Rev. Delia Fay
Here we have Jesus outside his Galilean comfort zone. First in Tyre, then in the Decapolis. If we want to think about Jesus as fully human, this first story is a good example.
The woman in question was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin. And Jesus displays the usual Jewish contempt of Syrophoenicians. He uses an old saying “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to throw the children’s food to the dogs.” Meaning that Syrophoenicians are dogs while Jews are the children of God.
It’s not a particularly nice saying, and smacks of racial slurs. The Jews looked down on the Syrophoenicians as lower than second-class citizens.
But Jesus does slip and use a different word for dogs. There are pets, dogs that you have around the house that play with the children, and there are working dogs: guard dogs, sheep dogs, and so on. Working dogs do not come in the house. They have their pens outside and are fed outside. Pet dogs live in the house just like our pets. If something happens to fall from the table while the kids are eating, it’s fair game for the pets.
Like the saying goes: “It falls on the ground, it goes to the hound.”
In Greek there are two different words for these dogs - working dogs and pet dogs. The saying Jesus used originally, used the word for working dogs. You would have to take the food from the children, take it outside, and feed the dogs.
But it was not and is not unknown for children to feed pet dogs while at the table. They did it then and they do it now. Children’s behavior doesn’t change.
Jesus used the word for pet dog - the dog that lives in the house - and the Syrophoenician woman caught the difference.
“Yes,” she says, “but pet dogs eat what falls from the children’s table.”
I may be a dog in your eyes, but I’m still worth taking care of.
She is the only person in the New Testament to win an argument with Jesus. A woman and a Gentile. Jesus proves he’s human, gets a gentle reprimand, repents and does as he should. The woman’s little girl is healed.
We don’t like to think of Jesus showing prejudice, but he’s human and he does. The point is that he repents of the behavior and does what is right.
Jesus’ prejudice was racial, but there are others than many of us have - I’m not going to list them. If you think about it you can come up with a bunch. The point is that we repent and do what’s right.
In our second story, Jesus is trying to get away around an area known as the Decapolis - the ten towns. And they brought him a deaf man - probably deaf from birth since he had a speech impediment as well. Jesus opens his ears and loosens his tongue but tells him not to tell anyone -- something hard to do for someone who has been deaf and had a speech impediment his whole life. Even if he said nothing, which was doubtful, people were bound to notice. And since he could finally talk, it was probably hard not to.
Part of what we promise at our baptisms and when we renew our baptismal vows is that we proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ. We as Episcopalians tend to emphasize the second half of the vow -- by example. We can do things -- swing a hammer for Habitat for Humanity, work in the Thrift Store, whatever we do in our lives to further the Kingdom of God.
But ask an Episcopalian to say something -- we get tongue-tied. Maybe it should be our tongue loosed and our ears unstopped. The two often go together.
Often we hear something wrong and don’t respond to it. Take for example jokes that aren’t really funny, they’re just putting people down. Blonde jokes. Lawyer jokes. Polack jokes. They’re not funny, they’re putting people down.
And we should say, “That’s not funny.” Or when something comes across our Facebook feed. Does it respect the people who are the butt of the joke? If not, we should say something. Most of the time we either laugh nervously or just roll past it without leaving a note to say, “That’s not funny.”
Jesus can open our ears and our mouths to see it and say something.
Jokes aren’t the only example, but they’re an easy one to see. It’s something we should be doing and probably aren’t.
If we’re not, the point is to repent and do what’s right.
It’s like our reading from the Letter of James -- what good is faith without works?
James uses the example of clothing the naked and feeding the hungry. If you only say “I’ll pray for you” and don’t do anything, then that prayer is dead.
If you are able to do something to alleviate the suffering you see or that you know about and you don’t, then what good is your faith?
Now there are always exceptions to things and there is an exception to this as well. If you can’t, physically, mentally or emotionally, just can’t do things to make the world a better place, then your “doing” is your prayers. Anyone can pray, and that prayer is needed.
But if you can do something, even if it’s just saying “That’s not funny” on Facebook, and you’re not, what good is your faith?
As James says “What good is it if you say you have faith but have no works? Can faith save you? Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”
That sounds pretty harsh, but let’s think about it. We have faith, but what comes next? We have to put that faith into action. Our response to our faith is to share the love of God and that means doing something. We need to respond in practical, physical ways like feeding the hungry, helping the poor -- making the world a better place.
If we’re not doing what we should that is not an opportunity to beat ourselves up. We don’t get to wallow in self-pity.
The point is to repent and do what’s right.
Prayer is great, and if that’s all you can do, prayer is enough. But faith without putting that faith into practice is not a healthy faith.
“Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?” our baptismal covenant asks us.
Yes, we will do things that further the kingdom of heaven. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, help the poor.
Even if it’s just saying “That’s not funny” to a joke that puts people down on Facebook, it’s a start.
And when we don’t we repent. The point is to do what’s right.