Year B, Proper 18 Rev. Katie Holicky, Assistant Rector
My deep love of books stems from my childhood. I have always loved being able to join an adventure, catch glimpses of the complexity of relationships, feel myself held, stretched, and grown in story. Like many households over the course of the pandemic, Phil and I have been passing books back and forth. One that he recently left in my ever growing book pile was the autobiography, The Life and Adventures of Nat Love. Throughout these engaging yet concise pages Love tells of his life as a black cowboy whose childhood was spent in slavery in Tenessee and the Civil War. As a teenager, and not too long after being freed from his master, he became the family provider when his sharecropping father died unexpectedly. After making enough money to keep his family going, he set out for the west and lived the life of a cowboy for many years. He even earned the name Deadwood Dick in rodeo.
He was a rather famous cowboy of the wild west. His life was hard, required extensive physical labor, and had many moments of emotional and physical healing. One of the stories he tells is of healing following a fight with local natives. After a battle, he is taken in and cared for by the very tribe he just fought against. He expressed being adopted and healed by this tribe, perhaps in part because this particular tribe was rather bi-racial (both native and black). Love is healed by those unexpected to him. The last people he thought would ever extend care to him. While he did eventually regain his full strength and fled the tribe, it was clear that his time with them, the healing and care extended to him by those who had been in opposition, made a powerful impact on his life beyond saving it in the moment.
As these healing stories are put before us today I can’t help but to start to make a long and ever growing list of the ways in which I long to see healing in my life and the world around me. Healing from spiritual wounds, wounds from childhood, and wounds collected from living in empire. Healing from the sin of racism, healing of our earth that cries out in crisis, and from the classism referenced today in the book of James. And still… I consider the hope we hold in God who is balm. Balm for everybody.
Jesus is in Gentile territory, near the wealthy city of Tyre, that is also occupied land under the Roman empire (WBC, 484/ GBC, 372). Even as Jesus is trying to move about and work quietly people are noticing him in big ways. We have this encounter between Jesus and this Gentile woman. In their exchange Jesus is portrayed as fully human (TBC, 316). In his response to who should be fed, Jesus is clear to name the Isrealites as the children, and the Gentiles as the dogs. To name anyone as a dog was a particular level of being rude. It was a highly insulting name, as dogs were regarded as shameless and unclean (JANT, 75). Kwok Pui Lan, a renowned theologian and former professor of mine once wrote, “The woman, though denigrated by Jesus, speaks in a supportive and affirmative way, for she is concerned with maintaining the relationship” (GBC, 373). She doesn’t argue, but responds in turn about the crumbs from the table being for the dogs (TBC, 316).
I think part of her trying to stay connected was not just out of her desperation as a mother concerned for her child, but also because she understood the complexity of socio-economic differences between them (GBC, 372-373). The peasants of Galilee toiled in the soil to see the food they grew head off to be sold in wealthy Tyre. The woman could be of this wealth, or more likely she could live on the outskirts of town, ostracized due to her child’s illness. Her response shows that she understands the difficulty of the economic differences between them as they all deal with what it means to be forced to live in the culture of empire, which props up some at a steep cost to many. She seems to get that part of the harsh words of Jesus is that he knows his own people are suffering at the hand of the wealthy empire. She seems to say yes, Jesus should defend the needs of the oppressed and poor Hebrews, AND shouldn’t he also defend the needs of the poor Gentiles? Jesus is invited into a more expanded mission that truly is for everybody no matter their beliefs, background etc. (GBC, 373). Jesus is called more deeply into the care of those on the margins.
“Mark seems to go out of the way to present Jesus learning from a Gentile woman in a Gentile place about the inclusivity of God’s realm” (WBC, 484). This unnamed woman is prophetic… the voice of Isaiah… opening up Jesus and straightening him out (FOTW, 46). His perspective was changed by this woman. His own heart is opened to people in a way that Hebrews would not have expected, including him! And we note this as he is sure to say it is because of “her word” that her daughter is healed (TBC, 316). “The story of the deaf mute that directly follows would then serve as an example of how being opened up empowers one to open up to others” (FOTW, 46).
As the West changed and railroads took over much of the lands that herds were driven long distances across, Nat Love left his life as a cowboy and settled into life on the rails working in pullman cars. As he reflects on this season of his life, it is clear to me that one common thread was realized and experienced time and time again with those he tended to on the rails. People long to be treated in ways that honor their human dignity, that make them feel truly respected no matter their circumstance or differences. He tells of the times he tended to sick folks tenderly, extending what healing he could. It became clear to me just how impactful his own experience of healing at the hands of the natives he battled had been.
Healing, tending to the other, turning not away from but towards those different from us is not just baptismal for us as followers of Jesus… It is also transformational and helps us all to heal from the many ways power and oppression are lived out in our society. This healing helps us to live more closely and justly with those on the margins. To live into the universal kin-dom of God. The daughter healed at the persistence of her mother, Jesus healing the man that couldn’t speak. Today we see Jesus challenged and changed, opened up, and invited to care more deeply for those who he might have at first thought he wasn’t called to care for…how will we follow?
Resources: Feasting on the Word, Global Bible Commentary, Jewish Annotated Bible, Theological Bible Commentary, Women’s Bible Commentary