Faith at the fringes

15th Sunday after Pentecost (September 9, 2012)
Common Lectionary Readings:
Is. 35:4-7; Ps. 146; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

We spent a delightful week with our friends Dale and Wilma Kanagy, visiting Mt. Nebo, Petra, Bethlehem, Hebron, Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.  It has been more than 20 years since we were neighbors with the Kanagy’s in Meridian, Mississippi — so there was a lot of catching up to do!

Bedouin boys market their goods to Dale and Wilma in Petra

Ali, our taxi driver in Bethlehem, went above and beyond the call of duty, touring us around Beit Sahour, the Herodian and Hebron, then inviting us to lunch at his family’s home in Tekoa – birthplace of the prophet Amos.

In the region this week, Syrian refugees continue to spill into Jordan, prompting Jordanian officials to say that there is a limit to how many more refugees they can host.  The actress Angelina Jolie visited the Za’atari refugee camp in northern Jordan and made an impassioned appeal for politicians to end the violence. Meanwhile, the U.N. human rights head charged that both the Syrian government and rebel groups may be guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Across the region there is a growing sense that Israeli strikes against Iran’s nuclear sites are no longer a question of “if” but of “when.” In a sign of the increasing tension, Canada closed its embassy in Tehran and ordered Iranian diplomats in Ottawa to leave.

The Treasury, carved into the stones of Petra, offers a striking visual image

The Common Lectionary readings for this week are about faith at the fringes and God’s special concern for the “little people” – those who are often at the margins of society.

In the Old Testament reading, God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, offering courage to the fearful of heart (Is. 35:4) and promising healing and hope to those with special needs.  “Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;” writes Isaiah, “then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy.” (vv. 5-6)

The British artist Banksy has painted a number of murals in Bethlehem. Here, a protester throwing flowers

Likewise the psalmist affirms that God:

  • executes justice for the oppressed (Ps. 146:7a);
  • gives food to the hungry (v.7b);
  • sets the prisoners free (v.7c);
  • opens the eyes of the blind (v.8a);
  • lifts up those who are bowed down (v.8b);
  • watches over the strangers (v.9a); and
  • upholds the orphan and the widow (v.9b).

In the Epistle reading, James chides those who show favoritism to rich while dishonoring the poor (James 2:1-7). “Has not god chosen the poor in the world to be rich in faith and to be heirs of the kingdom that he has promised to those who love him?” James asks. He challenges his readers to express their faith through their works, responding to the needs of those who are vulnerable (vv. 14-17).

In the Gospel reading, Jesus responds to the faith of a persistent Gentile woman of Syrophoenician origin, healing her demon-possessed daughter (Mark 7:24-30). Then he heals a man who is deaf and mute (vv.31-37).

Wilma gathers small stones at the Dead Sea — the lowest place on earth

Those at society’s margins often demonstrate faith the most clearly and compellingly. We have much to learn from their example.

At the same time, God demonstrates a special concern for those at the fringes. While suffering may last for a season, God promises relief to the most vulnerable.

This is good news in a world where political leaders too often resort to domineering behaviors and violence, with little thought about the impact of their actions on the world’s “little people.”

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