Isaiah 35:4-7a, James 2:1-10,14-17, Mark 7:24-37
We have a new baby in the family – hooray! And she is the sweetest little thing, quite the loveliest baby there has ever been, apart from her big sister, and her mother when she was born, and our other daughter, who is, of course, pushing for parental affection and before you can say “Jack Robinson” you are in a King Lear situation and the world falls apart around you. And that is just within the immediate family.
What happens, asks the writer James, if you do that in church? You betray the God who loved you in Christ Jesus, who showed no favouritism, and redeemed us all through his death and resurrection.
And what is more, James adds, if you favour the rich, you are toadying up to the very people who are making life difficult for the Church and especially for the poor.
Aha, you say, in the Gospel passage today, Jesus does appear to be favouring the Jews over the Gentile woman who comes beseeching him to heal her daughter. Correct, but Jesus does heal the woman’s daughter because she is not prepared to give up, because she is prepared to accept crumbs from the God of love – and those crumbs are sufficient to restore her daughter to fullness of life. Would that we had that much faith – the things we could achieve for God would be astonishing.
And then there is the sign language healing of the profoundly deaf man – an astonishingly gracious act of personalised healing, designed so that he would be involved in the process, understand what Jesus was proposing, and with his faith, bring about the healing that was required and desired.
Plenty to talk about, but it doesn’t really join up. The children this morning are concentrating on the healing of the blind man – they can play seeing and remembering games, blind man’s buff and all sorts, and learn just how precious sight is. But what was wrong with the Gentile woman’s daughter? All we know is that she had an “unclean spirit”, which could mean anything from bipolar to epilepsy, and everything in between. Whatever she was suffering with, it limited her life, and needed to be sorted out. In Jesus, her mother knew she had found the person who could do just that, but race and culture and religion seemed to block the way. Jesus’s first answer is not an outright “no”, just a re-affirmation that his mission is to the Jews first. The mother’s cracking response, spat back at Jesus more in frustration than in anger, demonstrates a parent’s visceral campaign for a child’s wellbeing, as well as playing the game of cross-cultural insult and counter-thrust.
But in the healing of her daughter, the mother gets more than crumbs. Her daughter is healed immediately, at a distance – no need for touch or words, not even for actions to explain what is going on – Jesus simply says that her daughter is better, sends her on her way and returns to the recalcitrant people of Israel – who, for their healing, will need every part of it explained, as Jesus has to for the profoundly deaf man. The Gentile daughter receives the full grace of God in complete healing, everything that the profoundly deaf Jewish man receives – this is radical stuff.
We are not in the business of receiving or handing out children’s crumbs. We worship together in the full grace of God, each one of us a complete recipient of all of God’s incalculable love and generosity. In this feast of bread and wine, God gives us himself, to share with one another, openly and fully. We cannot withhold that from anyone.
As a consequence, we cannot be satisfied with doling out crumbs, but of freely offering the totality of the love of God. This covers everything, from welcome to coffee, from teaching to prayer, to the Peace and to our care for each other through the week. We will not do theology lite: rather, we will dig deep into the Word and stretch our minds and hearts. We will pray with a fervour which goes beyond formulae and into the mind of God. Our welcome will be second to none, gently bringing people across the threshold with love and grace. The Peace will be sincere, the children included in all our endeavours as a unit with their families – there won’t be something for the children, and something for the adults: it will be a sizeable chunk of the presence of God for everyone. Conversation, music, silence, embrace – all will be of the best and the deepest.
We have invited back to church next Sunday all those families who had a child or children baptised over the past 12 months – that’s the start of a season of invitation – everything we do will be suitable to invite anyone along for the first time. Harvest Festival, St Luke’s Patronal Festival, All Saints, Remembrance, Advent, Christmas – it’s all lined up for us. Let’s seize the opportunity, bring people in, and include them from the start in God’s amazing love. This will be fun!
Rev Peter Hart