Sept 9, 2018
Have you ever felt like you had the comfort of clear-cut beliefs?
Simple answers to what seemed to be straightforward questions?
When I was younger, I lived in Turkey for a while.
sometimes I wish I could do it all over, because I could have dived so much more deeply into the culture there.
But I did reach out in some ways that pushed me a bit, but that I also was excited to be pushed towards.
And there was this Muslim-Christian interfaith dialogue group already operating, a blend of native Turkish students and foreign exchange students like myself.
I had wanted to be a pastor since I was a teenager, so I came in feeling like I might be the expert in the room. After all, I had studied religion and my own faith at an academic level for almost two years.
So, clearly, expert.
It was one of the more humbling experiences I’ve had, because you put some young Muslim adults, especially from the US, especially post-9/11, in an interfaith dialogue group, and they have been learning their faith inside and out, for years. To some degree, in self-defense: intellectual preparation in a culture ready to slander their religion of peace.
And I was caught totally flat-footed by some questions that I had never paused to interrogate about my own faith:
Like, why would anyone turn the other cheek?
Or, if Jesus was God’s son, why did he kill him?
I was struck by how I had never even thought to question these things, because they hang together as part of an internal logic being raised in the church—these are such familiar stories and assumptions, I had never thought to question them.
I later learned that a number of thinkers and theologians have tackled these very questions, but to a college student, I felt like the definition of Sophomoric: a fool who believes themselves to be wise.
These fellow students opened up a realm of thinking for me, and a cultural experience that was unfamiliar to me as a Christian in the US with all the privileges and unquestioned ease that affords.
I realized, then, and over and over since then: I’ve got my worldview.
I’ve got my assumptions.
Narratives that reinforce themselves and operate in a vacuum.
But it’s so much bigger than that.
Like many of us, Jesus also has to be confronted with a story that expands under him.
With what his mission and ministry really look like, in all its challenge and growth, when confronted with this bold, creative, resourceful Gentile woman.
Jesus has gone from healing and feeding those in the Jewish territory to crossing the sea—crossing borders—into the gentile territory.
And, considering he just went straight into a home to hide out and didn’t want anyone to know he was there, I’m not convinced he was all ready to go, planning to bring this mission of healing and life to the gentiles. To people of other cultures and tribes. I think it’s very likely that this was a safe place to not be about the work his Father set him on.
Yet this Gentile woman tracks him down anyway.
She asks him to heal her daughter, and Jesus calls her and her daughter dogs.
Now, don’t picture loyal, mans-best-friend golden retrievers;
in this era, dogs were the aggressive scavengers amongst filth and waste.
And I don’t want to downplay or minimize this—this is Jesus’ ethnic slur of his time.
It’s one of the uglier moments we see of Jesus perhaps because he had very human notions we still do today—of who is deserving and who is undeserving.
This is one of the classic and increasingly widespread ways that people deploy to limit the fullness of life that Jesus offers to all people.
So this well-off Gentile woman, someone from a completely different people, dares to ask this exhausted rabbi for help?
No, lady, you need to look somewhere else.
Go to your people’s healers.
We don’t serve your kind here.
Like Jesus, we too have our biases. Our sense of entitlement. Our notions of who deserves help, and who hasn’t proven themselves worthy.
Jesus himself is taught by this woman that God’s grace and goodness are bigger than entitlement, than deserving.
That’s grace. It’s for everybody. And if it’s not for everybody, it’s something else.
Now, I picture Jesus here bone-tired after days and days of dealing with people who needed him to do something for them.
How many of us have snapped at someone when we’re exhausted?
This is the fully human side of fully human, fully divine.
Fully human, this Jesus.
In becoming fully human, Jesus had to take on some finitude. Some limits. He also, like so many of us, perhaps knew what his parents and teachers had taught him about who was in, and who was out. Who the good people are, and who the problem people are. The people who are on our side, and the people who threaten the values we hold—does this sound familiar, 2018?
Jesus, as God’s love made flesh on earth, was fully human and fully divine.
So here’s him being human, as fully tired, peeved, narrow-minded, and a little bit bigoted.
And so even Jesus needed a courageous and challenging and insightful word from this woman.
This rabbi got a rabbi.
This teacher got schooled.
This woman opened Jesus’ world up.
And so when he goes on the the Decapolis, and heals a man deaf, there’s this interesting detail that gives a richer picture than just a two-dimensional Messiah:
When he places his hands on the man to heal him, Jesus looks up to heaven, and sighs.
okay Father, I’m trying to get it.
Here’s what I’ve heard:
Ephphatha. Be opened.
I heard it loud and clear.
I get it now.
I hope others do too.
It’s so much bigger than where I started.
It’s like, when we’re opened,
something is unlocked in us,
empowered through us,
that then opens up others.
Don’t waste being cracked open.
Faith, as we see here, is about being radically open. About learning and growing.
And this woman, in her prophetic retort, heck, in her faith, calls forth a wider view of God’s mission.
Just because something is different doesn’t mean it’s not part of God’s mission and future. In fact, that is usually precisely the moment and opportunity for grace.
From here on, Jesus’ ministry, God’s grace, is spilling out into places undreamed of before.
God’s mission is ever-opening, ever widening grace, life, and love. How do we partner with that? How do we make that our mission?
One of Jesus’ significant limiting factors at the beginning of this story is his imagination.
Jesus comes into his ministry thinking that God’s love and grace is smaller than it actually is.
Imagine if we approached the world with God’s imagination?
What possibilities would shimmer before us?
Today is Homecoming Sunday, a day when we celebrate this church home and our ministries together, and God’s movement here.
And I want to challenge us to take on some of God’s imagination. To dream that this goodness could be bigger and broader than we presume.
The astonishing breadth of God’s love, God’s healing, the fullness of life that is for all people, will not be limited by any location, borders, any laws. It will not be stifled by fear or small-mindedness or hard-heartedness. It will not be regulated by the many reasons we come up with as to why God could not possibly be that good.
How we will show, in our deed and word and thought, that God’s love is overflowing?
How will we reflect, in our action, that Jesus’ renewing life is for all?
How will we challenge one another and our wider circles to notice where our imagination ends—and then dare beyond that point?
We have what we need—the only limits are our imaginations.