XIV Pentecost, Year B
Prv 22:1-2,8-9,22-23 or * Is 35:4-7a
Ps 125 * Ps 146
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches, and favor is better than silver or gold. The rich and the poor have this in common: the LORD is the maker of them all.
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. Those who are generous are blessed, for they sharenm their bread with the poor.
Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate; for the LORD pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them.
* (Isaiah 35:4-7a)
Say to those who are of a fearful heart, "Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you." Then 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. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water.
My brothers and sisters, do you with your acts of favoritism really believe in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ? For if a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, "Have a seat here, please," while to the one who is poor you say, "Stand there," or, "Sit at my feet," have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts? Listen, my beloved brothers and sisters. Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him? But you have dishonored the poor. Is it not the rich who oppress you? Is it not they who drag you into court? Is it not they who blaspheme the excellent name that was invoked over you? You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you commit sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.
For the one who said, "You shall not commit adultery," also said, "You shall not murder." Now if you do not commit adultery but if you murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty. For judgment will be without mercy to anyone who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to
them, "Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
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, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 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." But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs." Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter." So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 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. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is, "Be opened." And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything
well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Boundaries and barriers in mimetic theory are fundamentally about prohibitions. Boundaries and barriers are the moral, social, physical, emotional, intellectual and religious expressions of prohibition. Inasmuch as prohibition is one of the three main pillars of culture (s.v.), we might ask about the way Jesus related to that which was prohibited by his culture. We see it in his interaction with the Pharisees, in relation to the Sadducees and the ruling class in the cleansing of the Temple. There should be little doubt that Jesus was not afraid to go his own way in his spirituality and his understanding of the Creator.
Ernst Kasemann (Jesus Means Freedom) tells the delightful story of a church in Holland in a year which had seen rising tides and collapsing dikes. One particularly bad weekend, it was necessary for the town mayor to ask the pastor of the local Reformed church to bring all of his people out to help repair the dikes on Sunday morning or else they might lose the entire town. The pastor called the church elders together who discussed the matter and concluded that they had been commanded to keep the Sabbath holy, so if they perished it was God’s will, but they would not cancel services. The pastor then mentioned Jesus’ violation of the Sabbath law, hoping it might stimulate some further thought. To which one old elder says “Pastor, I have never before ventured to say this publicly, but I’ve always thought our Lord Jesus was a bit of a liberal.”
When we recall that prohibitions are designed to control mimetic processes, the violation of the prohibition either means that the violation must be punished, or else no one will take the prohibition seriously, or that the prohibition is being revealed for what it truly is: a barrier erected by humans, between humans and God and between ourselves (and we would add, the creation). When the apostle Paul says there is no law but the law of love, he is expressing in theological format what Jesus is demonstrating in our text today.
However, we would also note that it is these actions of Jesus, these violations of religious, social and class boundaries that provoke the conflict that will eventually render him an innocent victim of the victimage mechanism. Jesus’ healings provoked criticism in the same way his approach to people provoked criticism. We should therefore not be surprised when, today, those who cross boundaries and barriers in the name of Jesus are also exposed to the harsh recriminations of vengeance and hatred.
And the story of the deaf and dumb man being healed by Jesus is one of three stories (Mark 8:22-26, John 9) that record traces of Jesus’ actual shamanic practice. In each narrative he uses his spit in the healing process (a herbal or mineral poultice?). It is easy to pass over this, as though it was some quirk in the narrative. But its presence in the narrative is another indicator of its ‘folk origins.’ Small details like this are left in the tradition because they were important to the originary storytellers. But they also reflect something we do not frequently consider: Jesus’ use of the creation in the healing process.
Matthew and Luke entirely edit out these ‘folk’ details and we have become accustomed to seeing Jesus’ healing ministry as being limited to ‘faith.’ The presence of such details in all three narratives is a good indication of an early and fixed tradition. That they are present in both Mark and John indicates that Jesus modus operandi was the same in Galilee as it was in Jerusalem.
It is understandable that these ‘folk’ details dropped out of other healing narratives but we seem to have a clue in Jesus’ use of spit to a shamanic practice. Christians might balk at this, some in the early church did. The early Christian apologists argued that all other healing was ‘evil’ healing and that Jesus alone could heal. Yet in their own gospels Jesus says about his healing that Satan cannot be divided against Satan, that is Satan is not a healer but a destroyer. Therefore, all healing is from God.
Robert Hamerton-Kelly points out the connection that can be made between this week’s reading and last week’s reading. He refers to ‘the boundary markers between Jews and Gentiles.’ (The Gospel and the Sacred) As James Dunn has pointed out, these are basically three: kosher, Sabbath and circumcision. These boundary markers are barriers to full fellowship between Jews and Gentiles (see Ephesians 2:11ff). Theissen (The Gospels in Context) also refers to ‘crossing boundaries.’ “The name of this chapter, “Crossing Boundaries in the Narrative Tradition,” has a double reference. In some narratives the local border situation between Palestine and the neighboring regions is especially evident. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman will be investigated as an example. Beyond this, the narrative tradition reveals a crossing of social boundaries: not only disciples and followers of Jesus, but the whole people tell about Jesus and John.”
Theissen also offers a concise summary of the three ways “Jesus’ offensive saying” has been interpreted: biographically (Jesus was disappointed by his own people), paradigmatic (the woman is an example of faith) and salvation-historical (Jesus legitimates the Gentile mission). . Theissen evaluates all three and concludes ‘why should anyone attribute an attitude of rejection to Jesus, when what was at stake was the establishment of an attitude of acceptance within the community?’ Or as Hamerton-Kelly puts it, “Jesus’ refusal is based on the prior right of the Jews, but it is so cleverly circumvented by the Gentile woman and so easily set aside by Jesus that we must conclude that it is a straw man. This is not an assertion of Jewish priority but rather its repudiation.’ Repudiation is a bit of a strong word, we would prefer to say Jesus is reframing the concept of Jewish priority.
In order to appreciate this it is important to see that Jesus’ attacks are directed at the purity code which separated Jews from Gentiles (and Jews from each other as well). Marcus Borg (Conflict, Holiness and Politics in the Teaching of Jesus) has demonstrated Jesus’ emphasis on mercy where some Pharisees placed emphasis on purity or holiness (hence the term ‘mercy code’). Ched Myers (Binding the Strong Man) also contexts Jesus in relation to the purity code. Jesus is not attacking Jewish faith nor Judaism. He does not deny God’s covenant relationship to Judaism. He does seek to live in relation to others as he understands God in relation to others. In short, for Jesus there are no barriers to full communion with God.
The Anglican communion is experiencing such a crisis now. Our text for today does not take sides in the debate but it invites each side to do as Jesus did and cross the boundaries to the other. In our relations to each other we can either be incarnational (the crossing of the boundary to be with the other) or we can trespass on the other, there is a big difference. We hope and pray that the community born in the light of Jesus Christ will itself bring light and not just heat.
Of course we could mention all of the isms here as well, racism, sexism, ageism, etc, etc. If we clergy can learn anything from Jesus’ ministry it is this: he was non-discriminate when he brought the blessings of God to others. He was just like his Daddy. A chip off the old block as it were. So also, we who follow in his footsteps are likewise invited and commanded to go where he goes and that may mean crossing boundaries thus bearing witness to their ineffectiveness. Doing so may stir the ire of the mimetic mechanism, particularly the prohibition, so ‘be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.’