"Giving Voice," image by Kevin Harber via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.
It seems that no one can keep quiet when in the presence of God, as much as Jesus orders silence. “For saying that, the demon has left your daughter.” “The mute speak plainly.” “Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.” Are we as vocal, giving voice to our belief in what God can do or what God has done?
The inability to remain silent when you recognize that the Kingdom of God has actually come near is but one thing that links the Syrophoenician woman and the deaf/mute man. And, God’s Kingdom is not just here, but the power and possibility of the Kingdom of God is even more than Jesus himself could imagine. The expansiveness of God’s love, God’s healing, God’s grace will not be limited by any location, any laws. It will not be diminished by any creed or decree. It will not be regulated by the many reasons we come up with as to why God could not possibly be God.
But sadly, we try. We ignore the fact that Jesus first shows up in the wilderness. We forget that both the heavens and the temple curtain were torn apart. And all too often we don’t believe that the tomb was actually empty. But before we chide ourselves for our disbelief, feel shame for all of those times we don’t believe what we preach, question our call to proclaim God’s mercy, we should remember that we are in good company. It takes a mother’s fierce love for her daughter for Jesus to see just what his true mission is.
This is not just the human side of Jesus, however, or some sort of proof that Jesus is both truly divine and truly human, that Jesus is just like us. We forget that our God became fully human not only for the sake of solidarity with the joys and pains of humanity, but also for the sake of telling us the truth about our humanity – which always attempts to curtail God’s sovereignty. In Jesus’ response to this grieving mother, we see our own inclinations to restrict God’s intent to restore life to all. In Jesus’ resistance to the women’s begging for her daughter’s life, we view our own opposition to just how far God is willing to go so that all experience resurrected life.
It is a rare moment when we glimpse how much beyond our comprehension God really is and how much beyond our imagination God’s love extends. And in that same moment, we perceive how easy it is to give in to this world’s estimations of God, this world’s propensity to limit what God can do. How quickly we retreat from zealous proclamation and settle for lukewarm confession. How often we shrink in fear from the bold belief, “Here is your God” (Isaiah 34:4).
For many of you, Dear Working Preachers, this is the first Sunday back to church for your members after summer’s less than weekly attendance, the return to regular programming and the rhythms of congregational life. This may be just the text, just the story for a start to the church year that infuses a new intensity into our commitment to give witness to the vastness of God’s vision, the immensity of God’s mission, even when Jesus orders us not to. After all, we do know, we really do, just how deeply God loves the whole world – and that is exactly what the world needs to hear.
And it is what we need to hear. But if you can’t find the words to speak God’s truth, if you find yourself unable to come with the words for your people when they can’t, maybe start with the prophet Isaiah, “God will come and save you. Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water” (Isaiah 34:4-7).
Next week’s lesson will have Jesus asking his disciples, who do you say that I am? How we answer that question depends on if we are willing to follow Jesus to Tyre. If we are willing to admit how much like Jesus we really are, needing the persistence of the outsider, the tenacity of the minoritized to remind us of what God came to do, of what God becoming human really means.