Sunday, March 12, 2017

Who are the lost children of Israel?


June Beale pours tea for other evacuee children in the dining hall
at Marchant's Hill school, Hindhead, Surrey, 1944.
And from there He arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And He entered a house but did not want anyone to know, yet He could not be hidden.  But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of Him and came and fell down at His feet.  Mark 7:24-25

TODAY we join the Syro-phoenician woman in worshiping at the feet of Jesus and asking Him to "defend us from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul."

Yes, the woman in today's Gospel prayed that same Collect we prayed earlier albeit in different words, but that does not matter.  What does matter is that she said it!  She said it with unwavering faith, and she addressed it to the right person: to Jesus the Son of David; to Jesus who knows how to have mercy; to Jesus who is magnitudes more compassionate than the demons are cruel, and who came into the world to destroy the devil's reign of terror.

You would do well to make her prayer your prayer:  Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.  Neither is it one that is strange to our lips, but rather a prayer we pray every Sunday, as often as we sing "Hosanna" which means Lord save us!  It is one that Jesus hears and answers over and over again, therefore a petition we will never stop singing as long as we have breath, one that should be on the tip of our tongues as often as we see the devil's work in evidence each day, and for that we only need to open our eyes.

If we read today's gospel carefully, however, there are some questions we should be asking.  If Jesus really did come only for the "lost sheep of the house of Israel," and if He had qualms about giving the "children's bread to the dogs," what was He doing in Tyre and Sidon?  Was his GPS not working that day?  Did He take a wrong turn?  The Syro-Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon were on the far northwest coast of Israel, on the  Mediterranean  Sea.  It is a pair of cities that the prophets Ezekiel and Jeremiah condemned in the strongest possible terms.  They were tiny nations but exceptionally savvy.  Their people had the rare gift of appreciating what they had, so they worked hard and parlayed their tiny piece of real estate into one of the most powerful shipping ports of the ancient world.  They were wealthy, diverse cosmopolitan and beautiful to behold, but with much mammon and stunning success also comes fatal pride.  While their treasure houses were bursting at the seams, they fell prey to the maxim of Jesus, "What does it benefit a man if he should gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?"   Though the God of Israel who gives incorruptible wealth to men in Christ was only a stone's throw from their southern wall, they worshiped their own prowess instead.

Yet although they refused to know God or to honor Him as God, He did not refuse to know them!  When His own people would not hear Him, Jesus reminded them that "there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah when the heavens were shut up three and a half years, and a great famine came over all the land, but Elijah was sent to none of them; only to the Zarephath in the land of Sidon to a woman who was a widow."  Hearing this was too much for the Lord's audience to bear.  It was hate speech in the extreme and a few verses later Saint Luke reports that the people were going to throw Him over a nearby cliff and be done with Him, but the evangelist also tells us that he "walked through their midst" because His time had not yet come.  There was cross in His future!

We find the same thing in Saint Matthew's gospel.  Jesus says to the Jews who rejected Him, "Woe to you, Chorazin!  Woe to you, Bethsaida!  For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.  But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you."  It is only a few pages later that we find Jesus in those very cities doing those "mighty works."

Now let us ask again, if the Lord only came for "the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and if it was not proper "to give the children's bread to dogs," what was Jesus doing there?  Or possibly a more germane question is this:  what is Jesus doing here in Cleveland, Ohio?

Are we more godly than the people of Tyre and Sidon?  Are we less in need of Jesus' mercy and power to expel the demons from our hearts and our homes?  From our children, our streets, our politics, and our institutions?

You don't need to read the daily news for the answer.  Instead read the ten commandments with their Christian explanation, then look in the  mirror.  You are the lost sheep of the house of Israel!  You and your children are the ones who are possessed by the demons of burning desire but can find no rest or peace in the world's endless list of placebos.

Nevertheless, Praise God the Lord Ye Sons of Men! (TLH #105) because  as Jesus came to Tyre and Sidon then, he comes to Cleveland, Ohio today.  He is the children's Bread, and you are the children, but thank God that at Christ Lutheran Church we don't only get crumbs that might fall off the table, but the whole Christ, the living body and life-giving blood of the glorified and exalted Jesus who chases your demons far away and makes you to lie down in green pastures!

Therefore thank God today for this Good News.  Hear His word.  Call on Him in every trouble.  Pray, praise, and come to His table so that you, too, having been justified by faith may eat of the Living Bread that comes down from heaven.  Amen.

~  Rev Dean. Kavouras

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