Good News Action

Scriptures: Hebrew Scriptures: Isaiah 35:4-7aGospel: Mark 7:24-37; Epistle: James 2:1-10 (11-13) 14-17

 

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.

I’d like to begin with some brief insights on the two stories of healing found in today’s Gospel reading. They illustrate graphically what James writes about with more oblique eloquence in the second chapter of his letter to the diaspora-that is, Jewish Christians across the Roman Empire 2-3 decades after the time of Jesus.

Commentator Loye Bradley Ashton reminds us,

“A traditional theological interpretation of … the Syrophoenician woman and the curing of the deaf and mute man is that these stories highlight both the universality of God’s relationship with humanity and the tenacious faith of two Gentiles that allows them to witness to, demand, and participate in Jesus’ saving power, even though they both remain outside of the recognized religious community…

If, however, you are looking for an alternative reading … consider this instead. What if the placement of these stories after the warnings about hypocrisy highlights not the shortcomings of Jesus’ followers, but of Jesus himself? [After all, he was also human like us.] Given that Jesus has already performed a healing on a Gentile in Mark … [the] response of Jesus to the woman seems out of place…. Could the story of the Syrophoenician woman be a kind of “conversion” moment for Jesus, in which he realizes how (maybe in a very human moment of physical and mental exhaustion) he has lost sight of the point of his mission and has to be reconnected with it by someone … outside of it? [If so,] then for Mark the woman is more than simply rhetorically gifted: she is [a prophetic messenger to Jesus, galvanizing him to action.] The story of the deaf mute that directly follows [might] then serve as an example of how being opened up empowers one to open up others.” [1]

What would this reading imply? Three things: (1) the power of faith knows no religious boundaries; (2) as God’s Anointed, Jesus is usually only recognized by those who have true faith, even if they do not possess birthright membership in the covenant community; and (3) God had always planned for Jesus’ messianic mission to go beyond the “chosen people” of Israel.

Put in plain terms, what is our Good News from all this? Our Good News is that Jesus Christ came to redeem all with his sacrificial love; and we are recipients of this redeeming love. It is another way of saying we have been put back into a right relationship with God, one another, and all God’s Creation.

But, as Mark illustrates, faith is not simply belief. Faith implies action that guides and directs virtually every aspect of our lives. Apparently, James would agree: “Faith with out works, is dead” (2:17). A few verses later, James lifts up Abraham in a positive example, “You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was brought to completion by the works” (2:22).

However, Paul writes in the letter to the Romans, 3rd chapter, 28th verse, “For we hold that a person is justified by faith apart from works proscribed by the law(my emphasis). How do we make sense of these two authors side by side? For the largely Greco-Roman audiences Paul addressed, faith and works were two separate spheres of socio-cultural life. Faith was philosophical, works were charity. Basically, Paul is telling non-Jewish peoples that they can believe in the teaching of Jewish Rabbi Jesus and even accept him as Lord and Savior and not have to follow Jewish religious laws.  James, writing to Jewish Christians, wished to remind them the way they live their life shows whether or not they are faithful people. To a faithful Jew, faith and works are inseparable; together they form a single woven whole – part of a faithful response as members of God’s “Chosen Ones”.

James reminds us in verse 8, the royal law of God’s Chosen is to love our neighbor as our self.  In God’s kingdom, the ethic of love emphasizes the need to love all, impartially, fulfilled by extending the hospitality of Christ – the very embodiment of God’s love – to everyone we meet.

Then and now it means meeting peoples’ need, wherever and whatever that need may be.  It means setting aside personal agendas and walking with our neighbors in solidarity. It means serving those for whom servitude is all they have ever known. It means giving voice to the voiceless and providing the love of God to the loveless.

The whole of any community is lifted up whenever we enact this kind of faithful living – which is rooted in God’s love – and extend God’s love to all. For James, extending the ministry of hospitality to others, and especially the poor, shows faith being brought to completion. Extending the love of God to all around us is an expression of how faith and works go together.  Actions speak louder than words. No matter what changes swirl around us in this day and age; if we remember this core essential of who we are as Christians, acting out the love of God towards all our neighbors and all who come to this, Christ’s Table, then we are living from the depth of our faith – and Christ will live on in us and through us.

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us; even Him who is the Christ. Amen? May it be so.

[1] Ashton, Loye Brdley. Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary – Feasting on the Word – Year B, Volume 4: Season After Pentecost 2 (Propers 17-Reign of Christ).

Questions for Reflection from Feasting on the Word lectionary aids.

Try to recall the first time in your life when you did not retreat in the face of opposition. How is your experience like that of the Syrophoenician woman putting her case to Jesus? Where in your life today is that same courage calling you to speak out?  What could you do this week to take steps in that direction?

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
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