Mother Katherine’s sermon preached on Sep. 5, 2021

Posted by on Sun, Sep 5, 2021 in Season after Pentecost, Sermons

The 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Sep. 5, 2021

This week I saw a t-shirt that said, “I’m a Teacher during COVID-19. What’s your superpower?” So true, and we are all the more in awe during this back-to-school season. The t-shirt made me think of all those acting on behalf of others in these times too. So what is your superpower? Isn’t there one you dreamt of as a child? Perhaps we do have them, and either don’t see them that way—or worse, don’t use them that way. Today we see a child’s mother muster her superpower as she barges in on Jesus having a poorly hidden break and seeks healing for her child. She’s heard of the man and his healing power, his teachings even, and though definitely an outsider to his community she charges in anyway. Dropping to her knees with humility and hope she begs Jesus help. 

Her plea is not only denied she is insulted. Did he just call my daughter and I dogs not worth feeding? How would you respond to him? Fine, be a sectarian bigot! Go feed your insider favorites, if they’re the only ones you care about! This gutsy determined woman does none of these things, and showing no hint of humiliation or of seeking retribution she speaks a profound truth. “Yes,” she says, “but Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She speaks this truth without personal defensiveness, rancor, or even reproach of his slight to her. 

There is also a twist in their exchange hidden in the linguistics of the Greek in Mark’s gospel. When Jesus speaks of the ‘children’ to be fed first, those children whose food should not be thrown to dogs, the word used for child here is τέκνον, or teknon, meaning a child who is a true descendent, regarded as an inhabitant, children begotten by virtue of the divine promise—that is to say, Israel. Heirs to be fed first. 

Her response to this allusion to Israel being more deserving than the Gentiles like her, is so wise and well considered that I always picture this unnamed woman as a young RBG (the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg). So she does not use that bias-bearing word for children, instead she uses παιδίον, or paidion, which is to say any little child or infant, a youngster still under training, learning, and so the term points to all created children. Yes, she is ‘schooling’ him—and he gets it. Her superpower is revealed.

Think of the last time you tried to change someone’s mind about something important and were painfully rebuffed. That slap-back retort  on the tip of our tongue (or Facebook fingers) might briefly satisfy a hunger for vengeance, but it is her responding from alongside Jesus and speaking the words she knows are true that turns his heart to heal her daughter. Her daughter is her paramount concern, wellness is the mission, not her ego or being shamed or any concern for how she appears to him or others. She would not be deterred, and used her God-given gifts for fierce advocacy; courage, intelligence, boldness, and great love. Advocating for someone she loved, she offered this famed and favored Jewish healer a way to assimilate the request of a foreign Gentile outsider, a way that opened an opportune door with his own keys but didn’t try to shove him through it. She would be heard by this Jesus who could heal. (It is no accident Mark places this story alongside Jesus’ healing of a man who is both deaf and unable to speak!) 

Yes, Jesus hears—perhaps something more powerful than expected, and he says so. If we let the nuance of the Greek show through our translation of his answer we hear, “Because of this word of yours, go. The demon has left your daughter.” Because of this logos, he says. Logos indicates a word embodying an idea, a divine utterance, and when capitalized we hear God’s Word—as, “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” It dwells among us and in us. When we speak from this logos of God we are heard differently, when it is spoken to us we hear the truth in it. There is a divine courage and purpose imbued every time I’ve encountered it. That is not to say it always prevails, only that such faithfulness in action is not carried out alone or in vain.

We hear it again immediately afterwards when, like the woman acting on behalf of her daughter, people in the next town act on behalf of a man who could not speak or hear. They take him to Jesus and beg him to lay hands on their friend and heal him. “Be opened!” Jesus prays with a sigh, and his tongue was loosed and his ears opened to hear. 

Be opened! The prayer is for us too. Listen to those we might unconsciously assume are outsiders to our inside, listen and speak truth even when it seems we are called dogs. In the letter of James we read today he challenges us to do just that. Can we see those brothers and sisters who are naked or hungry? What goes does it do to send them in peace urging that they keep warm or safe or eat their fill, if we fail to see and hear and help their need? Insiders? Outsiders? We need only to erect a wall or border to create them. Does the world see dogs or children? 

We know many people from Afghanistan who worked with our military are now in grave danger, along with their families. As they come here seeking safety how will they be seen? Who will we see? What will they need to live and thrive, and how will we help? As this has been running through my mind for days an odd  association occurred to me through this reading occurred, and I invite you to engage in a bit of stretch here and see if it speaks to you too.

Mark’s gospel refers to being allowed to eat the crumbs under the table, and I learned the word ‘crumbs’ is a diminutive from the word for psalm; psallo. It can mean a morsel or crumb, and can also mean a bit of music, ‘to sing a hymn,’ ‘to praise God in song,’ sometimes translated ‘I will sing.’ The Taliban has now banned music in Afghanistan. (Some religious songs may be an exception.) Students have fled the music schools, and with other musicians, are burning, hiding, or abandoning, their beloved instruments. How would you hunger for music if it were banned? Instruments and all? It might be a crumb to some, and yet others would sooner forego shelter and food than music, it is so vital. It is a love intrinsic to people the whole world over and no boundary can shut it out. 

The needs of those who are coming will be basics and essentials, yes, and I pray we can help with those. They will also have in-tangible but critical needs like music, friendship, mentoring, laughing, weeping, listening to each other’s truth, and seeing each other and being seen as children of one God. Heal my child, the foreign woman pled. Lay hands on our friend they asked. Be opened! Jesus prayed. And God gave us gifts—superpowers—that we might embody the Word, and in advocating for another we can find strengths engaged for a higher

© 2021 The Rev. Katherine Sedwick. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.