Black lives matter, all lives matter: The Phoenician mother and Jesus

September 21, 2015

The mother was in anguish.

        She was from the powerful Phoenician city of Tyre, a wealthy town on the sea,

                full of prosperous business and learned people.

        But no amount of learning or money had helped her.

Her daughter was mentally and emotionally disturbed, tormented by demons she could not conquer.

 

The woman wasn’t a Jew, but came to Jesus anyway.

        It was a long shot—Jesus was a Galilean peasant, from a laborer’s family,

        learned in Jewish scriptures but not much else.

                But she had heard he was a healer, and she knew she had to try.

        She forced her way into the house where he was staying, and bowed down before Jesus

and begged him to heal her daughter.

 

Jesus said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

        If this sounds like an insult, you’re right .

                We who usually think of Jesus as the Son of God don’t anticipate him getting impatient

        or putting someone else down, especially not someone else in need.

 

But in those days these comments were not surprising; Phoenicians and Jews did not get along.

        They were neighboring countries, and the powerful Phoenicians exploited the Galilean Jewry

                        for their labor and their goods.

                But at the same time, these Jews were fiercely proud.

        They called themselves the ‘children of Israel’—God’s chosen ones;

and they were not about to share what they had with their enemies.

 

This was just one of the barriers this mother had to get over to come to Jesus.

        Women and men outside of family did not interact; they were of different religions and races.

        She had to push her way beyond closed doors into the house.

Yet her need drove her, and she persisted.

 

I heard of another anguished mother this week--

        the mother of Zachary Hammond, a young white man killed by police during an attempted arrest

        in a restaurant parking lot in Seneca, South Carolina.

                Recently there had been a vigil with about 50 people in attendance, but no media.

        It was, in the age of street protests and public outcry

                about the rash of unarmed teens dying at the hands of police,

                a pretty modest affair.

Friends and family gathered, but the community did not rally around them.

       

 

Zachary’s family was in pain—

        in pain about Zachary’s death, and in pain because it seemed like no one cared.

                Zachary’s uncle said, Don’t you think if Zachary were Black there would be more media attention?

        The family had reached out to community leaders and media,

but the details of Zachary’s death were murky, and the predominantly white community

preferred to let the justice system play out that than protest. 

 

This was in stark contrast to Ferguson, where the Black community took to the streets

        to protest the killing of Michael Brown,

                and Baltimore, where there were street riots after the killing Freddie Gray.

        It was in contrast with the campaign Black Lives Matter.

With agony in her voice, Zachary’s mom asked, “Why can’t it be All Lives Matter?”

 

All Lives Matter.

        It could be the theme for the day:

        two mothers, putting out the truth that beyond all beyond our perceived differences

                all lives have value

        their children’s lives have value.

Suddenly the question is on a very human scale.

 

Why Jesus didn’t get that at first?

Sometimes I think Jesus must have been having a bad day.

        He had been trying to get some rest, when this woman came barging in,

                completely disrespecting the ‘do not disturb’ sign.

                        I imagine Jesus’ thoughts: Why do these Phoenicians feel so entitled?

                What am I-- a vending machine, dispensing healing when you the push of the button?

        If you Phoenicians can sail the seas, let her find what she needs elsewhere!

No wonder he said, “let the children be fed first”—she was butting in line!

 

But her         answer disarmed him: “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

        She didn’t respond to the insult.

        It was a repetition of her need, in Jesus’ terms.

                “OK, maybe I am a dog, but even dogs get fed.”

                        But she also reframed the issue

                putting it out of the realm of ‘us v them,’

                God feeding one at the expense of another,

        and putting it into the realm of God feeding all.

She becomes the hero of the story, and Jesus hears something new.

Like the deaf man who he heals the next day, Jesus’ ears—and heart-- are opened.

 

 

 

Some folks have complained about the Black Lives Matter slogan, saying it is inflammatory

        and has no place in a civil rights campaign.

The color of a person’s skin should not matter when there has been a shooting.

 

But this criticism ignores our collective history as Americans.

        Fifty years ago, the civil right movement organized in response to documented cases

                people being denied access to hospitals, schools, neighborhoods, and public services

                 on the basis of skin color

        Freedom Riders and voting rights protestors and children of color integrating schools were beaten

Police turned their dogs and fire hoses on crowds of peaceful protestors

Four little girls were killed in their church out of racial hate.

 

The similarities of that time is not lost on people in communities of color today.

        They see the protests about the treatment of people of color at the hands of police

                as another chapter in this movement.

        They note the statistics that young Black men are 21 times more likely to be shot by police

        than their white counterparts of the same age.

But mostly they note their experience of racism-- that people of color do not get the same treatment,

despite the years since the civil rights legislation of 1965.

 

Since the shooting of nine bible study participants in Charleston, South Carolina, this summer,

our national church has joined with the AME Church in calling for racial justice.

        Our national bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, held a webinar in August on the complexities of racism

        and has made available a number of resources for raising awareness on racism in congregations.

Today has been designated as “Confession, Repentance, and Commitment to End Racism Sunday,”

so that from pulpits all across the country, Lutherans will join African American Christians

in considering our call to action on this issue.

 

Our congregation will be using some of these resources in the coming months,

and I will be looking for a few people to help organize our congregational response.

        Today we will share healing prayer, and one of the things we can bring to this prayer

        is the confusing and painful legacy of racism.

There is pain on all sides of this issue: white mothers and black mothers both mourn their children’s deaths

we are all affected when members of our community are not safe.

 

In our gospel lesson today, Jesus changes his mind.

        The Phoenician mother finds the common ground for them to meet on—

                and it is God’s love for all people.

        As Christians, we need to live in a way that communicates that all lives matter.

        This in part means acknowledging that some lives have been denigrated

        some have not had opportunities or safety that we have

It means humbling ourselves to listen to other people’s experience, which may be very different than our own.

 

Jesus prayed over the deaf man, “Ephphatha”--- “Be Opened.”

It is my prayer for each of us today. 
That we not be deaf to the call to look seriously at racism placed before us today.

That we be opened to the Spirit’s work in and through us.

 

sources:

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2015/08/30/435277397/a-white-teen-was-killed-by-a-cop-and-no-one-took-to-the-streets-is-that-a-proble

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/09/04/opinion/the-truth-of-black-lives-matter.html?_r=0

http://elca.org/News-and-Events/7771

http://www.cnn.com/2014/12/02/politics/kristoff-oreilly-police-shooting-numbers-fact-check/

 

Children’s Sermon

 

I Got Shoes, You Got Shoes, All God’s children Got Shoes…

 

Have you heard that song before?

It’s a spiritual, sung first by African American slaves.

On the plantation where the slaves worked, the masters didn’t give the slaves any shoes.

So it became a symbol of how God’s justice—

All God’s children got shoes, not just the white kids.

 

In our letter from James, he writes,

“If a brother or a sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, “go in peace, keep warm and eat your fill,” and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? 

 

Why is that no good?

 

James then says, “Faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.”

just a bunch of empty words.

 

We are backing up our faith with works this fall—

collecting what goes underneath shoes:  socks!

Many homeless people do not have socks. 

We will collect adult sock sizes all Sept and then take them to Church By the Pond on Oct 3,

the Day of Service, to hand them out.

 

We will show our neighbors that we love them, as well as say it with words.

 

 

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