Friday, Feb 6, 2015
Isaiah 55:1-13, Psalm 25; Galatians 5:16-24; Mark 9:2-13
Second Isaiah comes to a conclusion with this magnificent song of invitation: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters and freely drink.” It is the Lord’s invitation to the people. He is about to make an everlasting covenant with them, because of God’s steadfast love for David. God made a covenant with David and made him a commander and leader of the people. They shall now call, and nations will answer, running to them because the Lord, the Holy One of Israel has glorified them. The invitation is repeated: “Seek the Lord while he may be found and call upon him while he is near.” The wicked are called upon to forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts and return to the Lord who will abundantly pardon them. Why? Because the Lord’s ways are not our ways, and God’s thoughts are not like our own. As the heavens are high, so far above us are God’s ways. Just as rain comes down from heaven to water and give life to the earth, so shall God’s word go forth from his mouth to accomplish God’s purposes. They shall go out of Babylon in joy and be lead forth in peace. Using the language of personification to express the marvel of all this, the hills shall break forth in song and the trees shall gleefully clap their hands. Even creation is rejoicing at the work of the Lord. Instead of thorns and briers, the earth shall yield cypress (an ancient symbol of rich and long life), and the myrtle. It shall be an everlasting memorial to the Lord, a sign that shall not be cut off. Within the year, Babylon was defeated by Cyprus II of Persia, and the exiles of Israel were freed and sent on their way home.
Psalm 25 is an acrostic psalm that is a prayer in which the psalmist pleads for God’s protection, guidance, mercy, instruction, pardon and grace. A wisdom psalm, it repeats the convictions that those who wait upon the Lord and who walk in God’s ways (Torah), will never be put to shame, while the wantonly treacherous will end in disgrace and defeat. Seeking for the wisdom always to know God’s ways, the psalmist asks to be led in God’s truth and taught God’s ways. She pleads for God’s mercy and steadfast love and asks that the sins of her youth be forgotten. She blesses the Lord as good and upright, who instructs sinners and leads the humble in the paths of steadfast love and faithfulness. In the midst of many foes, she asks that they not prevail or put her to shame, for she has taken refuge in the Lord. May that integrity and uprightness be a source of strength and preservation as she waits on God. Finally, the scope of this petition is expanded beyond personal concerns to pray that God will redeem Israel out of all its trouble.
As righteousness comes to us through the Spirit, Paul urges the Galatians to walk by the Spirit. If they do, they will be able to avoid the ways of the flesh. “Flesh” for Paul is much more than biology or sex. It is a theological term that, for him, encompasses all in life that works in opposition to God, but is buried deep within our nature because of the power of sin. Walking by the Spirit enables us to guard against walking by the flesh, since the two are in opposition to one another and the Spirit is more powerful. Further, those who walk according to the Spirit are no longer under the Law. Paul now lists the deeds of the flesh, all pretty self-evident, and warns that those who do these things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. He then lists the fruits of walking by the Spirit and says, against these there is no law. Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its desires. Since it is living out of the Spirit that gives life, let us walk that way daily, giving up the search for vain glory, competition and boasting, which only leads to challenging one another and living in envy.
Fresh from Peter’s confession, six days later, Jesus takes him, along with James and John, and they go up a high mountain on a mini-retreat. Mountain-top experiences are a metaphor for what often happens there—thin places where the membrane between heaven and earth is almost non-existent. And this is the mountain-top of all mountain-top experiences. While there, suddenly, Jesus is transfigured (the Greek word is the one from which we get “metamorphous”) and he and his clothing become radiant and a level of white beyond anything one has ever seen. Suddenly, Elijah and Moses appear talking with Jesus. Peter suggests making three booths, one for Elijah, one for Moses and one for Jesus, for Mark tells us Peter was otherwise terrified and simply did not know what else to say. But the words are not out of Peter’s mouth when a cloud of glory descends upon all of them, and God’s voice says, “This is my son, the beloved; listen to him.” With that, the cloud is gone and so are Moses and Elijah. Peter’s instinct in confession had been right, and this has given him and the two other leaders within the inner circle confirmation of that. But the point is not only who they confess Jesus to be—something the demons have been proclaiming right along—but rather, they are listening to him and what he has to say. This is about more than them. Coming down the mountain, Jesus orders them to tell no one about this—not even their fellow disciples—until the Son of Man has risen from the dead. That, of course, leaves them further confused, and they fixate on what rising from the dead may mean. The three disciples’ thoughts turn to Elijah, who they have just seen. The scribes say that he must come first, but how is that, if Jesus is the Christ, for he has been here ahead of Elijah. Jesus tells them that Elijah does come first to restore all things. As for the Son of Man, he will be treated with contempt and suffer many things. Yes, Elijah has come, and they did to him as they wished, just as it was written of him. By Elijah, of course, Jesus means John the Baptist.
Thursday, February 5, 2015
Isaiah 54:1-17; Psalm 116; Galatians 5:1-15; Mark 8:27-9:1
This is another oracle promising the restoration of Zion and is addressed to those in exile. The “barren one” is told to burst into song and shout, “for the children of the desolate one will be more than of her that is married.” Using images of the prosperity and growth of an expanding family, Jerusalem is told to enlarge the site of her tents, stretch out her curtains, lengthen her tent cords and strengthen her stakes. Her household is about to expand dramatically. She is not to fear or be discouraged, for she will not suffer disgrace. The Holy one of Israel who is her Redeemer is also her husband. Though she had thought herself widowed, like a wife forsaken and grieved, and though, for a moment, the Lord had abandoned her, with great compassion he will now gather her to himself. Though overflowing wrath caused God to hide his face from her, now, with everlasting love the Lord comes to have compassion on her. As God swore after the waters of Noah, “Never again!” so too now, the Lord swears not to be angry or rebuke her ever again. The mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but the Lord’s steadfast love shall not depart from her. The city shall be adorned in jewels like a new bride, her children shall be taught by the Lord, and she shall not fear oppression; it shall be far away from her. If any stir up strife, it will not be from the Lord, and whoever does so will fall. Finally, no weapon that is fashioned against her shall prosper, and she shall stop and refute every tongue that speaks against her. She is, after all, the servant of the Lord who the Lord will vindicate.
Psalm 116 asks, “What shall we give to the Lord for all of God’s goodness to us?” This psalm professes love for the Lord who hears our cries, who is gracious, righteous and compassionate, and who preserves the simple (less naïve than those who live in simple trust), who keeps our stumbling feet on God’s path, preserving our lives. The psalmist had been surrounded by the snares of death; the pangs of dying were upon him as he suffered anguish and distress. As is often the case, the emotional side of this encounter with death was even more traumatic than the physical reality of it. In that anguish the psalmist called out to the Lord to save him and the Lord did. “What then,” he asks, “shall I offer to the Lord in return for all of God’s goodness?” What can one give to God? Praise and thanksgiving! The psalmist will lift the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord. He is promising to go to the temple to offer God a sacrifice of thanksgiving in the midst of God’s people. The psalmist makes a final vow: “I am your servant, the child of your serving girl.” He seals this promise with a pledge. Lifting the cup of salvation, in much the way we would offer a “toast” to another in tribute, he simply says, “Hallelujah!” Praise the Lord!
The central thesis of Paul’s argument now rings out: “For freedom Christ has set us free. Stand firm, therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Then Paul issues this warning: if they let themselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to them. Further, those men who do become circumcised will be obligated to obey the entire law. Paul employs a powerful double entendre: circumcision is actually “cutting themselves off from Christ,” and a sign that they have fallen away from his grace. It is not by outward acts of ritual obedience that we become righteous, but through God’s Spirit, by faith. In Christ, neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything. The only thing that counts is faith working through love. They were running so well; what went wrong? This persuasion does not come from Christ. Who is it that is confusing them? They will pay the penalty. Are they suggesting that Paul is now preaching circumcision? That would remove the offense of the cross. Further, if he were preaching circumcision, why is he still being persecuted by those who have come from Jerusalem? Now, in a moment of high intensity, Paul suggests those in the circumcision party who are unsettling the Galatians should slip with the knife and “castrate themselves.” The Galatians were called to freedom and they are to live into it. But, they are to exercise care to insure that they use their freedom in the proper way—not as a matter of self-indulgence. Rather, through love, let them use their freedom to become slaves of one another! For the whole law is summed up in the single command, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Interestingly, Paul has sidestepped the first commandment to move to the second, so concerned is he over the quality of life within the Galatian church. For, if they fall into conflict, biting and devouring one another, they will all be consumed.
Jesus leaves Bethsaida and the newly healed man behind and takes the disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and “on the way”—another favorite phrase in Mark’s gospel, and one by which the early church was identified—he asks them who the people are saying that he is. Some say John the Baptist, others, Elijah, and still others one of the prophets. He then asks them who they say he is and Peter makes his great confession: “You are the Messiah.” Again, in keeping with Mark’s theme of “messianic secret,” Jesus sternly orders them not to tell anyone about him. Rather, he goes on to say that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, be rejected by the elders, chief priest and scribes and be killed, and after three days, rise again—something no one would think possible for the Messiah. No wonder, the disciples are taken aback. They know he is talking about himself and in his acceptance of Peter’s confession he has just acknowledged who he is. Peter takes Jesus aside to rebuke and correct him. Jesus turns, looks at the other disciples and then dresses down Peter, calling him Satan, and telling him to get behind him. It is both a “Get out of my way,” and a command to “get back in line and follow.” Peter is setting his mind, not on divine things but human ones. Disciples are not there to tell their master how to behave. He has already been tempted by Satan. He does not need this from Peter. Jesus then turns to the crowd that has been following at a distance and calls them nearer. He tells them and the disciples that if they want to follow him, they must deny themselves, take up their cross and follow. Those who want to save their lives will lose it, and those who lose their life for his sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. What then does it profit if they gain the whole world and lose their lives in the process? Furthermore, what can they give in return for their lives? Those who are ashamed of him and his words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them he will be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father, with the holy angels. Jesus completes this sermon by telling them that there are some standing with him who will not see death until they see that the Kingdom of God has come with power.
Wednesday, February 4, 2014
Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Psalm 132; Galatians 4:21-31; Mark 8:11-26
This is the fourth and the longest of the “servant songs” in Isaiah, and is built on a concept of vicarious suffering, in which a servant is punished on behalf of others to take away the punishment for their transgressions and sin. The servant here is Israel who, in exile, has suffered so much and has been so disfigured through that agony, that it is impossible to think he will survive. Yet, because of it, he shall again be exalted and prosper, so much, so that nations and their kings shall be startled. The servant had nothing special about him that he should be noticed. In fact, he was despised and rejected by others, acquainted with hardship and pain, and held of no account. He was considered struck down by God and was wounded for the transgressions of all his people—a people in whom each went his or her own way. Exile was God’s way of placing the punishment of the entire nation on a group of its people—the servant—and in doing so, made the entire people whole. The servant bore all this silently, like a lamb led to slaughter. It was a perversion of justice that allowed him to be led away. So harsh was the experience that none could imagine a future for him. All of this was the will of the Lord, who crushed him and made him a sin offering. Israel’s exile was God’s way of purging and redeeming his people so that the nation could be restored. Then comes this promise: out of that anguish the servant will see new beginnings: offspring and long life. It is, hence forth, the will of the Lord that he and his people should prosper. He is the righteous one (in the right relationship with God), and shall make many righteous in the bearing of their iniquities. The Lord will now allot him a portion with the great, because he poured himself out to death, being numbered among the transgressors, bearing the sins of many, and making intercession for them. Because of Israel’s exile, the sins of the nation have been forgiven and its people restored in their relationship with God. It is hard to read this passage and not see the images and hear the echoes of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. That is precisely how the early church read and understood the text—it was prophecy, foretelling Jesus’ role and God’s suffering servant through whom the world will be redeemed. Consequently, this text had a strong influence on the way the gospel writers told the story of Jesus’ passion, death and resurrection. But is it just about the nation Israel? Or, is Jesus the one faithful Israelite, in whom this text becomes incarnate? It is possible to read the text both ways with integrity, first out of its historic context with Judah in Babylonian exile being forgiven and restored, and, second, as a prophetic word that was fulfilled in Jesus’ life, passion, death and resurrection for the redemption of the world.
Psalm 132 is a Royal Psalm that celebrates and legitimates the reign of the Davidic dynasty, recalling the covenant the Lord made with David to insure his reign, as well as that of his descendants, on the throne of all Israel forever. (2 Samuel 7) It begins recalling David’s hardships in capturing Jerusalem to establish there a capital for a united kingdom, then his vow to build a temple so that that Lord would have a resting place among them. “We heard it in Ephrathah; we found it in the fields of Jaar,” is a reference to the return of the Ark of the Covenant which had been lost in battle to the Philistines, but was left in the field of Jaar because it was perceived too dangerous (2 Samuel 6), until David brought it to Jerusalem and placed it in the tent of the meeting that he had erected there. (The building of the actual temple would fall to David’s son Solomon). With the ark in Jerusalem, it was ever-after understood as the place of the Lord’s habitation, until the division of the kingdom after Solomon’s rule and death. Given the sanctuaries in the Northern Kingdom, after the division into a Northern (Israel) and Southern (Judah) kingdom, the psalm probably had polemic intent as well, insisting that Zion was God’s only place of worship. The psalm includes a remembrance of God’s oath to David that one of his sons would always sit on the throne, and the promise that the Lord, not David, had chosen Zion as his “desired habitation” forever. It concludes reciting the blessings that come to Jerusalem because of God’s presence there, and how God will continue to bless the descendants of David who sit on his throne causing a horn (another king) to sprout up for David. After the destruction of the temple and the loss of the king in 587 BCE, this psalm served as a reminder that the Lord is the ultimate king over Israel. Affirming that Zion was still the Lord’s home and that God’s promise to David was still in place, this psalm began to fire Messianic expectation.
Paul now recalls Abraham’s life and develops an allegory to illustrate the superior nature of life in the new covenant in Christ. Abraham had two children, Ishmael, born of his slave concubine Hagar, and Isaac, born of the promise to Sarah. Hagar, the slave, and her son, Ishmael, are the emblem of the covenant of the Law given at Sinai, which enslaves. Sarah and Isaac are the emblems of the promise. Hagar and Mt Sinai correspond to Jerusalem who remains in slavery to the Law. Sarah corresponds to the New Jerusalem, from above. She is free and the mother of the free. Paul then quotes Isaiah 54:1 to make the point that the mother from above—the new Jerusalem—is bearing more children than the one from below and is therefore superior. That said, he reminds the Galatians that they are children of the promise from above, like Isaac. Just as Isaac was persecuted by his older half-brother Ishmael, the slave, so, too, those who have come to them from Jerusalem are persecuting them and trying to lead them back into slavery. Quoting Genesis 21:10, where God tells Abraham to drive out Hagar and her child, Paul tells the Galatians to drive out the intruding missionaries from Jerusalem, because the Galatians are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.
The Pharisees come to Jesus to argue with him and, in the process, ask for a sign from heaven to test him, not unlike he has been “tested” by Satan in the wilderness. Jesus responds with deep resignation to the stubbornness and inability of these, who were the most religious of the day, to see the reality of God’s reign breaking in. No sign will be given to them. He quickly gets into the boat and leaves them behind to sail to the other side. At sea, the disciples suddenly realize they have forgotten to bring any bread, and discover they have only one loaf. Jesus uses the occasion to warn them about the “yeast” of the Pharisees and the Herodians (see the note). Yeast is here an image of evil and its capacity to infect, spoil, distort, and destroy. The power of that yeast is evident in that the disciples are again clueless, and wonder what it is Jesus is talking about. Is it because they have no bread? With exasperation equal to that he felt with the Pharisees, Jesus challenges and chides them: They have eyes; can they not see? They have ears; can they not hear? Why do they not understand? Don’t they remember how he broke the bread and fed two crowds of people? How much was left over? The Pharisees are not the only ones to suffer from hardness of heart. The yeast has spread its way and done its work—the disciples are blind to what is going on and as deaf as the man Jesus has earlier healed. Arriving at Bethsaida, the people bring a blind man to Jesus, who leads the man by the hand out of the village. Then, enacting a healing ritual, Jesus spits on the blind man’s eyes and places his hands over them, asking the man if he can see. Indeed, he can, but only partially, reminding us of the disciples imperfect sight. Jesus places his hand on the man’s eyes once again, looking intently at him, and the man’s sight is fully restored, and the man now sees clearly. Jesus sends the man home, telling him not to go back into the village. As so many times before, it is a command to remain silent, though Mark does not tell us how the man responded.
Tuesday, February 3, 2015
Isaiah 52:1-12; Psalm 36; Galatians 4:12-20; Mark 8:1-10
Isaiah now addresses those who had been left behind in Jerusalem for the last forty or so years: “Awake, O Zion, and put on your strength.” Dress yourself in beautiful wedding garments; no longer shall the uncircumcised and the unclean be in your midst. Rise and shake the dust of Babylon from you. You were sold into captivity for nothing and shall be redeemed at the cost of even less. For, as long ago, your ancestors went to Egypt to reside as aliens and were oppressed, so too, has Assyria oppressed you. The Lord has had enough of the Babylonians howling at his name. He is going to act, and, when he does, his people will know his name and that it is he who is acting. How beautiful are the feet of the messenger on the mountain announcing peace and the good news of their salvation, saying, “God reigns.” Jerusalem’s sentinels shall rejoice when they see their redemption in plain sight. Break forth in singing, for the Lord has comforted his people and redeemed Jerusalem (notice the past tense—it is already happening). This is taking place before the eyes of all the nations, and “all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.” And now the voice addresses those returning to Jerusalem: “Depart!” The command requires that they take no unclean thing with them, only that which is theirs. Carry the Lord’s vessels that the Babylonians had confiscated in their sack of the temple. But, do not go out in haste—as your ancestors did in Egypt; there is nothing to fear. Go out in an orderly way; the Lord is doing this, and the God of Israel will be your rear guard. Cyrus will not change his mind and come after you as Pharaoh did.
Psalm 36 reflects on the difference between those who take pride in their transgressions and those who trust in the loving kindness of the Lord. It begins addressing the capacity for wickedness deep within the human heart. Is it the psalmist speaking, reflecting on the ways of the wicked, or is the one speaking transgression itself speaking to the wicked, deep in their hearts? Both are possible. Yes, the wicked have no fear of God. There is no end to the way they flatter themselves in their own eyes, thinking that their iniquity is hidden. They have ceased to live wisely, and spend their time in plots of mischief and embrace evil rather than reject it. Suddenly, in contrast, as if to keep one from despair, the psalm turns to praise for the Lord’s steadfast love, which extends to the heavens. God’s righteousness is like the mighty mountains, and judgments like the great deep. The Lord saves humans and animals alike. The psalm lauds the preciousness of God’s steadfast love and confesses that all take refuge in the shadow of God’s wings. It goes on to speak of the abundance and goodness of God’s house, where God gives drink from the river of delights. God is the fountain of life; in his light we see light. The prayer concludes by asking for God’s continued steadfast love to those who know him. As for the arrogant with whom this psalm began, do not let their foot tread on him or the hand of the wicked drive him away. Rather, let the Lord continue his salvation. As for evildoers, let them lay prostrate, thrust down, unable to rise.
Paul pleads with the Galatians, wondering what has happened to them. They had been doing so well in Christ. He remembers how they welcomed him among them, as a messenger of Christ—an angel—as Christ himself! He recalls the burden he was to them because of his physical infirmity (we don't know what that was and theorize that it was some form of eye trouble, based on what he says next: they were ready to tear out their own eyes for him if need be). Why then do they look on him as their enemy; because he has told them the truth? Those who have "bewitched them" into believing they must keep the law to truly belong to Christ, have done so only so they can brag about the Galatians themselves, and for no good purpose. It is well to be made much of for the right purpose, not simply when he is with them. Calling the Galatians his children, Paul now tells them that he is in the pains of childbirth with them until Christ is formed in them. He wishes he could be present with them now and could change his tone with them.
For three days the people have been with Jesus in the desert, listening to him teach, and their food is now gone. Jesus has compassion on them, knowing that, if he sends them away hungry, many will faint along the way. The disciples ask how it will be possible to feed this crowd in the desert. He asks them how many loaves of bread they have; seven. He has the people sit down, then he takes the bread, blesses it, breaks it, and gives it to the disciples (see the three Eucharistic actions taking place here), and the disciples distribute the bread among the crowd. He does the same with some fish that they have, and some four thousand are fed. Then, immediately (one of Mark's favorite words), Jesus sends the crowd away, gets into the boat with the disciples and sails off to Dalmanutha.
Monday, February 2, 2015
Isaiah 51:17-23; Psalm 73; Galatians 4:1-11; Mark 7:24-37;
Wake up, Jerusalem! Rouse yourself, you who have drunk the cup of the Lord’s wrath and stagger under its power. Among all the children she has borne, there are none to take her by the hand and lead her. Who is there to grieve with her over her destruction, devastation, famine and sword? Who will comfort her? Her children have fainted and lie at the head of every street, full of the wrath and rebuke of Jerusalem’s God. And now her children are addressed: “Hear this,” says the Lord, your Sovereign: “I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; you shall drink it no more. Rather, I will put it into the hands of your tormentors, who have ordered you to bow down and then, have walked over you.”
Psalm 73 is a prayer of confession by one who almost gave up on the Lord, whose feet nearly slipped. When seeing the prosperity of the wicked, he became envious. When seeing that their proud and arrogant ways seemed only to bring them success and that they were filled with an abundance of good things, he asked himself, “Why, why should I maintain my integrity before the Lord, when all it is doing is bringing me hardship?” It is a question the faithful ask over and again in the face of what seems the wickeds’ prosperity. Pride is their necklace; violence is their way. They speak wickedly and oppress and even mock the heavens, saying to themselves, “God does not see.” They seem to have no pain in death, are always at ease, and only increase in their wealth. The psalmist laments, “It is in vain that I have kept my heart pure and washed my hands in innocence!” Stricken all day long he is chastened every morning. And so, in an attempt to understand this, he pondered it and found it deeply troubling to him. But then, he entered the Lord’s sanctuary. It was there that he perceived the wicked’s end; destroyed in a moment and swept away by sudden terrors. Therefore, he confesses that when he was embittered by what he saw among the arrogant, he was himself pierced within and behaved like a senseless beast. But now, he realizes that even then, in his moments of vulnerability, the Lord was with him, holding his right hand. Verse 24 is a classic: “With your counsel you will guide me, and, afterward, you will receive me into your glory.” Who then does he have in heaven or earth but the Lord? Beside him, there is no one else. Though the psalmist’s heart and his flesh may fail, God is his strength and portion forever. Those far away from God will perish; God destroys all who are unfaithful to Him. But for the psalmist, the nearness of God is his good. He has made the Lord God his refuge that he may tell of God’s works.
Paul continues to reflect on the nature of the Law as the disciplinarian of minors until they reach adulthood. Though they are owners of the property, they are no better than slaves under the guardianship of their custodians, until the date set for their maturity by their father. So too with us: while minors we were enslaved to the “elemental spirits of the world”—the power of sin. “But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman and born under the Law, in order to redeem those who were under the Law, so that we might receive adoption as children.” Christ’s entrance into this world as one of us, equally born under the power of sin, but victorious over it, redeemed us so that we might become adopted children of God. And the proof that this is true is that God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts crying out, “Abba! Father!” That itself is witness enough that we are no longer slaves under the law but God’s children, and, as God’s children, we are God’s heirs. Formerly, when they did not know God, they were enslaved to beings that are not gods. Now that they have come to know God, or, better still, now that they are known by God, how can they turn back again to those weak and beggarly elemental spirits? Do they want to go back to slavery? How is it that they have returned to observing the feast and festivals of those things, whether the Jewish Law or the festivals of paganism that formerly enslaved them? Has Paul labored among them in vain?
Jesus sets out for Tyre—gentile country—in an attempt to get away from the people besieging him. The Jewish crowds will not follow him there. Still, his fame has come before him and a gentile woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit hears he is there and immediately comes, falls at his feet, and begs him to cast out the demon. Using a well-known Jewish adage, he says, “Let the children be fed first; it is not fair to take their food and cast it to the dogs.” “Dogs,” here is how Jews felt about Gentiles. He is telling her that he has been sent to the house of Israel and must not be deterred from that. She calls him up short with her response: “Sir; but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus is both caught off-guard by her response and startled by insight into the truth about his ministry that he seems to have forgotten—as Isaiah had said, it is for all the nations. He says to her, “Go—the demon has left your daughter.” When she gets home, she discovers it is true; the demon has been cast out of her daughter. It is a remarkable moment in Mark’s portrayal of Jesus, and leaves us startled as well. Jesus returns home from Tyre through predominantly Gentile territory (though Mark’s geography leaves much to be desired!). On the way, they bring Jesus a deaf man with an impediment of speech and beg him to lay hands on him. Jesus takes the man aside in private and, using the techniques common among healers of his day, sticks his fingers in the man’s ears and puts his own saliva on the man’s tongue. But here is where Jesus departs from the healers of the day: he looks up to heaven, sighs, and says, “Be opened.” Immediately, the man’s ears are opened and his tongue is released and he beings to speak plainly. Though Jesus orders the man to say nothing about this, he is wasting his breath. The more Jesus orders people to silence, the more zealously they talk about him. “Astounded beyond measure,” they say, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak—signs of his messianic credentials (Isaiah 35:5-6).
Author: The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson
Created: June 21, 2012
The Rev. Dr. Fred R. Anderson, Pastor of Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, offers thoughts on today’s lectionary readings.