Neighbors

The last two weekends have been a blessing to St. A’s and our community. For the past two weekends, our neighbors on Sorority Circle have had their recruitment weekends and St. A’s has provided hospitality to them. We opened our doors and welcomed in our neighbors, no questions asked. We provided them with cool water, a place to rest, snacks, and a restroom. A very important commodity as it turns out.

There is a blessing inherent in opening one’s arms to the stranger far away, giving all we have to people we don’t know, but there’s a lesson in being hospitable to our next-door neighbor who, as it happens, we don’t really know either. I think that is one of the lessons we can gather from this week’s Gospel passage, Mark 7:24-37.

The first half of the reading, Mark 7.24-30, is one of the more disturbing incidents in the Gospels. It’s one of the ones I struggle with the most. A woman comes to Jesus and asks him to heal her little daughter. And Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” I hope Jesus never actually spoke those words. This woman is a Syrophoenician, a Phoenician who lives in Syria instead of North Africa, not an Israelite, but does that merit such treatment? No.

Israel, and especially the Galilee where Jesus us from, is right next door to Syria. They are so close Jesus walked there, so why the mistrust from Jesus. Why doesn’t he know his neighbor? I don’t know, but the neighbor knows Jesus by reputation and by who he is supposed to be. In the NRSV translation of the Bible, she calls him “Sir” when she answers but the Greek says “Lord.” She sees that he is the Anointed One of God, a recognition that none of the disciples has made yet. Sometimes the neighbor we’ve overlooked knows us better than our friends do. They see us differently than those we let in and we miss the blessing that they are when we discount them.

And Jesus is called to task and recognizes his failure. Yes, Jesus failed. It is not a sin to fail, it is human, and Jesus was fully human. Jesus sees that he is wrong, and corrects his behavior and from this point on in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus spends more time reaching out and getting to know his neighbors, the Gentiles.

I won’t say we’ve failed at St. A’s to get to know our neighbors, but they have shown us how much more there is to know. These sorority recruits showed St. A’s that we have a ministry of hospitality and open arms, even if we can’t always see it, and they’ve showed us how much further we can go. What a blessing! Jesus shows us how to receive a blessing from those around us, and going forward, we will seek this blessing.

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