Homily preached by Frank Tuchols, Pastoral Associate
St. Paul’s on the Green, Norwalk, CT
The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 9, 2012
That was surprisingly rude of Jesus to speak to that woman in that way! But she was a gentile and gentiles commonly were referred to as “dogs” by Jews of Jesus’ time. It was a way of referring to those of pagan belief. Jesus was reacting out of his own bias which was engrained in his Jewish culture.
Most importantly, did you see what happened? Jesus actually responded in a healing manner to this gentile woman’s challenge. Jesus actually was changed by this interaction. He came to realize and acknowledge that authentic belief could happen outside his community!
We must remember that Jesus probably had strong feelings for who he was as a young Jewish rabbi and given what may have been feelings about those who were not of his culture. The Jewish people at the time were also under Roman occupation which may have contributed to his defensiveness and feelings about gentiles. Mark makes it clear that this woman was Syrophoenician, a gentile, not of the Jewish community.
We know from the Acts of the Apostles the struggle of the early Christian community to move out of itself and come to realize that Jesus and his message was meant for all people of the then-known Mediterranean world. There were differences to be resolved in how to include those that were different. But what we experience in Jesus in our gospel lesson is his ability to change his understanding before our eyes in response to this gentile woman’s challenge.
Change in the way we view and more importantly accept other cultures or people of diverse ethnic background continues to be a challenge. This week as we approach the 11th anniversary of 9/11 and we are reminded of the continued struggle that our Muslim brothers and sisters have in overcoming discrimination in their lives and in their religious belief. We have a wonderful opportunity as members of this urban community here at St. Paul’s with its radical welcome to all. Here we have the opportunity to be enriched by difference and diversity in skin color, clothing, food and family custom. To learn from and experience how others can be different yet united in a common belief.
Isn’t it interesting that the next wonder that Jesus worked in today’s gospel was the curing of a man with a speech impediment who could not hear? Do you think that Mark in his gospel wanted us to know that Jesus’ message was not only meant for all but that a miracle cure occurs when we take time to speak with each other and truly listen to what others have to say? That when we give our time and take time to converse with others even those we might put in a “gentile” category, a wonder happens and we are cured of bias and discrimination.
The events of today’s gospel are sandwiched between Jesus multiplying loaves. Yes, Jesus multiplies bread and feeds people twice in Mark’s gospel and what we heard today appears between these multiplications of bread. That’s what we’re doing now. Jesus is multiplying bread for us as himself. Jesus is providing the nourishment for us to continue to open our lives to others, differences included, and not just the differences we see. We do this along with the wonder of being able to speak to and hear each other with and through our differences.
May Jesus broken for us in this multiplication of bread give us the strength and nourishment to overcome the distance that at times lies between us and value our diversity. To hear and speak to each other and deepen his presence among us.