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Double Standards?

Sermon preached by The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman Ordinary 23 Year B 2012

At first glance the gospel reading from Mark and the epistle reading from James seems to be in violent disagreement. 

James emphasises that we should not make distinctions based on wealth, race or education and yet Jesus rudely appears to refuse to help a woman because of her race.

It’s a strange situation.  Jesus is in Tyre, a town north of Galilee where he’s looking for privacy and peace and quiet after challenging the Pharisees’ obsession with the Jewish purity laws, finally exclaiming that it’s not what goes in to someone that makes them unclean, but what comes out of them.

But He’s found by the Syro-phoenecian woman and ironically, Jesus now is challenged by someone who has broken some purity laws. 

She was a gentile, and therefore unclean; her daughter had an unclean spirit, so she would be rendered unclean by touching her, and she lived in Tyre, a centre noted for its unfaithfulness and pride. 

She then bows down to Jesus, an action that when performed by a woman, brought disgrace on whoever she bowed to, in contrast to the same action by a man which showed respect.

Furthermore, any self-respecting Rabbi didn’t speak to women, and yet here at Jesus’ feet is a person who has broken so many purity laws it’s not true, begging Him to take action and to intervene in her life and that of her daughter.

Jesus who has challenged the Pharisees is now challenged Himself!

You can almost image the place going silent whilst the disciples wait to see Jesus’ response.

Jesus breaks with tradition and speaks to her.  We might think that was enough. But she’s not satisfied with the answer.

She presses Him further until He acknowledges that the Kingdom is indeed, for all irrespective of any differences in race or background.

Unity not about being the same, it’s about all being equal in the sight of God.  It’s about understanding that our narrow humanistic value judgements should not influence our broader, eternal, spiritual perspective on the world.

Many of us will have been following the Paralympics with great interest.  We’ve seen the many different categories of classification for the so called ‘disabled’.

Indeed, the Paralympics shows benefits of classification, and seeing people as different so that they can compete on an equal footing to those with similar disabilities. 

Unity is not about all being the same, it’s about acknowledging our differences and understanding what that means for us as a society.  

It’s not that we should turn a ‘blind eye’ to the differences between the rich and the poor.  Indeed if we fail to notice the difference between rich and poor it’s difficult to understand how we are to care for the poor

James makes clear, it’s out attitude and actions that count. And James underlines it’s how those attitude and actions translate into our daily lives.

There is great debate made between Paul, who emphasises the nature of grace in salvation, and James who seems to be stating the works are a necessary component to our faith.

The two are inextricably interconnected and we should not try to separate the two.

At its simplest, James merely questions a faith that does not make a change in the lives of those how profess to believe it, and in the lives of those who interact with those who believe.

And he questions a faith that does not treat others are equals in the sight of God.

We know relatively little about James or about how the letter came to be written.  His epistle in one of seven general letters in the New Testament addressed not to a particular church but to groups of Christians in the Greco-Roman world.

James was probably the brother of Jesus and was converted when the risen Christ appeared to him and went on to lead the Jerusalem church and the letter has the air of authority about it that would come from such a leader. 

It also has the note of a letter that was written to people who understood the Jewish faith, with its strong sense of community, references to the law and echoes of the OT wisdom literature.

James challenges the conventional behaviour and natural tendency to defer to those who are socially superior and look down on those below us on the social scale, drawing parallels from the wisdom literature and sayings of Proverbs.

In the Christian life there is to be no favouritism either in the way we speak, or the way we act.  And that can be a real challenge. 

It’s easy to quietly aspire to be materially equal with those who have more than ourselves in a manner which is purely materialistic and has nothing to do with a balanced sense of ambition or betterment.  There is an often repeated sketch originally shown on the ‘Frost Report’ programme which featured John Cleese, Ronnie Barker and Ronnie Corbett as individuals of different social standings (and heights!) which graphically illustrated this.  It was amusing because whilst it exaggerated reality, but was perceptively close to the truth.

It’s easy to look down on those who have less and think they should or could do more for themselves.

We are to treat the rich (who often cause them more problems) and the poor equally and put our words into actions, challenging convention when it’s needed in order that we can live out our faith to the full, especially in our own community of believers.

We need to be ready to speak out and be proactive in our support for equality and an end to discrimination and prejudice, living out our faith as we do.

In all that we do, our faith needs to be a matter of deeds, not just words, if it is to be truly relevant to the world and help us to become more Christ like as we do.

Jesus challenged and was challenged by those who say inequality and discrimination.  We are to do likewise, and respond in the way that Christ himself did.

notre dame montreal Jesus Eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Jesus Ordinary 20 Year B