Jesus Changes His Mind … a sermon on Mark 7:24-27 (Year B, Proper 18)
Aim: To see Jesus as real – real God and a real human.
In Chapter 6, Jesus had a tough time. He’s been rejected at Nazareth, by those who should have known him best. His friend and Cousin John the Baptist has been killed. He’s sent out his disciples and performed miracles to feed the relentless crowds. In Chapter 7 he’s argued with the Pharisees about what’s right and wrong after they found a way to criticise his disciples. Now he’s trying to get some peace and quiet by staying incognito in a house over the border in a foreign town. At last, he can get some time to deal with everything that has happened to him.
Somehow, a foreigner has recognised him. Even though she’s a woman, she has the nerve to approach a Rabbi and ask for his help! Jesus gives her a short answer, referring to non-Jews as ‘dogs’: at best this is a patronising comment, at worst it is a racist insult! Jesus is not being very nice, but she won’t give up, uses a term of respect to this rude Jew. Then Jesus gives in and answers her.
Mark tells it like it was, perhaps for comedy value, even though it might embarrass Jesus. There are two difficult issues for us here. First, we see Jesus portrayed as human; he is not the perfect gentleman and can be harsh when irritated. Second, he changes his mind and grants a request, even when the person who asks has no business asking him for anything.
Our Christian doctrine, our traditional theology tells us that God is perfectly knowing, all seeing and unchanging, so Jesus can’t have changed his mind! Sometimes this is explained away as Jesus ‘testing’ people’s faith. A well-known Christian hymn is titled ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’; here, he is not!
However, I feel encouraged by these verses just as they are. The Bible does not shy away from the facts, even when it might not always look good or be interpreted the in ‘right’ way. This gives me confidence that it is true. I am excited that mere humans if they have faith, can change the mind of God. In the OT, Abraham persuaded God to spare his cousins’ family. In the NT, Jesus is persuaded by the persistent faith of a foreigner, a woman – when foreign women counted for nothing in Judea.
Sometimes we are told things about God, which we are not supposed to question. Does faith mean that we’re not meant to reason about them? Thank God Jesus does not conform to such dogma! Thank God that Mark tells us the truth about Jesus and does not give us a sterile piece of propaganda! Jesus (who is God, Holy Spirit, creator of the universe and all) has compassion, and is prepared to change our world in response to a mere human!