sermon: humility+the syrophonecian woman

Scripture: Mark 7:24-37
Unedited and uncited by J. Lavoy

A few weeks ago, I told you about my new policy for Facebook. I`ll remind you, because its prudent for our sermon, today. There is a problem, where, behind the safety of a computer screen, some people share a posts, comments, or pi  ctures that are mean-spirited, lacking empathy, or otherwise awful.  When a person shares such a thing more than 5 times, I unfollow them, so that I do not have to see these posts, any longer. As a result, my Facebook feed has become a delightful, if not quiet place.

Now, I`m sure that most of you are deeply concerned with my Facebook habits. And I regret even bringing up the idea that Facebook can, occasionally, become unpleasant – because I`m trying to convince Blair to join. But I want you to know that your pastor does not have a delicate sensibility. When people post news articles or ideas that contain ideas that are contrary to my own, that`s fine. I welcome it! I`ll often read these articles. My Facebook policy applies to people who, behind their computer screens, become mean.

You may be wondering, as usual, whether or not I`ve gone mad. “what on earth does Facebook have to do with Syro-Phonecian WomenÉ,“ you may be thinking. An appropriate answer may very well be, “not much.“ But I also think that Facebook is a very important window into how we interact and see the world. We now have digital records of some of the hair-brained ideas we`ve injected into the world. If Sigmund Freud were alive today, he might suggest we each have an ego, a superego, and a Facebook.  Our egos are our calm, collected, rational mind, engaging with the world; our super egos are the over-arching framework in which we see the world, and our Ids, excuse me, our Facebooks, are our instinctual, lashing-out, unrestrained selves.

In this line of thinking, Facebook enables us to think too highly of ourselves. On Facebook, everyone feels like they need to have an opinion about everything. For example, on Facebook, I wouldn`t be surprised if a random person, walking down the sidewalk, might feel empowered to argue with a cardiologist about how the heart works. Then, the conversation feels legitimate, because 20 people may agree with the random person`s argument by hitting the “like“ button.

Let me be clear: social media has been overwhelmingly helpful; it`s fueled actual revolutions and regime changes; its opened up a world of information; its saved people, animals, and property from unknown destruction. But, social media, and especially facebook, has truly and remarkably, increased our arrogance and decreased our humility.

It used to be that All in the Family`s Archie Bunker was an object of frustration. Archie was a caricature of a racist, misogynist jerk, meant to be laughed at. Now, Archie Bunker is a quarter of the people on my Facebook; people who, in real life, are lovely and pleasant, but who, behind the protection of their computer screens, lose all sense of empathy and kindness.

You can imagine that I unfollowed a few people this week. It wasn`t anyone in this congregation, it was mostly friends from high school. People commenting on Kim Davis, the Kentucky judicial clerk who is now in jail because of her contempt of the Supreme Court of the US; people commenting on Syrian refugees and what should happen to them; and people commenting on the `Black Lives Matter` movement.

It seems that many people are itching for arguments, trying to outdo one another with hatred.

For those of you who either are not familiar with the dilemma I`m outlining, or have made a conscious decision to abstain from Facebook, I apologize for excluding you. The real point, here, is that we, as a culture, lack all humility. And this is a grievous problem.

I think our scripture, today, is interesting. It tells the story of Jesus, perhaps making an error in judgement, but then, in his characteristic humility, owning up to it.

Jesus, tired, goes to an empty house to rest  a while. A syro-phonecian woman, a gentile, comes into the house, begging Jesus to heal her sick daughter. Jesus called that woman, a gentile, a dog. He does not want to help her, and he insults her. The woman, without losing her calm, says: `yes, and even Dogs have access to God`s grace`, and Jesus immediately realizes what a terrible thing he just said, and replied, “you`re absolutely right. Your daughter is healed.“

Then, Jesus, I can imagine, upset about how he had just behaved, heads off toward the Sea of Gallilee, where his disciples bring him a deaf man with a speech impediment. The scripture says that the disciples begged Jesus to heal him which, to me, implies that Jesus was hesitant, perhaps frustrated with himself. Jesus takes the man in private, and, after saying, “Be Opened“, heals the man, and sends him on his way, hearing and speaking. The more Jesus insists that the disciples be quiet about this miraculous healing, the more they proclaim that Jesus healed.

Then, the author of Mark, almost drawing your attention back to Jesus , says, “He has done everything well.“

So, at a certain level, this story is just as much about a healing of a girl and a deaf man, as it is about Jesus`own healing. That syro-phonecian woman, in her truth and her courage, did a priestly thing. And opened Jesus to a new sense of humility, and therefore, strength.

It takes courage to be humble. It takes wisdom to be open. Our world expects us to have a quick answer to everything, even things that may not even be questions.

The concept of privilege comes to mind. Privilege is the idea that different groups have different levels of unspoken power. I am a young, white, man, who speaks English, and was born in a western country. I was born into a middle class family who was able to prioritize my education. The world is my oyster. By the very chance of my birth, doors are open to me, that wouldn`t be open to some others. Privilege is the expectation that I can have, to be treated and respected in a certain way, by accident of my own birth.

In our modern world, we expect that all people are equal. “If those Syrians are unhappy, they should buy a plane ticket, and go through the immigration process in the proper way,“ some will say. “If African Americans feel unsafe, they should work on stopping crime in their own communities,“ others will say. I`m sure you`ve heard these ideas before, and, for the most part, they come from a place of privilege.

There is nothing wrong with being born into a position of privilege. After all, I had no control over it, and did nothing to earn it. Yet, it does require a conscious effort to be humble.

In our scripture text today, Jesus had all the power. Though he was not a man of great privilege, he was a man, born into a Jewish family, …and also God. If he did not recover his courage to be humble, before the Syro Phonecian woman, he would have excluded her, her entire race, and most especially her daughter, from God`s grace. If he lost his interest in healing and reconciliation, he might have been thoroughly embarrassed in front of his disciples, and that deaf and mute man wouldn`t have been able to tell his story.

Humility takes courage in our world where we are expected to be perfect. Humility takes courage in an aggressive, and mean-spirited world. Humility takes courage to stand before someone you consider foreign, or an enemy, and admit you have made a mistake. Humility takes courage to empathize with others, even those who may be resentful and frustrated. Humility takes courage, to be open to a new perspective. Humility takes courage, to be kindred with another.

When Jesus, himself having been opened by a woman of no privilege or status, commands us: ephaphta, `be opened`, our healing is humility.

My prayer for you this week is, “As I move through my day, meeting people of all kinds, may I be opened with humility“. Amen.