You know like many, I am surprised when people get angry at me for suggesting that Jesus life was one of growing and learning as well as teaching during his ministry. From our reading of scripture we can see that there is a common misconception that Jesus dropped fully enlightened and educated into that manger at Bethlehem. I don’t think so, and I believe it isn’t helpful for our understanding of Jesus to think this. The life of Jesus makes the most sense to me as incarnation that is God with us. This is especially so when we allow the humanity of Jesus our saviour to shine through. Often I have to remind myself that Jesus was crucified, not for being too holy but for being too human.
Jesus challenged all around him in the way he lived and the way expressed in all he did. God’s call to us – Jesus was the example of the life God wanted us to live out. His companionships and engagements with the marginalised are what scandalised him in the eyes of the religious establishment. In this Sunday’s Gospel scripture from Mark 7 we can see Jesus converted from the programmed cultural bias against Syrophoenicians by a desperate woman. And I might add this tells me more about the nature of God than any puritanical sermon.
In the epistle, James pleads with his hearers to show their faith in acts of kindness. This appeal is a continuation of what Jesus did both with the Syrophoenician woman and then later in the Decapolis with the deaf man who had a speech impediment. Every encounter that Jesus had with suffering shaped him and the sufferer, and a synergy of healing and salvation was the result. I find it challenging and mind-blowing that Jesus’ appeal of “Open up” follows directly after he has been challenged himself to be open to the needs of the desperate Syrophoenician.
When we recoil and balk at the challenge of Jesus’ words, two things happen. First, we challenge the easy assumption that Jesus was always perfect, in lieu of an appreciation of how our scripture in the Synoptic Gospels speak of Jesus more dynamically. They speak of a growing in wisdom while growing in stature, hungering and thirsting, getting weary or frustrated. In this scripture we have a place where Jesus outgrows prejudices that were part of his social fabric.
Second, the woman of this story reveals how suffering can produce a kind of defiant faith. Defiant faith cries out in horror at the suffering of others. Defiant faith is undeterred by restrictive social constructs and demands a loving God to respond to suffering. I ponder how we seem to miss the suffering around us and fail to cry out in horror especially as we watch the deaths of refugees and watch their plight in our news. Jesus grows into that kind of love in this story.
Of course in Australia our government does not want us, or is unwilling to allow us to face the horror and the suffering of those trying to reach our shores. That may mean like Jesus we might love them and try to care for them. We are denied the ability to hear God’s call in amongst this pain and suffering and be able to respond to the situation of these people. And yet if we could see what was happening and open our hearts, Jesus could grow into that kind of love in this story. I leave you to reflect on how we treat the rest of God’s creation and find hopefully a path to make the changes needed.
It is also not clear to whom Jesus directed the prayer of “Ephphatha.” Was he addressing the man’s deaf ears or was he, looking at heaven, sharing with his parent in the divine domain his realisation that heaven’s gates are wider than even he had imagined? But remember this the promise is that no one will be excluded if we also can be opened by the words and touch of Jesus.