By the Rev. Darren Miner
If the headlines are to be believed, many Americans today seem to think that our current situation is somehow unique. It is not! The authors of our prayer book, and more importantly, the authors of the Holy Bible describe a world, that in many ways, looks very familiar. And we would be wise to listen to their counsel.
The Collect of the Day reminds us that ours is a God who “always resist[s] the proud who confide in their own strength.” The psalmist advises us not to put our trust “in rulers, nor in any child of earth, for there is no help in them.” And St. James marvels at how we honor the rich and despise the poor, when, in fact, it is the rich who oppress the poor, who drag their opponents into court in order to extract the last penny from them. In contrast, we are told, the poor in the world have been chosen by God himself to be “rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom.”
Frankly, Holy Scripture paints a rather dismal picture of the world of politics and of economics. Fortunately, it also offers up great hope. For we are assured, again and again, that God cares for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the foreigner in the land; that God frustrates the way of the wicked; that God will “never forsake those who make their boast of [his] mercy.” We would do well to heed the word of the prophet Isaiah, who exhorts those who are afraid, to be strong and not to fear, for God himself will come on the Last Day and sort things out. And when he does, the whole world will be transformed. “The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.”
Now, that great Day has not yet come. But it is promised! And so that we might have faith, and patience, as we await the fulfilment of that promise, God gave us a foretaste of what is in store for the world. He sent his only Son into the world to heal those who were sick in body, mind, or spirit.
In the Gospel reading from St. Mark, Jesus performs two such healings. The first healing is the healing of the daughter of a pagan woman from the region of Tyre. The story is the most disturbing of all Jesus’ healing stories, because of the exchange of words between Jesus and the woman. When the woman begs for Jesus’ help, his response is not at all what we would expect from our merciful Savior. Instead of performing the healing at once, he challenges the woman’s request, saying, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The implication is that the Jews are children, while the pagans are dogs. But the woman is clever, and she turns Jesus’ words on their head: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She freely acknowledges that pagan Gentiles may be second-class, but she insists that there is enough divine grace for both Jews and Gentiles. Jesus knows when he has been bested, and he grants the woman’s request, healing her sick daughter.
What strikes us today is not that Jesus ultimately heals the woman’s sick daughter, but that he calls the little girl a dog. It is an insult in America today. It was an even worse insult in first-century Palestine. Now, when the evangelist Matthew retells this story, he explains away Jesus’ words as a test of the woman’s faith, but in Mark’s earlier version, no such mitigating circumstance is offered into evidence. To be honest, Jesus is not at his best here. And it’s a bit embarrassing. So why did St. Mark even record this conversation? My guess is that he did so in order to show that, even though Jesus was the divine Son of God, he was also a human being, and like any human being, he could make mistakes and learn from them. In this case, Jesus learned not to underestimate a woman. And more importantly, he learned that God’s grace is sufficient for all.
What does Jesus then do with this new learning? He journeys to the region of the Decapolis, another Gentile region, and he proceeds to heal a man who was deaf and who suffered from a speech impediment. We may wonder why Jesus used his own spit to cure the man’s speech impediment, but I suspect we will never know the answer. What is more important is that the procedure worked! The man’s “ears were opened” and “his tongue was released”—just as Isaiah prophesied that God himself would do on the Last Day.
We followers of Jesus Christ have been blessed with a multitude of accounts of the Lord’s power and mercy. And through the many miracles and signs performed by Jesus, we have been granted a preview of coming attractions, a sneak peek at the Kingdom of God, all so that our faith might be strengthened.
In this chaotic and turbulent time, we are deluged each and every day by more and more bad news. It comes to us from every direction: the newspaper, the TV, the Internet. And it is unceasing. At times, we get confused. Even worse, at times, we are tempted to despair. I pray that God will grant us the grace to remember his many acts of mercy, to hold onto the hope of the World to Come, and to put our trust where it rightly belongs—not in any worldly ruler, but in our heavenly King. Amen.
© 2018 by Darren Miner. All rights reserved. Used by permission.