Can one person make a difference? Many will say ‘no’ to that question. With the billions of people on the earth, one person is simply too insignificant. Consider these folks:
Mahatma Gandhi – Albert Einstein said of Gandhi “Generations to come will scarcely believe that such a one as this walked the earth in flesh and blood.” A quiet unassuming man led a revolution against the Colonialism of India professing and living a life of peace and nonviolence. His commitment to change through peace was truly inspirational to the likes of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Rosa Parks – Born in 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama this one women’s courage to stand up to the establishment in refusing to give up her seat on a bus to a white passenger on a Montgomery, Alabama bus would spur a city wide boycott. The city would eventually be forced to lift the law requiring segregation on public buses. This one action by one individual would help launch the civil rights movement.
Mother Teresa – The Blessed Teresa of Calcutta, MC also known as Mother Teresa founded the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic religious congregation, which in 2012 had 4500 sisters actively running hospices and homes for people with HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis in over 130 countries. The peace and comfort that she has brought to the world is nothing short of phenomenal and inspirational for everyone.
As we focus on the gospel lesson for today, you will notice that the author of the gospel of Mark often puts stories together that may seem unrelated. I can tell you that for the longest time I was uncomfortable with the first part of this passage – the one concerning the Syrophoenician woman. Call me crazy, but did Jesus actually call this woman a dog? My back is up, how about yours? I’ve entitled this sermon, ‘Crumbs from the Table’, but perhaps it should be called, ‘Unshakeable Faith’. How many of you would have taken on the son of God in the face of a perceived insult?
Needless to say, I want to pick this story apart. First, Jesus entered the region of Tyre which was predominantly a Gentile region. He was staying in someone’s home (we are not given any details about this), but clearly Jesus’ fame was growing because the scripture tells us Jesus tried to keep his whereabouts a secret. Obviously those in need of healing and cleansing from evil spirits were brought to Jesus at every given opportunity. We know even Jesus needed time to step away from the crowds to rest and to pray and to meditate and to provide in-depth instructions to his inner circle of disciples. Throughout Mark’s gospel we find a distinct pattern. Jesus would provide healing to someone in need, and then give strict instructions for this person to not to tell anyone how he/she was healed. Yet of course word spread anyway. Often those healed were beggars normally found in busy sections of town and recognized by many. When these people were crippled one day and walking the next, word would quickly escape as to the source of the miracle. And so others came seeking a means to re-enter society and alleviate their pain and suffering.
Jesus was trying to maintain a quiet entrance into this area of Tyre, but he was soon discovered by an unlikely candidate. The woman who approached Jesus had several things going against her. First, she was a woman, and women were considered second-class citizens if they were considered at all. Second, it appears she was traveling alone – a very dangerous thing for a woman to do. She may have been a widow as she did not have a man with her and there wasn’t a man around to approach Jesus for her on behalf of her daughter. Understand that in Jesus’ day, the woman’s realm was inside the home and the man’s realm was outside the home. Finally, she was a Gentile – she was on the opposite side of a clearly drawn line between those considered clean and those who were unclean. But this woman approached Jesus and she humbled herself to him in spite of this distinct barrier between herself, a Gentile, and Jesus, the King of the Jews. And if that wasn’t enough strikes against her, she was called a dog by the son of God.
There are several theories concerning Jesus’ response. The woman begged Jesus to drive out a demon that was possessing her daughter. Jesus responded, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” What a slap in the face! But one thing we know of this woman is her unbridled determination – her daughter was in trouble and Jesus could help her if he chose to. This woman was determined to make sure Jesus chose to help her daughter. She didn’t miss a beat. She responded, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” What was she saying to Jesus? Perhaps Jesus was focused on the Jewish nation, but this woman was reminding Jesus that God’s grace was for everyone – even a Gentile.
I can almost see Jesus doing a double-take at this point. It seems to me he was a bit surprised by her response. Maybe he thought the woman would accept his criticism and leave only to return home to her troubled daughter. Is it possible this woman’s unshakeable faith made Jesus rethink his purpose while on earth? Up until this point, as far as we can tell, the healings and exorcisms Jesus performed were only conducted on those who were most likely Jews. He called 12 Jews as his disciples – even Matthew was a Jew in spite of his profession as tax collector. Perhaps up to this point, Jesus was focused on the called-out ones of Israel.
Could one woman’s faith have possibly made a difference in the rest of Jesus’ ministry? I would argue it is possible. The story goes on to say that Jesus recognized and rewarded this woman’s uncompromising faith and provided healing for her daughter. But it did not stop there. The next story is a healing of a deaf and dumb man. Once again we need to note the region Jesus was traveling – he went by way of Sidon toward the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis. This was also known as Gentile territory. Jesus had expanded his reach to beyond the region of Judea. I wonder about the ones who brought the man forward. Is it possible they heard about the healing of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter and found hope that Jesus would extend his healing hand to Gentiles? Barriers continued to be broken down in the presence of Jesus. Lives continued to be changed. Perhaps the inspiration for this area of barrier-breaking began with the uncompromising, unshakeable faith of a lonely woman.
At times any one of us can feel like an outcast in society. Perhaps we don’t fit in for whatever reason. Status lines are drawn based on wealth and position and family background. Maybe we don’t fit in to the mainstream for any number of reasons. But in spite of those barriers, how is our faith? Can we stand up to those barriers and claim victory in Jesus without a doubt?
We are all part of the family of God and of this community of believers. We no longer have to fear what tomorrow will bring because ‘our hope is built on nothing less that Jesus’ blood and righteousness’. As we come forward for communion, let us pause to claim God’s love for ourselves. God is offering grace to us freely and without cost. Are we ready to step forward and claim that grace for ourselves? Once we say ‘yes’ to God, there are no mountains we cannot climb. There are no roads we cannot travel, because we know God is with us every step of the way in this life. And we also know that eternal life is ours – Jesus paid the price for our salvation through his body, broken for you and his blood, shed on the cross for you. Thanks be to God for the gift of God’s son, Jesus Christ. Amen.