Sunday Sermon 


Trinity 14 2021

(Mark 7: 24 – 37)

 

In our Gospel reading today there’s a lot of hearing and speaking going on. A deaf man is healed and enabled to “speak plainly” and a Syrophoenician woman’s voice is heard. We also hear that even for Jesus this can be a struggle.

 

Jesus is in Tyre, a seaport on the Phoenician coast and outside Jewish territory. Like most seaports, it was a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural place, with sailors and travellers from all over the world passing through it. There would have been temples to pagan gods and goddesses on every corner, food that was unclean for observant Jews, behaviour they would have found offensive.  

 

Jesus is deliberately, putting himself outside his comfort zone, quite literally going to a place where he knows he will be challenged. Jesus has been preaching that God’s love is for everyone, but it seems as if he feels the need to test out how deeply he believes that.

 

A Gentile woman throws herself at him, and is clearly more than even he was expecting. In a society where respectable women kept to the home, and their male relatives normally spoke for them, there is something suspicious about this woman from the start and Jesus is clearly uncomfortable at first. His words to her seem harsh. They are harsh. The likely explanation for them is that Jesus needs to learn something from her. Her refusal to be fobbed off and his acknowledgement that she is right to persist, is the challenge he needs, the confirmation that God’s love is indeed as broad as he has said it is.

 

It may be surprising that this story is here in the Gospels at all. It shows Jesus in a bit of a bad light, after all. Yet the Gospel writers evidently believed that their readers needed to hear about this moment when Jesus learned something from a Gentile woman, so they were prepared to put it in anyway. Their readers were struggling to make a new community in which Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slave and free, were all included on the same terms. This story tells them that even Jesus struggled to do this, but that the struggle was worth it because if we don’t listen to the voices that disturb us, we will miss the voice of God that speaks through them.”

 

Then in our Gospel reading we meet a man who is literally speechless, and deaf as well. Imagine what his life might have been like. There was no sign language at this time and no hearing aids. He’d never have the chance to join in a conversation. He’d have been vulnerable to abuse and exploitation – after all, he had no way of complaining. After he’s healed, we are told he “spoke plainly”. I often wonder what he said. I’m sure he would have expressed love and gratitude to some people, but maybe also there were wrongs to be righted, as well. Maybe some people heard painful home truths from him. Just like the Syrophoenician woman, his voice might not have turned out be one everyone wanted to hear. Jesus didn’t just give him the power of hearing and speech; he gave him the power to challenge, to confront, to make his opinions known, and there’s always an element of danger in that.

 

Both these stories ask us powerful and disturbing questions. Whose voices do we pay attention to today, and whose do we discount? How willing are we to do what Jesus did, to put ourselves in positions where we might be challenged, or have to change our minds?  Can we bear to hear the voices of people who don’t share our politics, who don’t see the world as we do? Can we bear to the hear the voices of people who may have hurt or offended us in the past, and who we now can’t believe could ever do anything right or good?  We may think of ourselves as loving and inclusive, but there will always be people who we close our ears to, whose opinions we disregard before they’ve even opened their mouths. These stories call us to be honest with ourselves, to ask God to show us where our unconscious biases are. They call us to accept that we need to hear voices that disturb and challenge us if we are to grow into the people he wants us to be. If Jesus needed that, then how can we not?

 

But I think these stories also ask us how we feel about our own voices and how we use them, because we may not be sure that we have something to say that is worth hearing.

 

If that’s the case, then these stories are a reminder that the voice each of us has is unique, and God-given. Jesus enables the deaf man to speak plainly, to say what he needs to say. And in honouring the voice of the Syrophoenician woman, in letting her teach him, he gives her a dignity which her society would never have done, recognising her strength and her courage.

 

The world needs to hear what each of us has to say, however tongue-tied and insignificant we feel. When we speak our God-given truth with our God-given voice, however hesitant and inarticulate we feel, God speaks through us, and God’s word is a word which brings worlds into being, which makes streams flow in the desert, which heals the broken-hearted and gives hope to the hopeless.

 

So, today, tomorrow, this week, let’s be aware of the people we hear and the people we fail to hear, of the words we speak, and the words we fail to speak. Most of all let us be open to the voice of God which tells us to “Be strong, and do not fear!” and let’s encourage other people to hear that message too, in what we say and in what we do.

 Amen