Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Widening the circle of inclusion


Still working on details for a long term relationship with Noche. Nate and Teddy hard at work hanging mirrors in the session room...Donna drops in to see if there’s any mail for she and Dave. Things seem to be working out well in Harlem.

Tonight’s Bible Study has us back in the 6th and 7th chapters of Mark. We’ve got Jesus on the other side of Lake Geneserat overwhelmed by people seeking healing. Again. Then comes this long complicated back and forth with the scribes and pharisees over his disciples eating habits. He takes on the fact that they have added to the Law of God with their own laws, interpretations. And finally he goes after the food laws altogether. What’s at stake here is ritual purity, but also that these rules help create definition, separation, ethnic, national, cultural identity. And Jesus is after integration, removing barriers.(The pathway from traif, IE non-kosher, food to viewing one who consumes non-kosher food as traif is not a long one...) Fact is all our traditions need ways to say who we are as opposed to whose not we. The food laws have  the further benefit of inspiring a mindfulness to eating as opposed to just mindless consumption. As well as humanitarian concerns. But Jesus is more concerned about the heart of the matter. Expanding the definition  of we. An ever expanding circle of inclusion. 

He also takes on the practice of pledging your property and goods to the temple (corban) as potentially leaving impoverished elderly without support. (And thus breaking the commandment to honor your father and mother.) And what follows is a long list of what wrong heartedness can lead to: avarice, envy, licentiousness, slander,etc. And we notice that all these are relational...not about what one believes but about what one does in relationship with other people. 

He heads north, over the border to the region of Tyre and Sidon. By the text, he’s there to get away, not continue his mission. But even here he is pressed to perform. Do something for a woman, a syro-phoenician woman. A person who is not only a woman, but an other...Like the earlier woman with a hemorrhage, her approaching him is more than inappropriate culturally, it’s offensive. But approach she does. And he tries to send her off with a cutting comment about food not intended for dogs. A typical ethnic slur. 

And she is not deterred by this. She persists with her comment....but even the dogs can get crumbs from the table. And this stops him. Because of what you have said, your daughter is healed. Not because of her faith, but because of what she said, this skilled debater, used to taking on learned scribes and pharisees, has just been bested by a pagan Arab woman. 

We’re all aware of how embarrassing this story is. How linguists translate the word dogs as puppies. (Does that really help?) But we feel it fits. That Jesus has been preaching. About how actions speak louder than words. About inclusion. And now he has to face that reality himself. 

Perhaps he was tired. Annoyed at one more demand. Been there. It’s not the tenth needing person’s fault that they weren’t there first. My annoyance is not related to them. And her word back to him helps him to understand what he was really saying, really asking of his followers. Where it gets real, so to speak. If Jesus is both fully human and fully divine,then he doesn’t always understand everything. He has to have these moments  of growing awareness. And open the door for us. Week by week we marvel at the literary quality of Mark. How well thought out it is, how intentional the placement of events in sequence is. How rich the text is. Wonder at what we haven’t seen before. That’s what we mean by a living word. 

It’s been a good night again. Time  to wrap up. Head back up Amsterdam. Home. 

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