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24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, "Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter." 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
Sermon: “Tenacious Faith”
She stood in the shadows at the edge of the yard, watching the man who sat alone at the table under the shade trees. He looked foreign and unapproachable to her, as many Jews did to a Greek. Yet there was something vaguely familiar about the way he tore a piece of bread from the loaf on the table, something inherently human about that act. He ate slowly, thoughtfully, as if eating that morsel of bread was the holiest thing a person could do. The light filtering through the trees was soft and filled with dust motes, and every once in awhile the man would hold out his hand as if to fill his palm with a spot of sunshine. He seemed to savor his solitude as much as he did the bread, and the woman hesitated a long moment before she interrupted his silence.
He looked up as she crossed the yard. Suddenly her knees turned to jelly and she sank down on the ground next to the table, unable to make her legs move. Her words came out in a jumble, her story quick and searing. “My daughter is ill, everyone says it is a demon and I’m at my wit’s end and I don’t know what else to do.” Her voice shaking, she said: “Jesus, I’ve heard that you can heal people.” The carefully prepared speech she had rehearsed in her mind dried up in her throat. She had not intended to beg, but the only word she kept croaking was please, please, please.
“Let the children be fed first,” he said, “ for it is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus’ words were like a shock of cold water. She looked closely at his face. Was he serious? She couldn't tell. In spite of all the wonderful things she had heard about this man, she knew he was still just a man, she could see that for herself, even smell the heady scent of his sweat as she knelt close at his side. Maybe he was just like all the rest, prejudiced against foreigners, biased against women. She really knew nothing about him, only rumors and whispered stories. Perhaps he was just like all the rest.
Was he serious, calling her a dog? Or was he joking with her, poking fun at the deeply rooted prejudices of their cultures. Was he posturing as the bigot that many would expect him to be, making fun of those tight-lipped pious folks who fought to keep themselves pure for their God? Or was something else going on here? There was so much that she didn’t know, could only guess at. She knew nothing of what had brought him to this place, nothing of his growing fatigue. She did not know that when Jesus stepped into the region of Tyre and Sidon that he was stepping out of the perimeters he had set for his own ministry, going beyond the bounds of the familiar and acceptable. He did not go there to heal or to teach; rather he went there to get away from his ministry, to take a break from it all, to have a day off. Little did she know that as he sat there on that sunlit afternoon that it was all being made plain to him, that God was speaking to him through her trembling voice. It would be a defining moment for his ministry, for his understanding of his mission. Much would turn on that moment.
All she knew was that her daughter was ill and she was desperate and she could not read this man, could not tell if he was insulting her, humoring her, or forcing her to beg. He looked down for a moment as he started to wipe the crumbs from the table and when he looked up she saw a softening around his eyes and suddenly the strength and resolve flowed back into her. She felt strong, strong, and so full of hope that she was dizzy with it. As he brushed the crumbs away, her hand shot out and caught some of them and she said: “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” He smiled at her spunk, touched by her belief in him, inspired by her tenacious faith, and said: “For this saying you may go your way, the demon has left your daughter.” She would go home to find her daughter lying quietly, sleeping the peaceful, innocent sleep of the very young. And all would be well.
She would never know how much had been decided in that moment in that brief exchange. She would never know that later, his disciples would tell the story as a way of telling the world that God had decided to break all the barriers that people had ever set up between themselves. She would never know that she had called him Lord before any of his disciples did. She would only know that her daughter had been healed.
Not long after his encounter with this woman Jesus would heal a man who was deaf and though the man could speak it was with great difficulty. The man lived in a region known as The Decaoplis, the ten cities, another region considered foreign or unclean. Yet Jesus is open to him, heals him. It is as if the door that had been cracked open through his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman was now opening wider and wider with each encounter. Jesus’ mission was expanding to include the whole world.
Who is this Greek woman, this deaf man? They are both outsiders who benefited from Jesus’ healing presence. As we puzzle over the identity of these two characters in the biblical narrative, we find ourselves wondering about who we are in God’s narrative. We come today asking this question. There are so many ways we can answer the question of who we are. We can say that we are male and female and transgendered, old and young, rich and poor. We can answer that we are straight, gay, and bisexual. We are black and white. We are North American and European and African and Chinese. But beneath all of those descriptors, beyond all those labels, there is a deeper answer to the question. We are the foreign woman who kneels at Jesus’ feet, wondering if there is a place at God’s table for us. We are the deaf man, the outsider who is longing to be healed of all that ails us and keeps us isolated from others. We are the ones that Jesus looks at with love, challenges to believe, and invites us to call him the Holy One. We are the ones that God has graciously decided to include. We are God’s gospel people, a people with a tenacious faith.
Who are we? We are the forgiven, healed, loved, transformed, redeemed, restored, renewed children of God. God has decided to break all the barriers between us, to invite us all to eat at God’s feast. And that is good news!
The woman couldn’t keep the good news of her daughter’s return to wholeness a secret. And the deaf man who could now hear and speak clearly told what had happened to him in private. And their stories reverberate down through the years as a message of God’s love for this world. Go and tell others what God has done for you, for that is what God’s tenacious faithful are called to do. Don’t keep it a secret. AMEN.