16th Sunday after Pentecost – September 9, 2018 – Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37 – Trinity Episcopal Church, Winchester, TN
Today the lectionary provides us with an embarrassment of riches. Today’s lessons at first feel and seem quite different from one another but upon closer examination, they work together to offer us a very important lesson about distinctions (or lack thereof) between God’s people.
From James we hear, “If a person with gold rings and in fine clothes comes into your assembly, and if a poor person in dirty clothes also comes in, and if you take notice of the one wearing the fine clothes and say, “Have a seat here, please,” while to the one who is poor you say, “Stand there,” or, “Sit at my feet,” have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil thoughts?
Proverbs is, perhaps blessedly, more brief. “The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all.”
These two passages reveal a truth that we often forget. The distinctions that we make between people who are rich and people who are poor are our distinctions, not God’s. God created all of us. In America we sometimes hear it as, “All [men] are created equal.”
Today we also have the Gospel according to Mark, from which we hear two healing stories—two miracles.
One is about a Syrophoenician woman who goes to Jesus to ask for help for her sick daughter. This woman is a Gentile. In Jesus’ world, a world of Jews, she does not belong. She takes the chance because she is desperate. He heals her daughter.
In the next scene some folks bring Jesus a deaf man with a speech impediment. Because this takes place in the Decapolis, it’s likely that he is also a Gentile. They beg Jesus to lay hands on him. Jesus takes the man aside, puts his fingers into his ears, spits, and touches his tongue. “Ephphatha,” he says, and the man is healed.
Jesus performs these saving acts on two people who do not belong to his community, two people who should never have belonged to his community.
Knowledge of this, combined with what we have already heard from Proverbs and James reinforces what we are told again and again: God shows no partiality. God made both rich and poor. God loves all people equally, no matter what side of the tracks they’re from, no matter what community they belong to.
You can’t believe in Jesus and give special treatment to the rich, or privilege members your own community. The Bible tells us and shows us that Jesus shows mercy to people who are *supposed* to be excluded.
Jesus goes out of his way to help people that the religious leaders of his day are not to keen on. Even when he is tired, or wants to be alone, he makes time for people that the world has forgotten.
Imagine that. It really was radical. And, unfortunately, it still is. I’ve heard people tell themselves, “Oh, I don’t see color” or “I don’t judge,” but there truth is, they do.
And worse than the stigmas, stereotypes, and snap judgments that we make, is pretending that we don’t make them at all. Instead of facing up to the realities of our participation in systematic oppression we find it easier to ignore any sense of guilt.
The truth is, we still exclude— not just women, gays, and racial minorities. We exclude all kinds of people who are different than us. I know a student who is on the autism spectrum. He is not able to communicate clearly and confidently with others. He cannot interact socially to the same degree that his peers can. His peers struggle to relate to him precisely because he struggles to relate to them.
It’s easier to give up or crack a joke to with your friends when he takes the whole class off on a tangent than it is to try to be supportive.
The same is true when people get sick. Congregations often jump into overdrive When a member is diagnosed with a serious illness. Members bring mounds and mounds of cut up fruit, vegetables, lasagna, and cookies.
But would you believe that sometimes after a person receives a bad diagnoses, that some people say nothing at all? Some people are afraid they will make a mistake or will not be able to relate. Some people fear that they won’t say the right thing, so they choose to say nothing at all.
Typical. We all do it.
Those are the rules of this world, but as Christinas we are called to be different. We know that God’s kingdom is not a kingdom of this world. We are called to live by the rules of God’s reign. No matter who wears what, or says what, or does what, we remember that God is the father and mother of us all.
That’s hard work. It’s hard because we haven’t all been women, or queer, or a minorities. It’s hard because we don’t always understand difference—of any kind.
We haven’t all had direct experience with autism. We haven’t all been diagnosed with Leukemia or Parkinsons. When faced with differences fear gets ahold of us. Even around people we know and love, we don’t know what might help and what might make things worse.
We just refuse to treat people differently because we don’t want to give those who are different from us “special privileges.” In this country we think that if some people get special privileges then we might lose some of ours. We assume that there has to be inequality. But Jesus showed us that’s not the case when he died for us all.
God shows no partiality. God’s saving acts are for everyone. Salvation is God’s work among all people. Jesus shows us that it belongs not only to Jews but to Gentiles, too. Even a Syrophoenician. Even a deaf man. Even poor people. Even rich people.
We don’t obtain our salvation by ourselves. It comes from the one who loved us so much that he gave himself for us. The very same one who stands alongside those who are different from us and shows us that when we love them we love him. That’s salvation.
James says, “Has not God chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” Yes, and the autistic, and the sick, and the queer, and the women, and the men, and the blacks, and the whites, and the Mexicans, and the Muslims.
God created us all, and he loves us more than we could ever ask or imagine.