Sermon - 9/9/18
2018.09.09 23:33:37

PROPER 18/B (2018): Isaiah 35:4-7a; James 2:1-10, 14-18; Mark 7:24-37.


Desert,         “Behold, your God…  He will come to save you.”  Then… the ears of the deaf [shall be] unstopped… and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.  For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert… (vv. 4b,c, 5, 6).  


For the last seven Sundays the church in her Gospel Readings from saints Mark and John has done a deep-dive into the meaning of church’s Eucharistic meal in the time of our Lord’s resurrection, that we with hearing ears, “understand about the loaves” (Mk. 6:52) of Jesus feeding the 5,000.  Understanding the loaves is fundamental to our Christian walk. 


For our grasp of the “loaves” the HS by Mark employs a literary device, inclusio, a scriptural envelope of a beginning and an ending that sandwiches the enveloped meat and meaning. 


Beginning with the 5,000 in Jewish territory the inclusio is completed by Jesus’ feeding 4,000 in Gentile Decapolis introduced by today’s Gospel miracles; the Syrophoenician woman seeking crumbs from the loaves reserved for Jews, and Jesus restoring a Gentile deaf-mute to hearing God’s word and clear speech to proclaim it. 


Within this all-important inclusio the church comprehends the Lord’s Supper in the context of Jesus’ Passion.  Does this make sense?  I hope so; like the deaf-mute with new ears, it must be heard by a converted heart that sings for joy with an unbridled tongue, “amen, amen”.  


In feeding the 5,000 Jesus inquired of his Apostles only about the number of available loaves (v. 38), emblematic food for the Jewish priesthood (1 Sam. 21:1-6). As it turned out, in addition to five loaves there were, unexpectedly two fish, suggesting food for other than the Jews.  Some Gentiles were also present in this desert gathering, no doubt a distress for the Apostles, as Jews would never; ever break bread with Gentile “dogs”. 


Jesus feeding such a multitude of persons was an action that taught a new exodus.  The Passover out of Egypt was an all-Hebrew event with a handful of tag-along Egyptians.  In crossing through the Red Sea Israel was baptized a holy nation and kingdom of priests in the way of the Lord (Ex. 19:6) that at the sight of God’s mighty work, the nations, the Gentiles might also be drawn to their true and saving God (Deut. 4:6-8). 


Jesus feeding the 5,000 would fulfill his mission, “first to the Jew” (Mt. 10:5, 6; 15:24; Jn. 4:22), the economy of God’s salvation.  Yet Jesus would become frustrated at the Jewish mission: by the crowd thinking only of food for stomachs; by Apostles’ reticent to share bread with the Gentiles and wanting to “send them away” (Mk. 6:36a); by Pharisaic elders contradicting the patent revelation of a new exodus in his miraculous feeding; and by the loss of Jewish disciples unable to accept the scandalous imperative of eating of his flesh and drinking his blood (Jn. 6:53, 60, 66) as God’s end times food in the new Way of Holiness (Isa. 35:8).  


Jesus departed from the Jewish regions of Gennesaret and Capernaum; heading north into the Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. There he entered a non-descript house and would have preferred to remained anonymous (Mk. 7:24b), perhaps to lick his wounds at the hands of Jewish grumblers and abandonment by his Jewish disciples returning to the synagogue’s of Moses.


In the Gentile territory Jesus experienced an entirely different reception for there was no way to escape the Gentile populace (v. 24c) generally known as “the Decapolis”.


On a previous occasion Jesus had been to the Gerasenes in the Decapolis; there he dispatched into a herd of pigs, a thousand demons, collectively known as “Legion” from a man living among the tombs. The demons possessing the pigs returned to their chaotic primordial home, the sea.  As a result of economic loss, the Gerasenes Jesus asked to leave.  Jesus was having a hard time catching a break from Gentile and Jew.  


The formerly possessed man, known as “Legion” wanted to follow Jesus, but was directed to return home. He preached the good news of his release and restoration in the Decapolis.  The result was that in today’s Readings Jesus is enthusiastically welcomed in Gentile Decapolis; first by the Syrophoenician woman seeking an exorcism for her daughter.  The girl’s release from satanic bondage is not, in the first instance, about an exorcism; rather the mother’s principle thrust sought acceptance into Jesus’ new exodus out of Satan’s bondage and receive his food on the Way of his destination.  Jesus, of course, is on the Way to die on the cross, God’s sacrificial Lamb and so source for the Life of his church.


Jesus challenges the woman’s request for food from his table, “…it is not right to take the [Jewish] children’s bread and throw [their Bread from heaven] to the dogs” (Mk. 7:27); still the woman lays hold of Jesus’ negative word, turning it to her advantage, such is the essence of saving faith. 


The woman accepts that she and her daughter are unworthy street-dogs, but even in Jesus’, “no”, by faith that trusts God’s mercy, she makes an audacious claim for a place in his house. By faith, the Gentile woman and her daughter are elevated to full family membership, possessing an absolute claim to participate in God’s one loaf at, not under, Jesus’ table.  


By the unexpected addition of fish with the loaves of the 5,000; by the woman’s welcoming faith desiring heaven’s bread, Jesus takes his Apostles with their twelve Jewish baskets with fragments of bread and fish deep into Gentile territory.


The Decapolis was truly a spiritual desert. Unlike Israel, God’s people by grace, Gentiles had no claim on the things of God; still at the word of a former demoniac named “Legion”, a Syrophoenician woman, and a recreated Gentile deaf-mute speak that Jesus is true Bread out of heaven for spiritual wholeness the gospel was proclaimed in the Decapolis. 


At the recreation of the deaf-mute to new humanity, the Decapolis crowds were “astonished beyond all measure, they said, ‘He has done all things well; he has made the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak’” (Mk. 7:37).  By their testimony these Gentiles echoed God’s own word on the sixth day of the first creation, “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold it was very good” (Gen. 1:31). 


4,000 Gentile men and women would now be drawn into a desert place with Jesus to join with Jews in a new exodus and feeding on the way Isaiah describes, “And a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Way of Holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it. It shall belong to those who walk on the way…” (35:8). 


The Way of Holiness in which there is no uncleanness is the substance of Jesus’ crucified flesh and blood, the meat sandwiched in heaven’s Loaves. The dénouement of Jesus’ teaching and our understanding of the loaves is simplicity, “he took the bread, and after blessing it (cf. Mk. 6:41) broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.”  And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks (cf. 8:6) he gave it to them, and they all drank of it.  And he said to them, “This is the blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (14:22-24). 


Jesus is our feeding; he is our singular Loaf into which, by Baptism, we by faith are gathered and baked with him in Holy Fire on the cross. We live in a world where man eats his bread by the sweat of his face (Gen. 3:19a). 


But Jesus has come into our desert as Food from heaven for Holiness. In this Way we eat his Bread bloodied by the sweat of his brow (Lk. 22:44) for our sin.  In Christ’s feeding we are being recreated to true humanity.  Amen.   






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