[The Syro-Phoenecian woman was] a teacher. A very good teacher. And one from whom Jesus learns a vital lesson.
You see Jesus was learning as he went along. The full goal of his mission---of the job he had been given to do---wasn’t clear to him at first. Some would say, and I would agree, that Jesus wasn’t clear about the full breadth of his mission, of his call, until that long and lonely night in the Garden on the Thursday of Holy Week. So when he retreats to the border of the familiar by traveling into Gentile territory, into the unknown, he was still figuring out just who he was and what he was supposed to do. A lot of what he learned didn’t come from ancient scrolls or from other rabbis’. You see, Jesus learned by doing, by living and by listening. Jesus wasn’t able to lay out the steps and stops of his three-year mission at the outset, he needed to grow into his ministry, grow into his role, grow into his tasks.
Just like us. When you turned 21 did you know everything you needed to know to be an adult? For those of you who are parents, did you know everything about child rearing the day your child was born?
Did I know all there was to know about being priest on my ordination day?
We’re always learning, always growing, always making mistakes, learning from them and moving on.
As long as we’re alive, we’re growing. As long as we’re alive, we’re changing. That’s a fact of the human condition—we’re always changing, we’re always growing, we’re always learning.
Whether we admit it or not.
We all know people who decide on how things out to be and refuse to move from that spot. We all know people who take their opinion and make it the Gospel truth for their life, refusing to budge, refusing to listen to reason, refusing to admit that what was once true for them, may no longer be. We all know people who spend an inordinate amount of energy REFUSING to budge, REFUSING to grow, REFUSING to learn.
These are unhappy, unfulfilled and bitter people. They are people who, although they technically are still alive, stopped “living” a long time ago.
That’s what makes this Gospel reading, for all its jarring language, gorgeous. For in it we see our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, open himself up to growth, we see Jesus the teacher being taught by the “other”, the mother who needed to get help for her daughter.
- Catherine Dempesy, excerpted from "Old Dogs and Saviors Can Learn New Tricks," a sermon on Mark 7:24-37, preached on September 9, 2012 at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church, Buffalo, NY