Open Table

Lectionary Passage:  Mark 7: 24-37
To read this passage online, go to http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=213945074.

I love being a United Methodist.  I probably take what could be considered an almost unhealthy sense of pride in the fact that we believe in an open table, that we believe that the Feast of Holy Communion, the Eucharist, is not “Methodist” but is instead an open table to which all are welcome.  It sounds good.  It makes us sound like a community in which one would want to be.

But this week’s Gospel reading begins to make us squirm a bit.  After all, we look to Jesus for this model of open invitation, for the depiction of compassion and mercy to which we all aspire.  And then we read this.  I mean, really, is he calling her a “dog”?  Now, with apologies to Maynard, my four-legged roommate, this was NOT a nice thing to say.  And yet, remember, Jesus understood his mission (in fact, EVERYONE understood his mission) as Messiah, the one promised to the chosen people.  Jesus’ mission was to the people of Israel.  There was nothing bad or closed-minded about that; that’s the way it was. So does that mean that this passage depicts a turning point, a veritable transformative moment for even Jesus?  Well, that’s bothersome.  After all, if Jesus needed transformation, where does that leave us?

Well, really, did we think that Jesus was just plunked down on this earth in ready-to-wear form?  After all, remember, he was human, “fully human” we are told.  Transformation is part of our humanity, being transformed is how we become fully human, fully made in the image of God.  It is how we become who we are supposed to be.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe Jesus was not pushing us at all here, but leading us out of the box that we have built, leading us to who God calls us to be.  Maybe Jesus was showing us that even well-meaning and well-constructed boxes are meant to come crashing down when the time is right.  And the time was right.  This was not a diminishment of Jesus’ power; it was an expansion.  At this moment, the mission began to move and God’s Kingdom began to spread beyond the tight shores of the Galilean Lake and into the Decapolis region.  The Kingdom of God was at hand!

God cannot be contained.  Perhaps this story was Jesus’ realization and affirmation of that very notion.  After all, if Jesus experienced transformation, we are called to do the same.  Once again, Jesus takes a cultural norm (actually several of them!) and turns them on their ear.  It was his awakening to a new reality.  And it was the impetus that pushed the morality police known as his Disciples right out of the box with him.  The walls crash down, the table is set, and all are invited.  Come and feast with your Lord!

But it’s still a hard Scripture.  I mean, really, who did this foreign nameless immigrant think she was?  She was the voice, a voice for all foreign nameless immigrants that dare to claim their crumb at the table, that dare to go where God calls.  You see, the table is really open–not merely to us but by us.  We are the inviters, the ones transformed by relationships with “them”.  What do you bring to the table?  And who do you invite to sit down with you and share the bread and drink the cup?  Who belongs in the Kingdom of God? The Body of Christ given for you. The Blood of Christ poured out for you. And you and you and you and you and you and you and you…..Well, you get the idea.  Did we think this was about us?

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.  And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age. (Matthew 28: 19-20, NRSV)

Grace and Peace,

Shelli

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