Sunday, September 20, 2015


This week the Gospel lectionary passage (Mark 9:30-37) has multiple themes. In the Gospel of Mark by this time the journey to the cross has already begun.

This text starts with talking about betrayal, death, resurrection and fear. All these are interesting themes that could be explored further­– but not for today.

Then the text moves to the disciples arguing about who is the greatest of them. I pondered what is it in human nature that wants to be the best even at the expense of others? Here was a group of people who were privileged to be travelling with Jesus. The text tells us Jesus was teaching them. They were probably privy to conversations we have no knowledge of, yet there were still petty jealousies and unhealthy competition.

They clearly knew that their conversation was wrong. When Jesus questioned them about the topic of their discussion they were silent. That is a sure sign they were uncomfortable and embarrassed. It didn’t really matter, Jesus was aware of the nature of the conversation.

Jesus told them that if they wanted to be “first” they had to be “a servant of all”. This is a recurring theme in the gospels. The thing that is most important is service to others, especially those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in some way.

Jesus illustrates this by taking a child and saying, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.”

This was the phrase that stood out to me this week. Perhaps, it is because this week we have been in conversation with the editor about the subtitle and cover design for our upcoming book. Welcoming Strangers: Nonviolent Re-Parenting of Children in Foster Care. As the title suggests this is about inviting children and teens into our home and welcoming them. Not always as simple as it sounds!

To attempt to understand this text in the context of the gospel it is necessary to look at the different way children were thought of in the first century. In contemporary culture we often hear about the need to put children first. Their needs, and sometimes wants, are catered to. This happens even when it is difficult for the parents either physically or financially.

However, in Roman times children were seen purely as property. They had no rights (along with the women). They were considered of no importance although sons were desired to continue the family line. One custom of the time was that when a baby was born it was placed on the floor by the midwife and if the father picked it up it was accepted into the family, if the father turned away the baby was discarded (

In view of this custom I think it is really important that Jesus “Took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms …” By taking the child in his arms he was accepting and welcoming the child to the family. I doubt if the significance of this action would be lost on the disciples. Of course, even within those times the treatment of children varied greatly depending on their social status.

So when Jesus chose a child to illustrate his point he was choosing someone (or even we could say something) that was very low on the social order.

Today we could choose different words to show the lowest in social order. I want to note here that it is appalling that I even have to consider that in the twenty-first century, in our society, we still have people who are marginalized or considered outcasts.

I’ll leave you to fill in the blanks, “Whoever welcomes one such ******* in my name welcomes me.”

The words we put in the blanks are those we need to serve and advocate for.

Then, let’s push the concept a little farther, make it a little more personal. Think of people who have wronged you, caused you harm in some way or done things that upset you.

Now fill in the blank with a name “Whoever welcomes ******* in my name welcomes me.”

I am the first to admit this is a really hard thing to do. Following the teaching of Jesus is not easy. I think this is perhaps another of those things that we strive for. It is an ideal that we try to journey towards. Enjoy the journey!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Finding Voice

Today’s lectionary passage is Mark 7:24-37. This passage contains two stories. These are the story of the woman who is described as a “Gentile of Syrophoenician origin” and the story of the man who could not hear or speak.

I have blogged much about the former of these stories. I think it is a really important one. This Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus to seek healing for her daughter. Initially Jesus’ response was harsh, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

I have heard many attempts to mediate this phrase. There are suggestions such as Jesus didn’t really mean it and it was only said to test the faith of the woman. Personally, I don’t like the idea that unpalatable passages are explained away. Sometimes things in the Bible are simply not good and we need to accept and deal with that. I think Jesus’ response here was one of those times. Jesus was focused on his mission to the Jewish people and treated the Syrophoenician woman with contempt.

However, this Syrophoenician woman was not cowed. She challenged the narrowness of that mission. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She found her voice to speak for her child. In doing so something amazing happened.  She opened Jesus eyes that the message of healing and wholeness was for everyone.

God used this unnamed woman to reveal to Jesus that the ministry and message was available for all. Thankfully, Jesus had ears to hear the message. The woman found her voice to speak the message of inclusion for future generations. This was a turning point in history. The message became all are welcomed and received.

I also find it quite poignant that this story is featured this weekend. A Syrophoenician was “a native or inhabitant of Phoenicia when it was part of the Roman province of Syria” (Merriam-Webster). So the woman was from Syria.

Syria has been much in the news this week with the refugee crisis. The refugees, too, found voice this week in one photograph of one small boy. It is my hope and prayer that the nations of the world will hear and respond. Perhaps, this little boy from Syria will also speak the message of inclusion for future generations. Perhaps this will be another turning point in history about how refugees are treated. Perhaps, one day, they too will hear the message that all are welcomed and received.

However, the lectionary passage doesn’t end there. It is as if the message of finding a voice needs to be emphasized. The writer of the gospel does it with the story of the man who could not hear or speak. He was brought to Jesus for healing and “his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.” Other people brought this man to Jesus.

So as I read the passage today, the thing that linked the two stories was that these people both found voice. Both were people who would have had no significance in their contemporary culture, even, both would have been considered outcasts. One found voice to speak for another and one was helped by others to find voice.

This week we have talked a lot about how we can be Christ-like to those we meet and, even, what it would mean to be Christ-like. Perhaps there is a hint in this passage. We can be a voice against injustice for those who are outcasts and rejected by society and we can help those who need to find a voice speak out.