The Kin-dom for All PDF Print E-mail
Written by Skip Jackson   
Sunday, 09 September 2018
A Sermon by Sydney V. (Skip) Jackson — September 9, 2018
Indianola Presbyterian Church, Columbus, Ohio
Text:  Mark 7:14-37;  8:1-21

Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid?”— Mark 7:18 [The Message]

[Jesus] said, “Do you still not get it?” — Mark 8:21 [The Message]

Back in July I gave you an assignment—to read the book of Mark aloud in one sitting.  I won’t ask how many did so, but a few of you have told me about doing it—not a bad response for any summer reading assignment.  Everything in Mark happens so fast.  One of Mark’s favorite words is euthus in Greek, which means immediately.  And Jesus is constantly on the move, taking his disciples into foreign territories where they are aliens in the minority, and then returning to home ground.  In doing so, he is opening their eyes, giving them lessons in empathy and compassion.  It’s like an group exercise in Leviticus 19:34—“You shall love the alien as yourself, for you yourselves were aliens…”—to show them how all people are brothers and sisters in God’s kin-dom.

Back and forth they all go across the Sea of Galilee—home ground on the western shore and a strange land on the eastern shore where strange people do strange things like herding pigs [Mark 5:11ff].  In this morning’s readings they start at home in Galilee and then proceed northwest all the way to the Syrophoenician port city of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast, where an unnamed Gentile woman confronts Jesus.  From Tyre they circle around the Sea of Galilee and head southeast to a region of ten Roman-built cities called the Decapolis, where Jesus astounds everyone by healing a deaf man and feeding 4000 people on seven loaves and a few small fish.  Then back they go to Galilee, where once again the powers-that-be show up to argue with Jesus, asking for a sign from heaven—as if his words and actions weren’t enough already.  Finally Jesus and the disciples get back in the boat to sail once more into foreign territory.  Twice before when they did this there were great storms, but no storm this time except for the one within the disciples as they struggle to understand what is going on (and maybe we readers are struggling as well).

Why doesn’t Jesus (or Mark) come right out and tell us directly what it all means?  Well, sometimes Mark tries to.  When Jesus says: “It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution,” the disciples are clueless.  “Are you being willfully stupid?” he asks in frustration.  “[Food] doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach… and is finally flushed.”  At this point, Mark jumps in with a direct comment: “That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.”  Direct, yes, but Mark totally misses Jesus’ main point, which—namely, that it’s the evil intentions vomited from people’s hearts that really pollute them.

The Bible does offer a great many direct admonitions, rules, laws, commandments.  But they’re not the most effective tools for teaching and learning.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” and “you shall not covet” are pretty clear, yet very few people ever seem to learn and do them “by heart.”  Personal experience is a better teacher.  It’s how most of learned not to reach out and touch a hot stove.  I’m sure that like me all of you have learned valuable lessons “the hard way.”  Stories and object lessons stay with us longer and are far more effective in the long run than any rulebook.  In addition, good stories are much more flexible over time precisely because they are not reducible to simple, absolute rules.  So the disciples learn by doing and by listening to Jesus tell stories.  Bit by bit they make progress.  And we learn by following the stories of their missteps, mistakes, and misunderstandings as well as their insights and triumphs.

The disciples are learning empathy and compassion, both from Jesus’ example and by first hand experience of what it is like to be a stranger in a strange land.  In our world, this continues to be for us.  I remember being a junior in high school and reading an amazing book called Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin.  Griffin was a white man who, in 1959, artificially darkened his skin and traveled for six weeks through the segregated states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia passing as a black man to experience first-hand the hardships black people lived through every day.  He reported becoming accustomed to what he called the “hate stare” he got from whites.  His experiences transformed him into a leading advocate for the Civil Rights Movement, but he also received many death threats.  He was hanged in effigy in his hometown of Mansfield, Texas.

Reading the book was an eye-opening experience for me as a naive teenager who had never actually met a black person.  I’ve had more experience since, but I find I still struggle (as I think most of us do) to grasp all the everyday racial profiling blacks experience in a culture that likes to see itself as color-blind.  But the stories are all too common—a golf course owner calls the police on black women because they were playing too slowly, a white student at Yale calls the police because a black student was napping in her dorm common room, or neighbors call the police on a man moving into his new apartment saying he was an armed burglar.  In this last case, half a dozen police officers showed up with guns drawn, and the man could have been killed if he’d made one wrong move.  I remember one black pastor in BREAD telling how he was pulled over by the police multiple times when he was first in Columbus, all seemingly for “driving while black.”  In 18 years in Columbus, I’ve never been pulled over by the police.

The other lesson the disciples are learning first hand is that this kin-dom of God Jesus is going around proclaiming is really for all people.  Jesus teaches and heals all alike—men and women, Jews and Gentiles, Galileans and foreigners.  There are no exceptions.  The daughter of a synagogue leader—healed.  A wild man in the country of the Gerasenes possessed by a legion of demons—healed.  A Jewish woman with a hemorrhage—healed.  A deaf man in the Decapolis—healed.  The daughter of a Syrophoenician Gentile woman—healed.  All those in need healed—no exceptions.  This is a kin-dom for all.

This last healing is especially telling for it violates all of the usual cultural boundaries.  An unnamed woman approaches Jesus directly.  She has a daughter with a demonic affliction.  Where is her husband?  Perhaps she’s a widow.  In any event, this is just not done.  At least the Jewish woman with a hemorrhage was discrete in touching the hem of Jesus’ cloak trying not to be noticed.  Here’s Jesus trying to get away for a little private time with his disciples when this Greek woman of Syrophoenician origin comes begging him to heal her daughter.  She’s both a pagan and a foreigner, and Syrophoenicians were frequent enemies of the Jews.  And then comes the real kicker.

We don’t know why Jesus says what he says when he rebuffs her at first—“Stand in line and take your turn.  The children get fed first.  If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”  Did Jesus just insult her by calling her a dog?  Why would he say such a thing?  Bible scholars offer all sorts of excuses.  Examples:  (1) This is Jesus being truly human.  It’s been a tough day.  Who among us has not said something regrettable, totally out of character, when stressed or frustrated?    (2) Here is Jesus learning compassion from a foreigner—again a reflection of his humanity or perhaps modeling for his disciples the sort of learning he is putting them through.  (3) Maybe this is Jesus’ way of testing the woman, just as rabbis rebuke and test their followers not to harm but to teach them.  So Jesus deals with her as he would one of his followers, granting her equal status with the twelve.  There are all kinds of other explanations.  But whatever the reason, the woman’s response is a surprising twist almost beyond belief.  Given Jesus’ verbal mastery over all opponents among the powers-that-be that confront him, how can a foreign, Gentile women best him in an argument?  But she wins.  Jesus heals her daughter, but not because of her faith.  We don’t hear the usual “your faith has made you well,” but rather because she’s right.  She has given voice to the need of those at the very bottom for justice and for the liberating power of the kin-dom of God.  And even Jesus cannot hold back God’s kin-dom from her.

God’s kin-dom is for all.  And the disciples keep struggling with this.  Yet again they fail to understand as they sit in a boat in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, midway between home and foreign land, worried that they’ve only brought one loaf of bread.  They’ve been part of two miraculous meals where they saw Jesus’ great compassion in action.  First in Galilee, he fed 5000 men (plus uncounted women and children) with five loaves and two fish.  Then somewhere in the Decapolis he fed 4000 people with seven loaves and a few small fish.  But still the disciples fail to understand.  All they can think about is that they only have one loaf, and it’s not enough.

Don’t you get it at all?” asks Jesus.  “Remember the five loaves I broke for the five thousand?  How many baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”  They said, “Twelve.”  “And the seven loaves for the four thousand—how many bags full of leftovers did you get?”  “Seven,” [they said.]  He said, “Do you still not get it?”

The clues are there in the numbers and in the two specific words, “baskets” and “bags.”  The Message is rare in using two different words here.  Most translations do not distinguish, using “baskets” in both places.  In the Greek the first word is kophinos—a Hebrew word for basket transliterated into Greek.  The second word is sphyris—the common Greek (or Gentile) word for basket.  And now we might recall that numbers in scripture often carry meanings on their own.  So the Hebrew word kophinos along with the numbers 5 (5 loaves, 5000 men, 5 books of the Torah) and 12 (12 baskets, 12 tribes of Israel) reference the Jewish world.  The Greek word sphyris and the numbers 4 (4000 people, 4 cardinal directions) and 7 (7 baskets, 7 days of creation) all reference the Greek world.  In both Jewish and the Gentile worlds, the kin-dom of God is at hand, and it is for all.  It provides enough for everyone, Jew or Gentile, with leftovers to spare.

For those disciples in the boat—the one loaf is all they need.  And for us, it is all we need as well, because God’s kin-dom is for all people, east and west, north and south, rich and poor, male and female.  For everyone!  Even you.  Even me.  Alleluia and amen.
 
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Mark 7:14-37 [The Message]

14-16 Jesus called the crowd together again and said, “Listen now, all of you—take this to heart. It’s not what you swallow that pollutes your life; it’s what you vomit—that’s the real pollution. Are you listening to this? Really listening?”
17 When he was back home after being with the crowd, his disciples said, “We don’t get it. Put it in plain language.”
18-19 Jesus said, “Are you being willfully stupid? Don’t you see that what you swallow can’t contaminate you? It doesn’t enter your heart but your stomach, works its way through the intestines, and is finally flushed.” (That took care of dietary quibbling; Jesus was saying that all foods are fit to eat.)
20-23 He went on: “It’s what comes out of a person that pollutes: obscenities, lusts, thefts, murders, adulteries, greed, depravity, deceptive dealings, carousing, mean looks, slander, arrogance, foolishness—all these are vomit from the heart. There is the source of your pollution.”
24-26 From there Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house there where he didn’t think he would be found, but he couldn’t escape notice. He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter.
27 He said, “Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there’s any left over, the dogs get it.”
28 She said, “Of course, Master. But don’t dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?”
29-30 Jesus was impressed. “You’re right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone.” She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good.
31-35 Then he left the region of Tyre, went through Sidon back to Galilee Lake and over to the district of the Ten Towns. Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man’s ears and some spit on the man’s tongue. Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, “Ephphatha!—Open up!” And it happened. The man’s hearing was clear and his speech plain—just like that.
36-37 Jesus urged them to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, beside themselves with excitement. “He’s done it all and done it well. He gives hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless.”

Mark 8:1-21 [The Message]

1-3 At about this same time he again found himself with a hungry crowd on his hands. He called his disciples together and said, “This crowd is breaking my heart. They have stuck with me for three days, and now they have nothing to eat. If I send them home hungry, they’ll faint along the way—some of them have come a long distance.”
4 His disciples responded, “What do you expect us to do about it? Buy food out here in the desert?”
5 He asked, “How much bread do you have?”
“Seven loaves,” they said.
6-10 So Jesus told the crowd to sit down on the ground. After giving thanks, he took the seven bread loaves, broke them into pieces, and gave them to his disciples so they could hand them out to the crowd. They also had a few fish. He pronounced a blessing over the fish and told his disciples to hand them out as well. The crowd ate its fill. Seven sacks of leftovers were collected. There were well over four thousand at the meal. Then he sent them home. He himself went straight to the boat with his disciples and set out for Dalmanoutha.
11-12 When they arrived, the Pharisees came out and started in on him, badgering him to prove himself, pushing him up against the wall. Provoked, he said, “Why does this generation clamor for miraculous guarantees? If I have anything to say about it, you’ll not get so much as a hint of a guarantee.”
13-15 He then left them, got back in the boat, and headed for the other side. But the disciples forgot to pack a lunch. Except for a single loaf of bread, there wasn’t a crumb in the boat. Jesus warned, “Be very careful. Keep a sharp eye out for the contaminating yeast of Pharisees and the followers of Herod.”
16-19 Meanwhile, the disciples were finding fault with each other because they had forgotten to bring bread. Jesus overheard and said, “Why are you fussing because you forgot bread? Don’t you see the point of all this? Don’t you get it at all? Remember the five loaves I broke for the five thousand? How many baskets of leftovers did you pick up?”
They said, “Twelve.”
20 “And the seven loaves for the four thousand—how many bags full of leftovers did you get?”
“Seven.”
21 He said, “Do you still not get it?”

 
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