You need a sheet of paper and some pens, coloured if you like.
Draw crowns all over the paper. This represents God’s kingdom. Now crumple the paper up into a tight ball. This is how the people of Jesus’ time thought of God’s kingdom. It was small, limited only to the Jewish people, and not even all of them (think of the woman who washed Jesus’ feet). We can think like that too, sometimes. We only want ‘nice’ people in church, people who are like us and easy to talk to.
Now look at your hand. The palm is all the people in the church. Look around at them now, see who is there. Now think of all the different types of people who are not there. People who live nearby but are never in church, people who feel they don’t fit, like the man and the woman in our Bible passage. These outsiders are the fingers of your hand.
Hold your hand out flat with your fingers spread. Put the ball of paper in your palm and see how much it does not cover, not even all your palm. God’s kingdom is not supposed to be like this. We are not supposed to keep it to ourselves, tightly gathered in, in case the edges get messy.
Now flatten out the paper out on your hand, and see it spreading to cover all of your palm, and all of your fingers, and beyond – from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria and the ends of the earth.
Here we have two stories of people who don’t fit in. The Syrophoenician woman was, well, a woman. In that society that was quite enough to make her a nobody. But even worse, she was not even Jewish. So Jesus really should not have been talking to someone like her.
Then we have the deaf man with the speech impediment. I wonder how much teasing there had been in his childhood – other kids laughing at him when he could not hear, laughing at the funny way he talked. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can break my heart.
Interestingly, Jesus dealt with these two situations quite differently. The woman did not fit into ‘nice’ company. So Jesus redefined what nice company meant.
God only loves Jewish people, right? That’s what Jesus was saying when he talked about the food being only for the children. The woman, however, understood more about God than people would have thought. Perhaps she had been listening in on the Sermon on the Mount, or hanging around at the back of the crowd of 5000.
However it was, she gave a penetrating, and amusingly sassy, reply to Jesus. God’s got enough love for the rest of us too, you know. I like her style!
As in many other cases, such as the centurion’s servant, Jesus was pleased when he saw this faith, especially in one who had not been taught of God from childhood. Truly, God’s kingdom is, and always has been, for all.
Jesus had a different plan for the man. He, also, did not fit into society; another peg who did not fit the hole. But this time Jesus did not change the hole, he changed the peg. Jesus did not fix the cruel people who taunted the man and broke his heart; he went to the heart of the matter and fixed the cause of the taunting.
Two different problems, two different solutions – but both bringing folks on the outside, inside.
For the woman, who was thought to be outside the kingdom, Jesus extended the blanket of God’s love over her, and showed that the kingdom is for all, not just a group of ‘nice’ people. For the man, Jesus saw that his deepest need was to be accepted by his peers and to have his heart mended.
Sometime people say that God’s kingdom turns the world inside-out. But actually, it’s all about turning the world outside-in.
Father of all,
Father of the poor, the ugly, the weak, the stupid,
Father of those we don’t like, and don’t want to like,
Father of those who don’t know or love you,
Forgive us when we exclude people or make them feel they don’t fit.
Help us to understand your generous kingdom,
That your house has room also for the unloveable, such as ourselves.
May we learn to love all our brothers and sisters
With the unimaginable love that you drenched us with before we ever knew you.
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.’
New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised (NRSVA)
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.