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He Has Done Everything Well
Series: The Gospel According to Mark
Leader: Rev. David Thomas
Scripture: Mark 4:24-37
Date: May 15th, 2022
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I’m going, to begin with the ending here, which is really good news for those of us who are asking the question “What does it mean to follow the crucified and risen Jesus of Nazareth?”  Here it is.  “He has done everything well.”  Hold onto that, particularly when things get difficult.  We’re looking again at two stories this morning and the first one is difficult.  I was talking about it with someone recently and brought up the fact that our walk with Jesus can be a struggle.  We may struggle with things, question things, wonder about things.  We can be obsessed with the question “Why?”  Why did this happen?  Recently there were two unprovoked assaults on the TTC.  Watching news reports at the time, I noticed that people were asking “How could a person do such a thing?”  Nobody was talking about the mental health issues and questions around both assaults.  The “Why?” question was going unanswered and it might always go unanswered. 

Our “Why?” questions about God might also go unanswered.  The question for us is “Are we ok with that?”  Are we ok with a story in which Jesus seems to give a rather brutal answer?  Commentators have looked at this first story and talked about the twinkle that must have been in Jesus’ eye, or the gentle way in which he must have said these things, or the fact that he’s using the diminutive of dog (so it’s more like puppy) like this makes it easier to take.  Jesus answers in what we might consider a rather brutal fashion.  Sometimes God answers us in what we might consider a brutal fashion when we bring our deepest needs to God.    

Are we going to be ok with that?  It is not for nothing that Jacob’s name was changed to “He struggles with God.”  The struggle is real.  What is the good and fitting and proper response on our part in the struggle?  We talked at Easter about going back to Galilee and finding restoration and renewal there.  He has done everything well.  Let’s go back to Galilee and meet Jesus there. 

In this case, let us go to Tyre and meet him along with this unnamed woman.  Jesus heads north into Gentile territory in what is modern-day Syria.  Tyre and Sidon.  Jesus is crossing boundaries figuratively and literally.  We don’t know why he went.  It may be he wanted to rest in a place where he would not be as well known.  Yet he could not escape notice.

“…but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.”  The woman’s daughter was in the grip of something that was beyond her control.  In Mark’s gospel, Jesus’ followers are at times not to be taken as examples of faith – slow to understand, quick to criticize, quick to judge, as we are.  Here though we have a woman who is an example of faith.  One of the little people as she’s been called.  Thank God for the so-called little people who have been around us and are around us now as examples of great faith.  She holds a position of relentless dependence on Jesus.  “Lord help us to be relentlessly dependent on you.” May this be our prayer.  She doesn’t make any presumptions. She doesn’t make any claim on Jesus.  Matthew records her plea as this – “Lord help me.”  Surely this is one of the most simple and most profound prayers there are. She is persistent.  Nevertheless, she persisted.  She throws herself at Jesus’ feet in a gesture of both repentance and sorrow.  She doesn’t presume that she has to do something or promise something to get the help that she needs.  She doesn’t presume that she has to say the right words in the proper order. She simply comes to the one who does all things well.

Who gives her an answer that might be considered unexpected at best, brutal at worst.  “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  Jesus is speaking in a kind of parable here of salvation history, or of how God was accomplishing the saving/delivering/healing/restoring of all things.  This was being done through the nation of Israel (as had been promised to Abraham) in the person of Jesus who would save and redeem and show mercy and forgive and give light and guide feet in the way of peace.  It is a matter of chronology and not exclusivity.  As Paul puts it in Rom 1:16 – “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”  Chronology is not a matter of exclusivity and neither is priority.  Even in God’s first delivering event – the Exodus, the delivering of God’s people from subjugation in Egypt – we read “The Israelites journeyed from Rameses to Succoth, about six hundred thousand men on foot, besides children. A mixed crowd also went up with them, and livestock in great numbers, both flocks and herds.” (Ex 12:37-38)  Outsiders were even then taking part in God’s delivering action (animals too).

I must pause here and say something about God’s saving work (delivering, renewing, restoring, life-giving work).  Would anything about God’s delivering work offend us?  This is a difficult encounter and the question for us is, is there anything too difficult about God’s delivering work for us that would be too much for us?  We talked about the chronology of salvation.  Is that hard to take?  Maybe it’s not so much the chronology but who might be involved in God’s saving plan.  Are there people who we consider outside the realm of God’s salvation?  Would it offend us to think that the new heaven and new earth include them? God famously tells Moses in Ex 33:19 “I will make my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name ‘The Lord’: and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.”  Are we ok with that?  Are we ok with trusting the goodness of the one who does all things well?

Getting back to the animals now, we have this difficulty of Jesus comparing this Syrophoenician woman to a dog.  We may react to this in different ways as I said earlier.  Dogs were not thought of as members of the family in those days.  There were no Pet Smarts or pictures with Santa (apart from no Santa but you get my meaning).  Was this remark out of character for Jesus?  Who am I to say what is out of character for Jesus?  Who are any of us to say what is out of character for God, who is gracious to whom He will be gracious and who will show mercy on whom He will show mercy?

We may react in different ways to this scene, but I think it is mostly significant how the woman reacts.  She does not walk away in a huff and swear never to speak to this man again.  She does not reject him for his answer.  Gentiles did have dogs in their households and perhaps Jesus’ use of the “puppy” form of dog here reminds this woman of a pet and a household scene which reminds us all of a deep truth about God.  “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  Jesus hadn’t said, after all, that the dogs wouldn’t ever be fed, just not first.  This woman brings nothing of herself to this encounter with Jesus except her need for him and her trust in his goodness.  Someone has put it like this, “Even when rebuffed, she didn’t sulk or storm off, declaring God uncaring and cruel. Moreover, she showed no sense of entitlement, no expectation that Jesus should heal her daughter. On the contrary, she appealed for mercy. And owing her nothing, Jesus extended grace.”  She persisted.  She showed relentless faith. 

We may find ourselves in a situation that is beyond us.  We may find ourselves in such a situation soon.  We may be surrounded by people who find themselves in such a situation.  How do we live in such a situation?  To whom do we go for succour?  Succour is a great word to use of God. Aid or assistance in distress.  It comes from two Latin words which mean “run to the help of” and “from below.”  Jesus, lifting us up even at our lowest.  Even in the face of unexpected answers from God or difficulty in seeing God’s goodness in the face of disaster after disaster.  Living in the expectation of a promise of goodness, knowing that even crumbs will sustain.  Holding onto the belief that no matter the outcome, God is good.  Having faith has been described as  “…coming to our God, believing that He is who He says He is and believing that He will do what He says He will do. It’s trusting Him completely. It’s refusing to attempt to manipulate Him or try to change things without His clear direction or to rush something He plans to accomplish on His timetable. Faith is a relentless dependence upon Him.”  Relentless dependence!  Relentless dependence that doesn’t ask for a sign or a word of assurance when Jesus said her daughter had been freed.  Relentless dependence that went home and found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.

I was glad to have the chance to tell a new generation of children here about God’s faithfulness.  What happens when God makes a promise?  He keeps it.  Even when we are waiting for the fulfillment of a future promise, God’s goodness is with us.  Do you know God’s goodness?  Can you hear it?  Can you speak of it?  Listen to these lines from Isaiah 35, promising the return of the redeemed to Zion.  The return of those who have been made free to the holy city.  Is 35:5-6.  The Greek version of the word for speechless here is the same one we find in our next story about the man in the Decapolis (a region of 10 cities on the east side of the Sea of Galilee and again Gentile territory).  “They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech, and they begged him to lay his hand on him.”  We don’t know who these people are, but Martin Luther had this to say about them (and to us) –  “They do not need this work themselves, nor do they look to themselves, but to the poor man, and think how they may help him; they seek no reward but act independently and freely. Thus you should by right do likewise; if not, you are no Christians.”  There you go.

Jesus takes the man away from the crowd, and in private put his fingers into his ears.  Note Jesus’ care here.  Jesus’ bedside manner.  The man can’t hear and Jesus is showing him what he is about to do, which is to enable the man to hear. Jesus spits and touches the man’s tongue to show that he is about to enable the man to speak.  How deafened we can be to the voice of God, which so many other voices threaten to drown out.  You’re going to get tired of me saying “More Than A Healing” but once again, there is more than a healing going on here.  Jesus sighs or groans and we can’t hear this without thinking of all creation groaning and Jesus groans along with it here.   The renewal of all things is coming and the renewal of all things has begun, and Jesus says “Ephphatha” which means be opened and immediately his ears were opened, his tongue released, and he spoke plainly.  May this be our prayer.  Lord open our ears, help us to tell plainly of you.  Signs of God’s love and renewal are breaking in all around us, often in the so-called little people.  They were astounded beyond measure, saying “He has done everything well…”  New life is among us.  The goodness of God is among us.  Goodness, that astounds and astonishes if we have ears to hear and eyes to see and hearts to understand and tongues to tell and sing.  May God give us such ears, eyes, hearts and tongues.  Isaiah 35 ends with these words which speak of a time when we will no longer be talking about sighing or groaning:  And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing: everlasting joy shall be upon their heads: they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.”

Thanks be to God for His promises, and the healing and sustaining we find in them.  Amen.