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Tuesday, September 05, 2006
Sunday's texts call us to explore what it means to be persistent as we take life-changing action with and on behalf of others. As we do, we encounter boundaries that provide places of sanctuary and boundaries that divide, separating people from one another and God. Consider how giving voice to God’s justice opens such human-made barriers. Mark 7:24–37 The geography in verses 24 and 31 reveals theology: Jesus moves beyond the normal boundaries, not always travelling among people who are kin. Verse 24 suggests that Jesus goes out of the way to find a place of retreat. In so doing, he is opened to the needs of those who inhabit the area. Two miracle stories take place in these verses, both involving advocacy for justice and life-changing action. In the first, a Syrophoenician gentile woman persists in seeking Jesus’ intervention. Her ethnicity sets her apart from Jesus. Her religion sets her apart from Jesus. Her gender sets her apart from Jesus. On any one of these accounts, public contact and conversation with Jesus would have brought censure for her and for him. But one matter connected them: the well-being of a child. For the child’s sake, the woman is persistent even when Jesus debates with her. This woman pleads with persistence for the needs of the child; human-made barriers are of little consequence. Jesus sends her on her way with what she asks. Mark is rather matter-of-fact about Jesus’ response. In Matthew’s telling of this story, Jesus exclaims, “Great is your faith!” (Matthew 15:28). In the second story, a man who is deaf and has a speech impediment is brought to Jesus. We are not told who brings him – family members? Friends? Neighbours? The omission of this detail is a reminder that it is not the nature of relationship that matters so much as the willingness to act on behalf of one in need. The barriers in this story are different, but no less severe. This man cannot hear or speak for himself. Others must be willing to act on his behalf. Consider how much trust it required in this man’s encounter with Jesus. Fingers pry into the man’s ears. The rabbi spits and touches his tongue. Jesus speaks words the man could not yet hear, but he also makes gestures the man could see and gives touches he could feel. Jesus places his hands precisely on the barriers that separated this man from others. Jesus says, Ephphatha,” or “be opened.” This word ends the man’s separation from sound and community. The sayings in Proverbs 22:1–2, 8–9, 22–23 urge justice for the sake of the poor. These sayings from Israel’s wisdom traditions derive their power from God, who speaks and acts on behalf of those whose access to justice would otherwise be impaired. Psalm 125 gives voice to confidence in God’s justice and deliverance. Some attribute this psalm to the era following Israel’s exile, when the nation faced genuine threats. Ironically, those times also are associated with hardening social and ethnic boundaries, the results of which can be seen in scripture. Christians are called to be vigilant in taking action on behalf of God’s justice. James 2:1–10, (11–13), 14–17 warns all who follow Christ to shun favouritism and care for those who are vulnerable.


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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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