out.’
None of the putting people into categories that define some as good or bad, worthy or unworthy:
o rich vs. poor
o Jew vs. Gentile (Greek)
o slave vs. free
o man vs. woman
o old vs. young
o white vs. black
o pretty vs. plain
o rural vs. urban
o American vs. immigrant
o Red vs. blue
Or any of the myriad other ways we push people to the edges.
We all do this – dismiss the “other.” The one not like us. We treat them as if they were less than ourselves. We sometimes turn them into villains, or at least into someone with a suspicious character.
It’s almost a primal drive – to identify those who are ‘in’ and those who are ‘out.’
James asks, “Is that the way for someone who says he or she belongs to God to act?
Jesus answers, “No. It’s not.”
The woman takes Jesus’ insult and turns it into a pun, rephrasing her request – “Even the dog eat the crumbs from the table, the leftovers. Don’t you have a leftover for me and my daughter?”
Something in her response makes Jesus stop,and look at her,
look beyond the categories to see,
not the ‘other,’
but a child of God in need.
Jesus does heal the woman’s daughter, and then goes on (in the rest of the assigned text for this Sunday, Mark 7:31-37) to yet another Gentile region and heals a deaf man there.
Because - in the Kingdom of God, everyone belongs.
Everyone is in the ‘in’ group – those who God loves.
Here’s the hard part:– everyone is in “the beloved child of God” group, even those you think don’t deserve it.
James teaches us that if you say you have faith, if you say you love God, then there’s only one rule:
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Let’s go back to the story this ‘royal law of love’ is most often associated with.
If you remember the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), an expert in religious law was questioning Jesus the Torah. Jesus asked him what the law said, and the expert replied: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself."
Apparently loving God is the easy part. Loving the neighbor is harder.
When Jesus said that was all he needed, the expert was not happy. He could love God ok, but wanted to clarify who was his neighbor. Just who did he have to love? Basically, he wanted to divide people into categories – who’s in and who’s out, neighbor or not-neighbor.
In telling the story of the ‘other’, the Samaritan, who was the only one to rescue the injured man, Jesus made it clear that in God’s kingdom, everyone is neighbor.
We know the Samaritan is the neighbor to the injured man, because he is the one who showed mercy. He acted in love, lived his faith.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
It’s hard sometimes –
to get beyond our desire to put people in neat pigeon holes,
to treat everyone with dignity, not because of their power or wealth or beauty but because they are created in the image of God and treat all with dignity,
to love the other, especially if the other seems unlovable,
to stand with God in favor of the poor and oppressed and vulnerable,
to meet the need of those who are hungry, or sick, or lonely or…
But that’s where God empowers us – with the seed of God’s word implanted in our hearts in baptism. The seed grows in our lives nourished each week when we hear God’s Word proclaimed and when we come to God’s table. This plant that is our new saint nature growing in us pushes out those desires as we confess our partiality – those times we don’t love our neighbor as ourselves, making room for God’s love to flow through us.
It’s a whole lot easier to love the neighbor with God’s love.
James says “So, you have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ…ok…now what? What difference does God’s grace make in your life? Are you loving your neighbor as yourself? Show me!”