September 6, 2015–Unfolding Truth

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Warm-up Question

 What is the silliest thing you have ever
believed? When this author was a child Dad took me to watch firefighters
practice their skills on an abandoned house. For years I believed firefighters
drove around in their fire trucks and burnt down homes in disrepair.  Perhaps youve
heard about children who were told the ice cream truck played music when it ran
out of ice cream—and believed it.

Unfolding Truth

A recent article in USA Today stated that employees in the airline industry routinely tell passengers things which they know to be untrue.  Among the most oft told lies:  "It’s a weather delay."  "We know you have a choice of airlines" (four carriers control 80% of flights). "Our fares have never been lower."  "Of course, you can make your flight."Some, learning that airline employees are less than forthright are surprised while others are surprised at their naiveté. 

 

Discussion Questions

  •  When is misinformation a lie and when
    is it meant to put people at ease when things are beyond their
    control?  Who speaks the truth today?
  • Is this article a sign that our
    society is going downhill or is it no news at all, simply reporting the
    way things—and people—have been all along.
  • Tell about something you believed as a child which was untrue or not as you thought it was? How did you learn the truth? Was the knowledge devastating or enlightening?
  • Has anyone given you a misleading answer because the truth was too complicated? Was this good or bad?


Lectionary 23/Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

 Isaiah 35:4-7a

James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

Mark 7:24-37

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

 

Gospel Reflection

 

A famous paining by French artist René Megritte entitled "The Treachery of Images" shows a tobacco pipe.  Beneath the pipe is the inscription, "Ceci n’est pas une pipe."–This is not a pipe.  His point is this: It is a painting, not a pipe.  

shutterstock_142540219edit.jpg

Likewise the Bible is NOT the Word of God. The Bible contains the Word of God. The Word of God is a living Word. It is Jesus Christ. If this is making your brain hurt stick with me for a minute.   The Bible is not a test we pass or a hurdle we jump over to get right with God, it is the means by which God draws us into relationship. The Bible is not God, but points us to God. This awareness can be devastating or enlightening—or both.

As children we learned Jesus loves us. This is true, in fact it is the central truth of the Bible. Yet, in the gospel lesson  Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman is troubling. Jesus appears to be rude and cantankerous. He seems to dismiss her out of hand and then, when she pushes back, changes his mind.

Explanations abound for Jesus behavior:  he was testing her, it was a teaching moment for his disciples, and many more. They share one thing in common. They seek to explain why Jesus isn’t being rude when he is being rude. They seek to explain away that which is difficult.

Seven hundred years ago William of Ockham, said, in so many words, "The simplest explanation is the best." Philosophers call this the law of parsimony or Ocham’s Razor and if you take a philosophy class someday you will study this till your brain hurts—at least mine did. It seems obvious doesn’t it? Gosh, maybe if we had lived seven hundred years ago we could have pointed out the obvious and been famous today, but that’s not my point.

My point is this; Jesus is being rude and dismissive to the woman he encounters. That is the simplest and, I believe, best explanation.  However, it leaves us with a bigger problem. How do we reconcile Jesus’ behavior with what we believe about Jesus loving all of humankind.

Here is my disquieting and, I hope, enlightening, answer. Jesus was fully human. The church has taught and believed this since it’s beginning. We also believe and teach Jesus is fully God. We will set aside reconciling these seemingly irreconcilable beliefs for another time.

To believe Jesus was fully human means Jesus was fully human. It means he struggled, like you and me–with temptation, with stubbed toes and head colds, with overbearing parents, and with figuring out who he was and what he was suppose to do with his life.

One theologian, Raymond Martin, said, "Matthew, Mark and Luke are what Jesus said, John is what the church said about Jesus."  That may understate the synoptic authors’ theological interpretation of Jesus, but Martin noted that Jesus never claims to be the son of God in the first three gospels, but only in the gospel of John, written long after the first three gospels. Jesus hints at it, he alludes to it, but he doesn’t claim it with full authority as he does in John.

Could it be that this disquieting story is, in fact, an ‘aha’ moment in Jesus life, the point where, thanks to this woman, he realized the worth and dignity of the entire human family?  I think it is, though some would disagree.

I believe Jesus was figuring out who he was, discerning what God was calling him to do just like you and I struggle to do.  Just before he was crucified Jesus prayed "that this cup be taken from me." Most theologians interpret this as Jesus wondering/asking/questioning if there was another way to fulfill God’s will other than the cross. I believe this, too, was an ‘aha’ moment for Jesus, when he caught another glimpse of God’s will for him.

Perhaps you find this disquieting, wanting to believe Jesus had all the answers all the time. Perhaps you find this comforting; to know Jesus was fully human and not only knows you, but knows and understands the questions you wrestle with as you seek to follow God’s will for your life.

However disquieting some of what we read in the Bible may be, it’s intent is the same, to draw us closer to God.

Discussion Questions

  •  What does it mean to you that Jesus was fully human?
  • Have you had an ‘aha’ moment in your faith journey, when you knew, at least for a time, where God was leading you? 
  • Why is it so hard to know God’s will for our lives? Is there anything we can do to make it easier?

Activity Suggestions

  • Ask an older family member how they decided what to do with their life. Ask them what one piece of advice they would give to someone trying to figure out where God was leading them.
  • Why do adults try to explain away things that are difficult or troubling? Have you ever done this? Was it helpful?
  • How would you answer someone who asked you how they should decide what to do with their life?

Closing Prayer

Jesus, you know us better than we know ourselves. You know how hard life is and how difficult it is to figure out the right thing to do. Keep us alert for the ‘aha’ moments in life, when your will for us is revealed. Amen.