"Above All, We Have To Seek"

Sermon Preached By Rev. Richard E. Stetler - September 7, 2003

James 2:1-10; Mark 7:24-37

     This morning I would like us to think about a very odd exchange that took place between Jesus and a woman whose spiritual orientation was outside the belief system embodied by Judaism.  His initial response to her lacked compassion.  Jesus appeared to be judgmental, even rude.  He referred to her ethnic tribe as "dogs."  What happened to our "Judge not lest ye be judged" teacher during this incident? 

     Mark implies in his particular passage that Jesus had carved out for himself a retreat or a vacation from his ministry. He knew that the overwhelming perceived needs of people never has an end to it.  Every care-giver, provider, teacher or mother needs to go "into hiding" for awhile.  Jesus was no exception.  

     His travels took him to the city of Tyre which is northwest of Galilee.  This ancient, magnificent city has a lovely Mediterranean coastline.  No doubt this seaport environment was exactly what Jesus needed.  There is no mention of his disciples being with him.  What we may have here, nestled right in the middle of Mark's Gospel,  is a composite of an experience where Jesus enjoyed complete solitude. 

     His treasured aloneness was broken, however, by a Syrian woman who lived in the region of Phoenicia.  In those days people did not need e-mail or "Can you hear me now?" cellular telephone service for news to travel.  She knew he was coming, her daughter was ill and she came in search of a healing.  This overview sets the stage for what was to follow. 

     Jesus said to her, "Let the children be fed first.  It is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to dogs."  His comment has a prejudicial edge to it.  It had the potential to injure this woman's confidence level.  Jesus' words could have been interpreted, "I have come only for the children of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  You do not have our beliefs.  You do not have our orientation to worship one God.  You cannot expect me to give to you what belongs to them!" 

     The woman did not appear to be bothered by Jesus' comments.  The woman, anxious about her daughter's health, responded, "Master, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."  Jesus was impressed by what she said.  He told her that when she returned home, her daughter's illness would be gone. 

     This one episode may have created another epiphany for Jesus.  The woman may have given Jesus insight into just how wide spread the news of him and his message had traveled.  He may have thought, "If she knows about my mission, perhaps there are other seekers in this part of the region."  

     Mark wrote that Jesus left Tyre soon after this event and traveled further north to the city of Sidon. He then looped south through a region known as the Decapolis, meaning ten towns.  As he traveled, he was sowing his seeds, healing and sensing the response of those outside his faith.  

     The woman said, "Master, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."  This woman may have become a pivotal personality in Jesus's ministry who provided an insight that his message was universal, that everyone in every territory needs the crumbs of healing, understanding, being loved and learning more about God's light for their perceived darkness.  

     Perhaps Jesus learned during the unfolding of this drama that his truth does not need to be packaged in Judaism for it to be understood by everyone.  She may have been the one who inspired Jesus to teach his disciples, "Go into all the world." She may have been the one that inspired his use of a Samaritan as the main character in his parable of the Good Samaritan. 

     The intriguing and compelling dynamic in our lesson, however, is the motivation of this Syrian woman.  She came searching.  This is one aspect of life that separates people.  She was searching and she did not care what Jesus thought of her as long as he loved her enough and had compassion enough to honor her request.   

     This particular lesson drives straight to the heart of where most of us live.  When we are not seeking, greater truth will remain invisible and beyond our reach.  Far too many of us become trapped in our historic coping patterns.  Most of us are using the answers that for years have served our routines and habits.  In time we learn that they are not helpful and will not work to enhance our lives.  In fact, they build barriers that serve to reinforce our comfort levels. 

     We think to ourselves, "If I run a little faster, if I get angry and get even, if I show my frustration and assert myself, and if I strive to sharpen my competitive edge, I would be on top of my game." Our answers are what caused the Apostle Paul to write in his letter to the Corinthians, "When I become an adult, I will put away my childish ways."    

     Jesus' message and his skills of healing were no doubt known to this woman who was and who would remain a Gentile.  He honored her because she came seeking with an open spirit.  She was willing to accept whatever he offered. 

     How is it with your journey in life?  Are you seeking renewed vision, hope and healing for what stands in front of you?  If Jesus can reach out to a perfect stranger, he can reach out to you and touch your life. He will not come as a carpenter or an itinerant preacher.  God uses many forms while responding to people whose minds and hearts are open and searching.  To those who already have their answers, new insights are few.  They can only hear what reflects what they already know. 

     Are you contented to remain where you are or are you highly motivated to grow beyond that point?  Just as Jesus healed a stranger's daughter, so God's spirit can heal each one of us.  If you are carrying some personalized burden, let it go so that your search for healing might bathe your mind with peace. 


    Merciful and ever faithful God, we thank you for giving us our minds, for giving us the capacity for insight, and for giving us the ability to respond creatively in every moment of life.  This morning we confess how often we allow other people to mire us in frustration.  You have invited us to witness with our faith and often we settle for smallness.  You have invited us to live in a spirit of forgiveness and we often choose to hold on to our pain.  You have taught us to communicate love, and too often we have decided that love must first come to us.  As a sent people, help each of us to bring your presence into our families, our places of work, our classrooms, and our relationships, so that we may remember that our mission field is in front of us.  Amen.


    Loving God, we thank you for the consistency of your spirit.  With you, there are no favorites.  With you, there are no disappointments, failures, hurts or unmet needs.  Your will unfolds all around us whether anyone is noticing or not.  With Christ as such a prominent figure in our lives, and indeed, in our world today, it is a challenge for us to comprehend that the people living in his world all died never knowing that something powerful was taking place in a rural community called Galilee.  They died never knowing how one life was beginning a process of altering the course of humanity with a simple idea -- "Learn to love one another." 

    God, we are four days away from the anniversary of the destruction of the towers of the World Trade Center, portions of the Pentagon and an aircraft filled with passengers in Pennsylvania.  May we learn that in spite of such acts of inhumanity, your will is still being accomplished in ways humanity cannot comprehend. And perhaps most of our world's population will also have to die before we learn as a collective to love one another.  Yet our confidence and trust in you remains resolute that regardless of what happens to us, your love will one day prevail even among those who cannot understand what love looks like.   

    Help us, O God, to come seeking your spirit. Help us to avoid the pitfalls of the false sense of self-sufficiency. Help us to practice stillness and patience as we reflect your creative will of loving one another. Bless us now through the spirit of Jesus, who taught us to say when we pray . . .