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Bold Faith!

September 3, 2015

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We have been in Estes Park, Colorado for a week now. In that week we have received our Household Goods, begun the slow and arduous process of unpacking boxes and making our condo our home, and I have been immersed into my new duties as the pastor of Presbyterian Community Church of the Rockies. At times, it has been an overwhelming experience and it feels like there is so much to do and we both wonder when we will finally be settled. However, all we need to do is look out of the window and be reminded of God’s glory and God’s presence in the midst of the chaos that comes with moving and getting settled in. One morning I awoke to see the above picture of the sunrise from our dining room window. The sun rising over the mountain heralded a new day filled with new opportunities and possibilities.

One of my favorite Psalms which has taken on a whole new meaning since moving to Colorado is Psalm 121. “I lift my eyes to the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.” (Padre’s paraphrase of Psalm 121:1-2) At times when I feel overwhelmed, I simply lift up my eyes to the mountains which surround us and I am reminded of God’s presence and promise. God won’t let our foot slip as verse three promises. Our protector won’t fall asleep on the job. (verse three, Common English Bible) Even when I lived near the beach in Navarre, Florida (at a MUCH lower elevation!) or visited the beaches of South Walton County after I moved to DeFuniak Springs, the surf and sunsets reminded me of God’s presence and promise.

Turning to the Gospel reading for this Sunday, I am trying to put myself in the shoes of the Syrophoenician woman who approached Jesus. She was an outsider. She had immigrated from her native land for reasons unknown and her daughter was possessed by a demon. So not only was she an outsider as a non-Jew and a foreigner, she was an outcast because of her daughter’s condition. You see, many people would spend their time wondering what sort of sin this woman had committed that led to the demon possessing her daughter. After all, the disciples did the same thing to the man who was born blind as related by John in John 9:1-12. “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2)

Outcast… an immigrant… a foreigner… a non-believer… these would be labels that this woman would be familiar with. She may have lived in the region of Tyre, but she was not truly welcomed. In a sense, you could say she was a precursor to today’s immigrants who come to the U.S. with hopes for a better life. They face prejudice, discrimination, hatred, and downright persecution. Lord knows the political debate amongst the politicians reveals the hatred and ill-will towards fellow human beings. The same can be seen in Europe, and I have seen that personally as well. Whether they are called “illegal aliens” or “undocumented immigrants”, these people, created and loved by God, feel the hatred on a daily basis. Sadly, much of this anger comes from so called “Christians”.

Just as today’s “foreigners” live in fear of everything from their neighbors to INS agents, so too this woman must have moved warily amongst her neighbors. For this woman to approach Jesus took a bold leap of faith. Here she was, “one of those people”, approaching this Rabbi with miraculous powers and begging him for help. What happens next is very troubling for many commentators and for this Padre. How does one “excuse away” Jesus’ first response to the woman’s plea? “He responded {to her plea}, ‘The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27) Really Jesus? Calling her a dog? Even though the word κυνάριον (kunarion) which we translate as dog literally means a “little dog” or a “house dog”, Jesus is still calling her a dog! Was Jesus calling her a term of endearment? Our own little chihuahua Pixie is a dog, but she is a member of our family. On some days, it seems she rules the roost despite her small size (4 1/2 pounds)!

In that response, using that word (κυνάριον – kunarion), Jesus opens the door for dialogue. Unlike today’s politicians, he didn’t slam the door shut in her face. Jesus was correct in the fact that he had come first to the house of Israel. That was his primary mission as the Messiah. However, the woman’s boldness in responding to his comment must have spoken to the Lord’s heart. You may call me a “dog” Jesus, but even the κυνάριον (kunarion) under the table eat the children’s crumbs. Your mission may have been to the house of Israel, but I too am a child of God. Don’t I deserve to be treated as such? In the CEB translation, Jesus replied to the woman, “Good answer! Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” (Mark 7:29)

Her faith was indeed bold as she faced prejudice and hatred. She found the courage to speak boldly to this Rabbi with the amazing healing powers. She spoke to him knowing full-well that he might reject her. In that faith, she reached deep within and found the courage, strength, and faith to speak.

In that way, I am reminded of the story of a young woman, Julieta Garibay, that was shared at a rally around Immigration Reform in Alabama a number of years ago. Her parents were undocumented immigrants and she was two when the family came to this country. She however, went to school, graduated with honors and went on to college where she earned a Bachelor’s degree in nursing and a Master of Science in Public Health. She passed her nursing boards but was not allowed to practice nursing because she wasn’t a citizen. What a terrible waste of talent! Her bold faith kept her going and she is now the Deputy Advocacy Director and Founding Board Member of United We Dream where she continues the fight for justice and dignity for the undocumented community. Like the Syrophoenician woman, she did not cower or stand down in the face of discrimination or adversity.

This passage of Scripture challenges us to the core. How do we deal with our own prejudice? Jesus, at first, touted the party line, although I believe he knew exactly what was going to happen and how his action would reveal the faulty logic behind setting one group of people as somehow better than another group. In the end, he did not look upon the woman as a “house dog”, he looked upon her as a sister who was created in the image of God.

How do we look upon the “outsiders” or “immigrants” in our midst? Do we shout out that they belong in prison or back in their own country where they belong? Do we see them as somehow inferior to us? Or do we, as Christ-followers, see them as sisters and brothers who are created in God’s image. The choice is ours. How will you choose? As for me? The one being condemned by political candidates as somehow “lesser” and “not deserving” of what this country has to offer is my sister… is my brother… a child of God! How will you choose, dear reader?

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