You can join this week’s worship service by visiting here.
Below, you’ll find Steve’s reflection and prayer for this week.
Scripture: Mark 7: 24-37
Music: Your Love Is Amazing – Brenton Brown/Brian Doerksen, Creator God You Gave Us Life-Judith Snowdon
That reading we just heard is one of my favourites; not because it is an exorcism that Jesus does remotely, which is kind of cool, but because of the characters in it and what this story would have meant so many years ago and how it can help us come to new understandings today.
In my world, some girls, now young women are becoming my heros, my hope, claiming the spotlight around issues that are important to me. Malalah Yousafzia is becoming one of the leading spokespeople not just for the right to equal education for girls but for human rights for all. Greta Thunberg is becoming the brave spokesperson for the environment who dares to hold the leaders of nations and transnational corporations’ feet to the fire. Amanda Gorman captured my imagination with her poem at Biden’s inauguration, “We will rebuild, reconcile and recover and every known nook of our nation and every corner called our country, our people diverse and beautiful will emerge, battered and beautiful When day comes we step out of the shade, aflame and unafraid. The new dawn blooms as we free it, For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.”
In was different in the days of Jesus, children, especially girls, were not seen for their potential or as a blessing; they were a burden until they became adults. They weren’t worthy of the attention of adults, let alone their energy. So it is amazing that Jesus uses his power to heal this child, this girl.
Then there is her mother, not just a woman, who was not seen as being as fully human as a man. She was a gentile, someone from outside of those who considered themselves to be the chosen people. What was worse, she was a Syrophonetian woman. Syrophonetians were especially despised because they demanded grain in payment for the cedar that had been used to build Solomon’s Temple. Jesus would have known Ezekiel spent three chapters railing against this people.
Yet, she was desperate in seeking healing for her little girl. So she sought out Jesus, she brazenly crashed in on his gathering and she was willing to risk humiliation and scorn in the faint hope that this healer, Jesus, might respond, might help in spite of her background, in spite of all of the others from his race who were begging him to help, to heal them.
She humbles herself and bows down before Jesus, begging him, pleading with him to heal this little one. Friends, not all of us would be willing to go through this kind of trauma where she probably knew the outcome would be rejection.
How did Jesus react? Was he gentle and kind, generous and helpful?
Listen again to his words, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” When he said the children, he was referring to his people, who he was saying deserved to be looked after before any others. Then he said, “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” He was being especially insulting to her people calling them dogs. Today, we all understand how degrading it is to call a woman a dog. To be blunt, what Jesus said was racist and sexist. Not a pretty picture of him is it? Not exactly Jesus, meek and mild.
But the story doesn’t end there, the woman responds, not with something hateful but rather she replied, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She took his insult and suggested that she understood his meaning but then added context. In effect she said, “Even those who are unworthy receive a small bit of grace.”
In that instant, I believe the scales fell from Jesus’ eyes and he understood his ministry in a new way. I believe, in that instant, he understood God’s love and grace in an entirely different way.
God’s grace wasn’t reserved for just a chosen few; God’s abundant grace was available to all. Suddenly, I think he understood no matter how young or old, no matter male or female, no matter whether you were Syrophonetian or Jewish, no matter if you were from Tyre or Riverview, NB, God’s healing, God’s love and God’s abundant grace is meant for all people.
Our God is not a God of scarcity with only enough for a few; our God is one of abundance with enough for all.
What I love about this story is that Jesus responds to the pleas of a woman – someone seen as property of a man. Jesus responds to the needs of a child – someone who was seen as having no worth. Jesus overcomes the convention of his time and culture; Jesus responds to the least and the last.
What I love about this story is that Jesus moves past his own sexism and racism, he sets his prejudices aside and realizes that this unworthy, uppity woman has something to teach him – that he was wrong about God – that God’s love is not limited but knows no bounds.
What I really love about this story is that we often think about Jesus as being divine, a worker of miracles and wonders – a continuous font of wisdom and insight – one who loves without condition and shows compassion to all. But here is, fully human showing his faults and failings; then he redeems himself. He comes to a new understanding of himself and more important a deeper understanding of God.
What this story helps me to understand is that Jesus in his humanity was open to learning and not just from his peers but from those who he would have seen initially as having lesser value.
So if Jesus can learn to set aside his prejudices, his long held beliefs there is hope for me that through God’s grace that I too can change, that I can learn to set aside my prejudices and see in a new and different way.
I have seen our society gradually start to shift but there are miles to go before we sleep. Many are worried about the plight of woman and girls in Afghanistan and many other countries. Many of us remember the prejudices held against members of the LGBTQ+ – they are still present but maybe not as widespread. I remember the bias that was held toward Aboriginals and now we dare to leave our national flag at half staff and drape our cross with an orange scarf as we remember the horror of residential schools and how the lives of God’s children were undervalued by our dominant culture as being somehow less human than you or I. I remember how the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics was met with scorn and disdain and how today athletes and officials take a knee at medal ceremonies to remember that Black Lives Matter.
Our God, the God of all welcoming abundant love, invites us to recognize that we are loved no matter what our background, no matter what our failings or shortcomings. And to remember that we are not alone.
“For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it.” Amanda Gorman
We live in God’s world. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Labour Day Prayer
Good and gracious God,
you told us from the very beginning
that we would earn our bread by the sweat of our brow.
We are interdependent in our laboring, Loving God.
We depend on the migrant workers
who pick our lettuce and our apples and more,
the nurses’ aides who empty bed pans,
the teachers who form our children’s minds.
We thank you, Lord, for the gifts and talents you have given us
that allow us to earn a living and contribute something positive to our world.
We pray, dear God, for those who are without work.
Sustain them — us — in your love.
Help us to realize that we have worth as human beings,
job or no job.
But that’s hard to get, Holy One.
Our society preaches to us that our worth comes from success,
of being better than the Jones’.
But our worth comes because You made us.
We are Your children, no matter what, job or no job.
You love us and you call us to love and support each other.
We pray, O God, for those who do the dirty work in our lives,
for those who break their backs for us,
those who are cheated out of even a minimum wage,
those who cannot afford to send their kids to college.
Help us to bind together, Loving God, as a community, as a nation
because we depend on one another —
the police, the people in our grocery stores,
the delivery driver, the pilots,
the plumbers, the accountants, the bank tellers,
those who clean our houses, the cooks,
the carpenters, the scientists, and yes, the artists and craftspeople.
Help us to realize this weekend
how dependent we are on one another, Lord.
We are one. We are family. We need each other.
Let us give thanks for each other this Labour Day weekend, God
Help us to celebrate and give thanks for each other and appreciate
the value, the dignity, the contribution
that each one makes to keep our country, our cities, our lives going.
We pray for all who are in need, those who are ill and those in care,
for those who are grieving,
We pray for those who live in places where there is violence and turmoil and we think especially of those in Afghanistan and Haiti and in all the places where the pandemic rages.
And in tough times, help us remember the words of Jesus:
Come to me all you who labor
and are heavily burdened
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you,
for my yoke is easy and my burden light (Matthew 11:28)
We ask these things in the name of Jesus who teaches us to pray: Our Father, who art in heaven. . . .
(Modified slightly from a prayer written by Bob Traupman, and posted on Xavier University’s Jesuit Resource website.)