Gay? Bi? Race other than “White?” God Says “Yes!” to All People – Mark 7:24-30 (Read it first!) presented by Pastor Trudy Franzen
This section of scripture is one of the most challenging, because it forces us to re-imagine and re-think all of our thoughts and beliefs about the nature of God and who we think God is.
When I was growing up I was taught this quote from St. Paul, the letter to the Romans, “Jesus is salvation to all who believe, to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile.” Perhaps it was related to the fact that my parents were part of a Messianic Jewish-Christian church.
I understood this to mean that the Jews were God’s chosen people first, and that Jesus had been sent for the salvation of the Jews first and also, if there was time to spare, for the Gentile. God loves everybody, but has his favorites. This story seems at first to exemplify that belief.
I was also taught that God (and Jesus because he was and is God) can read our minds and knows what we are thinking. God knows all things. The essence of God stays the same and God never, ever changes. God cannot sin.
But this story messes with all of that on several levels.
It appears that the woman is able to change Jesus’ mind, about “to the Jew first and also the Gentile.” God can change God’s mind! How can God struggle with Godself to change God’s mind? That sounds so confusing!
So too in other places in scripture, human beings plead with God or God has a change of heart and God changes God’s mind! Well, now that is the first “fly in the ointment.”
The second is that God is not supposed to be racist, but God just called a foreign woman an ugly name. A female dog. We have a special word for that in nearly every language and it doesn’t mean “cute little puppy,” does it!? And God calls her this? Another “fly in the ointment.”
Third, it appears that Jesus is wrong. The woman points out a very important truth, yes. There have always been insiders and outsiders. There have always been “haves and have-nots.” We’ve always been divided by education, race, and economics. There have always been those on top and those treated like dogs on the bottom. There have always been “foreigners” to exclude. Yet, the woman points out there has always been enough for everyone. The “dogs” of society have always been able to somehow survive, eating the crumbs that fall from the tables of the rich to the floor.
There is enough of Jesus for every human being. He doesn’t have to prioritize one people over another because he is enough. He is enough for all. There is no lack of him. And he seems to need her to help him realize this. A clever, sassy human being teaches God something? Scandalous! Impossible! Yet, there it is. There it is.
This woman challenges God: “Jesus, (her plea poses a dare) are you going to move toward love for all people, or are you going to move away from it?”
Her child is a child of the triple whammy. Her child is number one, a child. Not valued in her society. Children were pretty much a bother until they were old enough to work.
Two, her child is female. Female children were more of a bother, because you had to convince someone to marry them and care for them. They could not provide for their families in those days, and they were sometimes married off quite young.
And third, her child was a foreign, female, child. The lowest of the low. The only thing that would have made her lower is disability or illness, and here she is, sick. The woman begs Jesus to heal the lowest of the low, and at first he resists. She must remind him who he is.
As preacher Barbara Brown Taylor says, “God’s purpose is bigger than Jesus imagined. There IS enough of him to go around,” and this woman reminds him of that. Jesus gets schooled by a sassy, clever, foreign, woman.
There are three things to take from this story.
First, be open to setting aside the image of God you have always had in favor of a new image that will lead you to greater love. Does your image of God lead you to more love or less? More judgment or less? More compassion or less? Because chances are, if this god is leading you to exclude people, hate them, judge them, or treat them with distain, this god is probably not the god you really want to follow. This god probably isn’t God at all. Be open to the idea that God might be more mysterious and puzzling than you ever thought before, and some things you think about God might just be wrong.
Second, essayist Debie Thomas suggests, “Be open to the destabilizing wisdom of people who are nothing like you.” Jesus was open to learning from someone entirely different from himself. Jesus allowed someone entirely different from himself lead him to into greater love, and greater compassion. If God can do that, you can, too.
Third, remember that a God worth loving and following and believing in will always move you toward greater love, not away from it. A God worthy of creation will move it toward goodness and flourishing, not away from it. In difficult times, it is hard to see the big picture. It is. But the One True God leads toward healing, goodness, love and compassion. Not away from it.
If God finds that God-self is moving away from love, God self-corrects. We have that in scripture as well. God does change God’s mind. God is open to growth and change and re-orienting God-self toward greater and greater love. God just cannot help it. THAT is the true nature or essence that does not change. The orientation toward love does not change. It is like God has an inner compass the always points to love. In every time and in every place, we constantly need reminding that God creative and redeeming power always leads us to wholeness. We need that for ourselves and for others, too.
When we ourselves face despair or when we see it in others, we can remember that sassy, clever, foreign woman who changed God’s mind. We can remember that God changes God’s mind and does re-orient again and again toward love.
In the words of one Martin Luther, this is most certainly true. Amen.