Scripture: Mark 7:24-37
“Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.” Mark 7:29
One of the great paradoxes of parenting is this: On the one hand, to be a good, kind, patient and loving person getting enough sleep and being well-rested is essential and on the other hand children, especially young children are exhausting, often interrupting your sleep and developed periods of rest. It is a good thing that God created humanity with the biological imperative to love and care for our children, otherwise, our baser instincts might have kicked in over the long history of humanity.
You do not need to be a parent to know that being over-tired, stretched thin or exhausted generally harms your relationships, your work and your general well-being. If you have ever been burned out or witnessed burnout, you know this to be true. Even the most vibrant, pleasant and creative individuals can become cantankerous, faded and uninspired when they have reached the end of their rope when they are exhausted and worn thin. Often when you reach this point you don’t always make the wisest choices or the most generous of decisions.
And it’s not only individuals that can suffer from burnout. One of the reasons the leadership of Grace opted to enter into a Sabbath year in 2019 was that we had determined that our congregation was a little burned out, a little over-programmed and tired from all the change and upheaval that had occurred in the life of the congregation from the amalgamation and beyond. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic had other plans and the ‘rest’ we all got as a congregation was neither planned nor restorative, but the premise was nonetheless a good one – the opportunity to rest and recalibrate so that our life together could be more vibrant and generous of spirit.
While it is uncomfortable for us to look in the mirror and realize that we are burned out and not necessarily our best selves, whether as an individual or a congregation, fear not we keep some good company because it seems that Jesus sometimes suffered from a little exhaustion and burnout as our passage from Mark this morning.
Our passage is perhaps one of the most challenging passages of scripture when it comes to our image of Jesus – so much so that scholars and preachers have for years tried to white-wash or rationalize Jesus’ behaviour. Because you see Jesus is seemingly downright rude to the woman at the beginning of our story. He begins by rejecting her pleas to heal her daughter, and in the process of doing so, he insults her by calling her a dog – not the kindest or most loving of responses.
Traditionally, scholars and preachers have tried to explain Jesus’ behaviour in one of two ways: firstly, by trying to soften the language he used and say that he just meant dog, like puppy or family pet, something that is beloved and not meant as an insult. This approach does injustice to the text on too many levels, including the surrounding stories and the original Greek to be of any real merit. The second approach has some merit but also has its problems – Jesus was merely acting this way to teach his disciples a lesson about the kingdom, and Jesus was always going to heal the woman’s daughter. While there is certainly some truth to this, as we believe that Jesus is the Son of God, one with the all-knowing Father, we cannot escape the fact that Jesus was also fully human.
In fact, other parts of our scripture say that the eternal Son of God emptied himself of his divinity (e.g. Philippians 2) to come down as a human being, and we try to emphasize the fact that Jesus was fully human, experiencing the totality of the human condition and the whole range of human emotions. So we must at least entertain the possibility that Jesus was responding to the woman, from a very human place, the place of tiredness and exhaustion, a place that doesn’t always bring out the best in us.
And it is clear from the text, and the preceding stories, that Jesus is tired. At the beginning of our story Mark tells us that he leaves Israel, he leaves his mission-field up to this point and goes to the Gentile city of Tyre, an attempt to get away from the crowds that had been following him, an attempt to get away from the arguments and the healings and the miracles and just get some rest. Mark tells us that Jesus entered a house and didn’t want anyone to know he was there – he just wanted to be left alone, to rest, recalibrate and re-centre himself for the work of ministry.
But somehow this thoroughly Gentile woman with her sick child spied him, somehow she knew about his power, somehow she knew about his grace – even if Jesus wasn’t in the right headspace to offer it – that could make her daughter well.
And she persevered, she persevered through the rejection, she persevered through the humiliation of Jesus’ words and continued to advocate for her daughter, she continued to believe that Jesus was the one who could bring healing and restoration into her life. Our translation doesn’t do her plea justice as it translates her declaration to Jesus as Sir, but it is more appropriately “Lord” a declaration of faith that grabs Jesus’ attention.
This woman brought Jesus out of his state of tiredness and exhaustion and brought his world-altering mission back into focus. You see just before this story Jesus challenged the Pharisees about how they created barriers to God’s grace, he challenged them to reconsider how God viewed the outsider – and now Jesus was face to face with one of them, a Gentile who was outside of God’s covenant looking in.
In the Gospel of Mark, this is where Jesus’ mission of salvation moves from being exclusive to the people of Israel and begins spreading to the ends of the earth. Undoubtedly this was always God’s intention, undoubtedly Jesus knew this as well since he had just, but it took the faith of a Gentile woman to snap Jesus back out of his exhaustion.
As disciples of Jesus, as the church which is His body on earth, we too are called to participate in this world-altering, boundary-busting mission of salvation and we cannot allow tiredness and exhaustion to cause us to miss moments of grace and God’s kingdom breaking through on Earth as it is in heaven.
Ministry, the amalgamation, societal and church change have led many of us to exhaustion if not burnout, and then you add on the pandemic to boot it is no wonder many of you, myself included are tired to point of exhaustion – but we cannot let it make us miss the good news in our midst, we cannot allow our tiredness and exhaustion to dismiss those on the outside, treat those who are different than us with derision or rudeness – because perhaps the people we least expect will refocus us, will bring God’s mission of grace and love back into centre-view.
We live in a world that no longer looks like the world or the church we grew up in, and that is as much true for my generation as it is for anyone here. The apartments and houses around us are filled with people from vastly different cultures, vastly different perspectives and different generations from us, but Jesus’ love, grace and mercy are as much for them as it is for us; the Joy we know in God, the Joy we know in worship, the Joy we know in fellowship with each other is meant for the whole world – no matter who they are, what they look like, and it is our responsibility to share it. And while we might be tired and exhausted, the Good News is that God’s Joy is infectious, God’s Joy can refill our reserves so that we are ready and willing to participate in his grand plan of salvation.
Every congregation is an outpost of God’s saving mission in the world, we are called to bring healing, peace, love and joy to our families, to our friends, to our communities and the world. We are called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ through our words and our actions on behalf of our neighbours. As we return to some level of normality over the coming weeks and months we cannot allow our weariness to cause us to lose sight of this, we must keep our eyes open for the ways that the Holy Spirit will break through in our midst and in the people we least expect.
The Holy Spirit will surprise us, pray that we have the eyes to see and the ears to hear the Kingdom breaking through in our midst.