Let me preface this whole post by acknowledging that I don’t understand the mystery of Jesus’ dual human/divine nature. I might make the mistake in this particular blog of ascribing too much to his humanity. On the other hand, I think that there also might be a tendency by Christians to downplay Jesus’ human side of things when his deity seems to be under attack in our pluralistic society. Nevertheless, I think that there is something to be learned from stories where Jesus seems to be a bit too human for our own comfort – stories like the cleansing of the temple, for example, or the story I’ll discuss below. Maybe we’ll learn a little about the nature of sin; about what God regards as sin; and about what masquerades as sin, but which really only offends our sense of politeness, social propriety, or political correctness.
Anyway, this morning I was reading this coming Sunday’s lectionary passage from the gospel of Mark. At the end of Chapter 7, I have the impression that Jesus is just really exhausted and would like to get away from it all and go on a little vacation. He’s gone to Tyre, which is on the Mediterranean Sea, and the scripture says…
He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.
Sounds like me sometimes. (Well, actually I probably want to take a vacation at the slightest hint of weariness. I have the impression that Jesus got a whole lot wearier than I do.)
So Jesus is off on vacation, but he isn’t even able to rest there. He’s found by some Gentile woman who has heard about the kinds of amazing things that he has been doing and wants him to heal her daughter. At this point, Jesus seems to be a bit exasperated (and that’s putting it gently). He tells her that his work is with the Jews and not the Gentiles, but he’s a bit more gruff than that (at least to my ear)…
Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.
But check out this reply:
Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.
Now this is where I don’t quite know how to understand Jesus’ humanity. I wouldn’t suggest that Jesus needs grace, at least not in the sense that the rest of us do. But doesn’t it seem like that’s just what he’s received in this woman’s response? Hasn’t he just called her a dog? And didn’t she just let that one slip by? I know I’m interpreting this one from a 21st century middle-class North America cultural viewpoint, but still…
Anyway, maybe the woman has ministered to Jesus’ need. Perhaps, in this time when he’s on vacation for some rest, she has reminded him of the faith that he inspires in people, and perhaps that is an inspiration to his own faith, as well. (I do think that Jesus needed faith in his Father to achieve his work on earth. I don’t think that is too much of a stretch or a threat to his divinity.)
Ok – let me move on to take a quick look at the next story. Jesus is on his way home from vacation, and some people bring him a man who is deaf and who also has a speech impediment. Jesus takes the man aside to pray for him and only utters one word, “Ephphatha”, which means, “Be opened.” But look at what else he does – he sighs. I’m not a scholar of Greek, but my understanding is that this is the same word found in Romans 8 where Paul describes how the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.
What is happening here? Does Jesus sigh because of lingering tiredness? Does he not know what words to pray, or does he express a deeper prayer from the depths of his soul? Does the Holy Spirit also intercede with the Father on behalf of the Son? Do we learn that at times there are prayers that reflect the heart of God that just can’t be expressed with the words that we have?
Today, I’m reminded that Jesus’ humanity was not an impediment to his ministry, but rather a vital part of it. It was only by becoming human that Jesus was able to show us the way back to God.