St. Paul’s Lutheran Church
Lent 3, March 18, 2020
Text: Mark 7:24–30
In the name of Jesus, Amen!
A 16-year-old boy in California’s San Fernando Valley was physically attacked last week by bullies in his high school who accused him of having the coronavirus — simply because he was Asian American. An east Asian man, a 24-year-old tax consultant in the United Kingdom, was violently assaulted and robbed by two teenagers shouting “coronavirus” at him. These are just a couple of examples of violence and biases against Chinese and Asian people as COVID-19 spreads. The ironic thing about the spreading of the virus is that it disregards gender, race, nationality, class, and social status. We have heard enough of officials and celebrities infected in different countries. This war we are having right now is against the virus, not against people. However, sinful nature turns an invisible enemy into visible people. The virus makes people suspicious of one another. Quarantine is to separate sick persons from supposedly healthy persons. I heard that some families in China built up temporary walls inside their home. A Lithuanian man, worried about catching the coronavirus, locked his wife who returned from overseas recently in the bathroom for fear she might have the deadly virus.The purpose of a nation in building walls is to prevent people from other nations or ethnic groups to invade or come in illegally , be it a great Wall of China to protect against barbarians, or Trump’s wall to prevent illegal immigrants coming into the country. Suspicions, distrust, and enmity, caused by the past damages or hurt by those who are different than us, are deep inside of us. What’s the root cause of all these? It is sin, a virus, spreading and infecting our soul, and the consequence of sin builds up walls between people.
In our last two Lent sermons, we heard how the Old Testament viewed the nations, and how God’s plan was to bless the nations through Abraham’s promised descendant, our Lord Jesus Christ who came to save all people of all nations from their sins and to reconcile us to God. We also heard how Jesus interacted with a Roman centurion. Tonight, we’re going to look into a couple more places in the New Testament where we see Jesus interacting with “the nations”, especially with gentile women.
Mark 7 tells us of a woman from Tyre and Sidon. Now, to Americans, these just sound like city names. But Tyre and Sidon were very different from other cities. Tyre and Sidon were pagan cities belonging to the province of Syria. It seems that the gospel writer, Mark, wants his readers to know that Jesus came not only to his own people. He also came to people on the fringes of society, to folks living in border towns. Border towns are well-known in our day as places where nationality and citizenship lines are often blurred. So, why did Jesus go out of his way all the way up to the coastal vicinity of Tyre anyway? Jesus’s action would be suspicious in the eyes of Jewish people at that time. Especially, the Pharisees expected him as a rabbi not to interact with non-Jewish people at all. They were unclean and would make a Jewish person unclean. The towns of Tyre and Sidon were a predominantly pagan area and one that had a history of violence toward the Jewish people and especially toward the prophets. This was the hometown of Queen Jezebel, the enemy of the prophet Elijah. So, why did Jesus want to go to a place like this in the first place? Some scholars have suggested that Jesus wanted to get away from the growing popularity and controversy surrounding his ministry. In chapter 6 of Mark, Jesus invites the disciples to go on vacation with him and says: “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while” (Mk 6:31). Maybe Jesus needed a spiritual retreat. The text doesn’t say. But what we do know is that he went to a place off the beaten path, to Tyre and Sidon which were outside Judaea. What was Jesus going to do? Was He going to run into some Jezebel-like character? Not only Pharisees, even His disciples would be suspicious of His action. That probably is why He “did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.” He came for a gentile woman.
Last Sunday, we also heard the story of a Samaritan woman at the Jacob’s well talking with Jesus. We could see that the enmity and distrust between the Jews and Samaritans cast some suspicion on Jesus from the woman, and later from His disciples as well, because the text says, “Just then his disciples came back. They marveled that he was talking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you seek?’ or, ‘Why are you talking with her?’” (John 4:27). First of all, they may have wondered why Jesus talked to a woman in the first place. It was even more suspicious when this woman was a Samaritan. Samaritans were the descendants of intermarriage between the gentiles and remnants of the Israelites conquered by Assyrians and Babylonians. Samaritans thought that they had kept the true religion before the fall of Jerusalem. But the Jewish people thought that they were idolatrous, and that their religion and blood were not pure. That’s why Jews and Samaritans argued about where the worship should take place. However, Jesus settled the argument by saying to her, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.” (John 4:21-24) And He told the woman that He Himself was the Messiah, the Christ, who was coming and would tell us all things.
Thanks be to God! Jesus came to break the wall of suspicion and animosity. He initiated the encounters with these two gentile women. By doing that, He initiated reconciliation. He drove out the unclean spirit from the demon-possessed daughter of a Syrophoenician woman. He gave the living water, welling up to eternal life, to a Samaritan woman. He came for all people, men and women, rich and poor, weak and strong… Last Wednesday it was a Roman centurion, who was strong and mighty in society. Tonight, it was gentile women, who were weak and marginalized. Jesus came and broke the wall that separates the different people in the world by revealing our sins and the truth, giving us the Spirit, and ultimately by sacrificing on the cross and rising up on the third day. He wiped out the virus of sin and brought down the wall between men and God, and between people of different nationality, ethnicity, race, gender, class and social status; as St. Paul says in Ephesians 2, “Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.”
When the Berlin wall was knocked down, it brought East and West Germany back into one nation again. When a sick person recovers from Covid-19, he/she will be freed from the virus and saved from death, the temporary wall will be removed, and family members will reunite again. By the blood of Jesus, we are freed from the virus of sin, and by His cross, the dividing wall of hostility is brought down, and we become one family again by faith, whatever your ethnicity or nationality is. Through God’s long-promised seed of Abraham, Jesus Christ, we are family again.
Let me finish this by asking you a question, “Was Abraham an Israelite or a gentile?” You may know the answer, but even if you know, please think about it for a while… Abraham was a gentile. He was not an Israelite because Israel, that is Jacob, was his grandson. He could not belong to Israel. When you first meet someone and ask them where they originally came from, their answer is usually the city and the nation they were born into and the ethnic group they grew up with, right? Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldeans, which was one of the most sinful ancient cities with idolatrous worship. It was a typical gentile city/state. But by faith, Abraham answered God’s call and firmly held unto His promise. By the faithfulness of God, he begot Isaac, and Isaac begot Jacob, who is Israel and entered the promised land. That’s why Abraham is called the father of faith, extending God’s blessings to all nations. Through his long-promised seed Jesus Christ, the believers from all nations become one family, the family of God.
In the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!