Mark 7: 24-30
Why didn’t they say anything? Jesus is trying to recuperate; attempting to find respite in a private residence after what seems like a never-ending parade of people in need. He hasn’t had a moment to himself since he snuck away in the early morning to pray. Who can remember how long ago that was? Just like all those others who visited Tyre — the vacation hot spot of the day — all he wanted was a moment. Just one moment to enjoy creation; a moment to close his eyes and catch the gentle western breeze as it blew in off the Mediterranean; a moment to breath in the cool sea air as it swirled through the house. So why didn’t they say anything?
He had just sat down, barely had a chance to untie the strap of his sandal, and in the blink of an eye there was someone at his feet — crying, begging and pleading. She wasn’t supposed to be there. She wasn’t supposed to be speaking.
“Sir, please!” she says “Sir, please my daughter … she is possessed by a demon … please drive it from her!”
Now, this is exactly the thing he was seeking rest from … he had been casting out demons all over the place. There were so many, in fact, that he empowered his disciples to do it too, seemingly so he could have a moment like the one that just escaped him upon her arrival at his feet. So why didn’t they say anything?
This foreign woman, all alone, managed to get by Jesus’ whole entourage, into the house, kneel at his feet and beg him to heal her daughter without one of the disciples saying a word. They could have said something to stop her. They could have said something to appease her. They could have said something to help her. “Woman, what is it that you need. We can help you.” But they said nothing.
Now, we know that they were fully capable of speaking. They spoke up to disturb him in his time of prayer because they didn’t know how to handle the crowds that are asking about him. They spoke up when the 5000 were getting hungry. Yet in this moment, they remained silent. So she took her petition to the one who she thought might say he’d help.
We don’t have to walk too far in this city to find a moment when, amidst all the noise, we can be silent. The moments are in every neighborhood.
Coming home from work, getting off the train, there is nothing quite like the dead silence that fills you walking by a panhandler in a an olive drab jacket. “Hungry, served my country, lost my job, have a good evening, God bless,” he says with a drone. But people walk by and say nothing.
Off to take a break and relax in the Loop, you approach by a woman sitting on a milk crate with her head covered and her face buried in her lap. The sign says “Mother of four, can’t feed my kids, please help.” But no one speaks a word.
A man on a hunger strike stands outside the ballpark. Hotel workers walk the picket line near the valet desk. A woman sits on the bench and cries. In this great city, there are obvious moments when we are all given the opportunity — as sisters and brothers of humanity — to say something: A word of acknowledgement, a word of hope, a word of justice. Yet the mere idea gives us compassion fatigue; we say nothing.
And for every one of those moments in the documented shadows of our city, there are thousands of others: the neighbor who we’ve seen for months but never spoken to; the times we walk to the other side of the street to avoid a person because of what they are wearing or the color of their skin; even that person who is new in worship.
I fear the silence comes because we don’t think we have the right words. Or because the only words we can bring to mind are ones that aren’t nice … words that show our prejudice … and we are embarrassed by our thoughts, our fears and our lack of trust in the Spirit.
What is odd is we know what it is like. We’ve been there, too. Sitting in the hospital waiting room, full of doubt and fear, surrounded by people who are probably experiencing the same, and no one says anything. Giving clues to your co-workers or your family about your pain, but they quickly change the subject. Sitting amidst friends in church, yet feeling isolated and lonely. Parents who won’t speak to us after we told them the truth. Friends who abandoned us when they found out. Why won’t they say anything?
The crazy thing about our scripture today is that the one who speaks … Jesus … comes off as a jerk; an Archie Bunker kind of bigot. Calling her daughter a dog was the ethnic slur of the day. In that time, Jews like him didn’t like the the gentiles like her. Like the Jets and the Sharks with less snapping. And Jesus proves to be quite typical with his response.
There are those who say he was trying to tell her a riddle, and that if answered correctly, it would prove to be the payoff for her daughter. But I can’t read it that way. What I see is a tired man who lets his guard down. He reveals the depth of division in the culture where he grew up.
But he breaks the rules in even speaking letting her speak to him and he to her.
After the dog remark, she is smart; she is quite witty with her response. It seems as if she’s prepared, like maybe she’s said this before in her other pleas to tourists from Jerusalem. Like another walking by had broken the silence by calling her child a yapping puppy.
And Jesus likes her response. Maybe because he realized his own role in the silence. Maybe because in hearing his words returned to him — re-framed — he saw the need for them to be renewed.
With that, in a resort neighborhood, a distempered and tired Jew and a Greek/Syrophoenician woman begin an imperfect conversation. And from that conversation, her daughter is healed. It is by the very words exchanged in that moment that the demon is cast out of her daughter.
This is quite an interesting turn in the way God’s reality is revealed in Mark. Because amidst the swelling silence between two races suspicious of one another, an imperfect conversation casts out a demon. That demon was fed by the silence. I would dare say the demon that had possessed that her little girl was the silence. And even though they probably still didn’t get it, the disciples saw their teacher do what they should have done from the start. If they would have just spoken to her, God’s grace would have broken through the silence and sent the demon known as bigotry packing.
With the exchange of words between the woman and Jesus, conversation becomes sacramental; dialogue becomes communion. Words in the silence, words that speak the truth about God’s intent for all creation, words that reflect and share the Love of God, the Grace and Christ and the presence of the Holy Spirit, they are a gift that the we, as people of peculiar faith, can and should use to help bring unity to our city. God has presented us with an opportunity to further reveal the coming occupation of every heart and mind.
One of the unique blessings of this city is its vastness. Those who fill this sanctuary week in and week out come from its north and south; we come from the west and even the western suburbs. We know that the reality we experience here is not the same one that exists for many in our neighborhoods. We know the love and acceptance that attempts to embrace everyone here is not the reality for many. And we know that the reality of God we experience in scripture is not the same one that exists on our streets.
From the silence that perpetuates these alternate realities where we live, let us speak the truth in love so God’s reality might be revealed. Let us speak like Jesus — even when we don’t want to, don’t have the words to, and find ourselves unready to — so that holes might get punched in those realities.
The challenge of being one church from many neighborhoods is that our impact cannot be limited to this corner, or even Lake View and Lincoln Park. The challenge is that, even when we don’t want to — when we aren’t thinking about Sunday — we are to still be the church.
We are to still be ambassadors of change and emissaries of love. Our doors are not gates to confine us, but portals through which we are sent. Portals that send us to do the thing we’ve been empowered to do, to love like we’ve been loved, to share because we’ve been given, and to strengthen because we know our strength in God.
If we trust in God, and I believe we do, the why not? Why not say something? Amen.