The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Readings – Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23; Psalm 125; James 2: 1-17; Mark 7: 24-37
On September 18 – 20, 1863 in Chickamauga, Georgia the Union and Confederate armies fought the second largest battle of the Civil War, second only to Gettysburg. There were over 34,000 casualties. A few years following the war the veterans assembled on the battlefield, just a few miles south of Chattanooga, Tennessee, to reconstruct the battlefield. Former enemies gathered to remember their fallen comrades. Because of their gathering, this national park is said to be one of the most accurately preserved.
The former enemies joined together to honor the end of the war and each other. They crossed boundaries and called on what Abraham Lincoln called their “better angels” to guide them to overcome their divisions.
Just a few days ago our Vice President, Kamala Harris, flew to Hanoi, Vietnam on Air Force Two. She followed many service members of the Vietnam War who have returned to visit the battlefields and bases of that war. Many of us now wear clothing manufactured in Vietnam for American brands. I understand it is a beautiful country.
Boundaries have been broken, and guided by “better angels” divisions have been overcome.
In 1948 the Soviets blocked land access to the German capital of Berlin. They wanted the German people to continue to suffer for the destruction wrought by the German army and air force during World War II. The Berlin airlift began in June, lasting until September 1949. Over 250,000 flights dropped coal for power generation and heating plus food to the besieged Germans. The Berliners, recent mortal enemies, were saved from freezing and starvation by the Allies.
Boundaries were broken, and with the assistance of “better angels”, the people of Berlin survived.
Boundary breaking, overcoming former divisions, extending a helping hand to others, that tradition is found in our Gospel reading for today. Jesus left Israel looking for some time to recharge. He went on retreat. Though not specifically mentioned in the text, it is thought that he was accompanied by a few of his disciples. According to the Gospel of St. Mark, he was preparing to expand his ministry beyond the people of Israel; he was preparing to expand his public ministry to the Gentiles. As St. Mark wrote he knew that in the early Church there was continuing division and dissension between the Jewish Christians and the Gentile Christians. There were many who insisted that the Gentiles had to become Jews prior to becoming followers of Jesus.
This brief story of the Syrophoenician woman was directed at this tension. Jesus addressed the pleading woman – “Let the children [of Israel] be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs”. It is crucial to note that the term used for “dogs” is not the Greek term for stray or mangy dogs, but for family pets, for beloved dogs. The woman immediately responded to his words following this imagery with – “Sir, even the [beloved] dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”.
Scholars note that his woman quickly responded and was not offended. Speculation is that she was a woman of stature in the community, probably of higher status than a village carpenter and his group of fishermen and others. She went home and found her child lying on a “couch”, not on a simple bed. Scholars noted that Jesus was in fact working in concert with the Gentile woman to teach his observing disciples that compassion and faith overcome prejudice and social boundaries. Together Jesus and the woman demonstrated that there are no boundaries to God’s love.
In the companion passage in Matthew 15, the disciples initially chased the woman away, yet she was persistent. In St. Matthew’s version Jesus said (verse 28) – “Woman, great is your faith! Let it [your daughter’s healing] be done for you as you wish”.
There are no distinctions, there are no boundaries, for God’s compassion, for God’s love. God’s “better angels” abound.
Former combatants; Union and Confederate soldiers, came together to honor their comrades and each other, overcoming past divisions. Boundaries were broken through. They did it with their “better angels”, bearers of God’s love.
American soldiers visited Vietnam visited and joined together with the Vietnamese for common interests, overcoming past divisions. Barriers were broken through. They did it guided by their “better angels”, bearers of God’s love.
Allies overcame the hatred of Germans and the Berlin Airlift was successful. Barriers were broken through. They were guided by their “better angels”, bearers of God’s love.
Jesus showed us the way in the region of Tyre [Lebanon] that God’s love knows no boundaries. We, guided by our “better angels” can do it, too.
With God’s help divisions may be overcome. God’s love is for all. Amen.