The overflowing grace of God

Mark 7.24-37




Today we look at two stories of healings. The first is of the daughter of a Syrophoenician woman, and the second of a man who is deaf.

There are many differences between these stories, but there are three similarities which I’d like to reflect on for a few minutes.

1. The grace of God overflows to the Gentiles

Up to now Jesus has focussed on the Jewish people. He has preached in Jewish towns and he had done wonderful things in Jewish communities.

Now he needs a break, a small holiday. So he goes to the region of Tyre, to Gentile (non Jewish) territory, where he is not known. But this Gentile, this Syrophoenician woman, hears that he is there, and she comes to him. And he heals her daughter

After that, he goes to the region of the Decapolis. The clue is in the name. Decapolis is a Greek word meaning 10 cities. It is Gentile territory. And he heals a man who is deaf.

For the Jews, and for the Gentiles, this was astonishing. That the one who the Old Testament pointed to, the promised descendant of King David, God’s anointed ruler had come to do good for Israel – well that was assumed. He was the Jewish Messiah.

But Jesus saw the bigger picture.

The Messiah would establish the Kingdom of God, he would fulfil the Old Testament promises, he would bring glory to Israel – but that was the beginning.

Grace would flow to Israel, but grace would then overflow from Israel, from the Jewish people, to all people.

And so Jesus, having in our previous verses, declared all food clean, says to the woman: ‘First feed the children, for it is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’.

That is a hard saying. But Jesus has come to feed the children, the people of Israel, and not those outside, ‘the dogs’.

But he does say ‘First’: and that is important.

Jesus mission was first to the Jews, but then it would overflow to the Gentiles.

Maybe you want God, you know that you need God, but you think that God is not for you. You are on the outside. You are, whether this is what you think about yourself or what others say about you, a dog. You think that you are beyond the reach of God. You are an outcast. You are a failure – a social failure, a moral failure, a religious failure. Maybe you think that you are spoiled goods, a nobody, a good for nothing, with no status and no respect.

Well this is good news for you. God’s grace overflows from Jews to Gentiles. It overflows to this Syrophoenician woman and to her daughter, to this deaf man in the Decapolis. It overflows to ‘dogs’. His love, his mercy, his transforming power, his healing power overflows to us, to you. The Messiah is not just for the chosen ones, the Messiah is for you. You can be part of God’s Kingdom.

2. The second theme that I see in common between these two stories is that both the woman and the people who bring the deaf man to Jesus make themselves vulnerable before Jesus. In both cases we are told that they come to Jesus and beg him to heal the other person.

It is interesting that in Mark the word ‘begged’ appears 8 times, but only in chapters 5 to 8. This is the section which deals with Jesus’ ministry of grace: he feeds the hungry, casts out unclean spirits and heals the sick. And this is the section when people come to him and beg for mercy.

Someone who begs comes with nothing. They come with empty hands. They have nothing to offer. They can only throw themselves on the mercy of the other person. And when you beg you make yourself profoundly vulnerable before the other.

The woman makes herself profoundly vulnerable before Jesus. She is a Gentile woman and she comes to ask mercy from a Jewish man, a Jewish rabbi. I guess it is a bit like perhaps a young American woman, left behind in Afghanistan, going and begging mercy from a Taliban commander.

And this Syrophoenician woman could, at the very least, been rejected and sent away.

But there was something about Jesus that gave this woman the courage to come to Jesus. She was able to become completely vulnerable before him.

And even when Jesus calls her a dog, even when he treated her as she may thought she would have been treated, she doesn’t give up. She accepts the description.

Some of the commentaries say that Jesus rewards her for a witty answer.

But that is not the case. She is honoured by Jesus because she sees herself as she is, she sees Jesus for who he is, she sees God’s grace and love as it is - and she doesn't go away, but continues to make herself vulnerable

‘Yes Lord, but even the dogs eat the scraps under the table’.

So often, when we come to Jesus in prayer, we think that we stand on a place of strength. ‘God do this for me because I’ve prayed long hours, I’ve fasted, I’ve claimed the promises, I’m good, religious or worthy. I’ve got faith. Do this for me because I’m somebody, I matter and I am significant.’

In a few moments we will echo the prayer of this woman. Before we come to communion we will say that we are not worthy to even eat the crumbs from under his table. But that is something remarkable liberating: we stand with this woman. We realise we come before God as nobodies, as a dog among dogs, and we realise that we have nothing to prove, nothing to offer. We are completely dependent on the mercy and love of Jesus and on the overflowing grace of God.

And when we do that, we will meet the grace of God

Maybe our prayers at first will not be answered as we want.

Maybe God, in his love, will first humble us as he humbles this woman – but not in order to crush us, but in order to lift us up, in order to make us realise just how amazing the overflowing grace of God is.

3. There is a third theme, which I will only touch on, which is that when Jesus heals this daughter and this deaf man, we see glimpses of the coming Kingdom of God.

We see glimpses of his healing here and now.

Notice how the two healings are very different. One is extremely physical; the other requires faith in Jesus’ words. And the healings that we see may be miraculous or may be quite tangibly physical: through counsellors, medicine and the medical profession.

It makes no difference. For the person who has thrown themselves on the mercy of God, the glory goes to God.

But if we only see glimpses of his healing here and now now, these incidents point us forward to the day when all of us will be fully healed.

And we see a glimpse of his purifying power.

He casts out an unclean spirit.

Last week we read in Mark 7 that Jesus spoke about how we are made unclean not by the things that are outside of us that come into us, but by the sin in our hearts.

And now Jesus casts out an unclean Spirit.

And we look at the muck that is in our lives, at the contradictions and fears and shadows in the basement, and we long for the day when he casts out all that is unclean in our lives, when our hearts are completely and finally transformed. 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God'.

And we see a glimpse of the day when spiritually deaf ears will be opened and all will hear the Word of God, with our outer and our inner ears. And then, having heard we will be released to speak: and we will speak beauty, truth and grace. 

We will proclaim the glory of God.





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