Every Christian experiences, sooner or later, a disconnect between the God in whom we think we believe and the God who actually is. This is true of all our relationships, of course, but it is especially troubling when our own expectations and hopes about God don’t match up with the Being who exists far, far beyond those expectations and hopes. It might be even more troubling, however, when that Being falls, in our estimation, fall short of those expectations and hopes.
What do you do with a Savior who isn’t interested in saving people? With a Healer who doesn’t want to heal? That’s the question that leaps out at us from the gospel of Mark today. Jesus – our kind, gracious, warm, loving Jesus – actually dismisses someone. Worse, the someone he dismisses is a mother who wants her daughter to be free from demonic possession. What happened to the Jesus who said, “Let the children come to me, for the kingdom of God belongs to them?”
Pastor Rob Bell has some thoughts about images of God that might not be what we “always think about” when we think about God. Take a look and listen well to what he has to say.
This is a short clip from the Nooma video "She." It can be ordered at flannel.com.
Keeping in mind what Rob Bell says about aspects of God that we don’t often consider, we are forced to wonder about the interaction between Jesus and the Syrophonoecian woman from today’s gospel reading. It’s one of those scenes where we wish we could have been there to hear the way Jesus said what he said. Was Jesus being ironic, using the moment to teach his disciples? Or was Jesus genuinely convinced that this woman was not one he came to save? Either way, in this instance, the boundary-breaking that is so common in Mark’s gospel does not come through Jesus, but through this desperate mother. She was a Gentile, not a member of Jesus’ faith community. She was a Swede at the Sons of Norway meeting, a Baptist at the Lutheran church, a Nebraskan at an Iowa State game. She was a woman, and thus she was not supposed to speak to a man in public. But her devotion to her child led her to break social and religious boundaries in the hopes that Jesus might have the power and the willingness to heal.
In this woman, we see an aspect of the relationship between God the Creator and Jesus the Christ. Here we are witness to a holy conversation: the Christ, the anointed Son of God, hears the voice of the Creator through the longing, hopeful plea of a woman who will go to any length for the sake of her child. Was it actually the voice of the Creator? No, but can we not imagine that in her plea Jesus hears and remembers the voice of the one he calls “Abba – Daddy?”
It seems that even God needs a mother – at least, God in the form of Jesus needs this mother. Jesus needs this mother to show the sort of boundary-breaking, devoted love God has for creation. Jesus needs this mother to illustrate why he has come for the world, not just for a certain group of people within it. Jesus needs this mother because it is her faith, not his refusal, that carries the day. She pleads, she thinks on her feet, but most importantly, she believes; and so the world is changed by Jesus once again.
I spoke earlier of the disconnect we sometimes experience when we experience something of God we never believed we would see. It is not the most comfortable way of maintaining the relationship between God and ourselves, but God is not interested in comfort for the sake of easy living. When Jesus refused to save this woman’s daughter, that disconnect occurs for us: when Jesus gave his life on the cross, that disconnect occurs for every ounce of our humanity that ever believed that God was primarily interested in power and dominion. Yet Jesus, the one who refused a desperate mother, did not refuse to save a broken world, and so all the boundaries between ourselves and the God who loves us started to come crashing down. Our sin, our fear, our shattered dreams and hopes: all gone in the cross, replaced by the love of Jesus that says, over and over again, “I will not refuse you. You are mine and I will never let you go.” Now where do you suppose he might have learned to say something like that? It appears that Jesus, like the most fortunate of us, learned wisdom from a mother’s love. It just goes to show you that, perhaps, even God needs mothers. Amen.