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St Matthews Church Oxhey Hertfordshire

Fr David's Sermon

7th September 2003

Fr David Shepherd

Trinity 12

Down the ages the Church has occasioned much humour, from the grotesques of Mediaeval carving, to the jokes and comedy sketches of Dave Allen and Monty Python, to the Vicar of Dibley. This is a good thing, for such send-ups are a good foil for the pomposity that can all too often accompany religion. As we are all aware over zealous followers of the great religions are responsible for much suffering and misery in our world. An ability to see the funny side of faith has the potential to deflate much of that.

We know that Jesus wept, but we have no direct record that he laughed although it is implicit in the Gospels that he often did. Some scholars have identified Jesus' sense of humour behind the familiar stories and sayings of the New Testament. His parables, often told at the expense of the self-righteous, would have raised many a laugh from his humble hearers.

The exchange in today's passage between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman includes an example of witticism being turned on him. Jesus had sought to escape. 'He had entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.' So sought after was Jesus that he was soon discovered, a 1st Century celebrity. The woman wanted healing for her little daughter. Jesus' answer, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food first and throw it to the dogs', lacks his usual compassion and wouldn't be acceptable in these politically correct times. The Jew's referred to the gentiles as 'dogs', hence the reference, also reflecting Jesus' belief that his mission was to the Jews first and only then to the gentiles.

The woman's witty reply, 'Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs, ' gained the desired healing at a distance. Jesus, despite his annoyance at being disturbed, was impressed by the woman's faith. 'For saying that you may go - the demon has left your daughter.'

Such encounters between very different people, even when they get off to a bad start can be turned to good. Humour is a useful tool for healing damaged relationships.

The second episode, the healing of the deaf and dumb man, is more straightforward; save for the presence of an example of the so called messianic secret in Mark, where Jesus orders them to 'tell no one'.

Once again it is the faith of others in bringing the man to Jesus that is significant. The man's tragedy was to be cut off from the basic means of communication. He could neither hear Jesus' message nor explain his predicament. Yet the faith of others only goes so far. For his healing to be fully effective, the man needed the restoration of his sense of self worth. Jesus took him aside in private and there the famous 'Ephphatha' miracle took place. 'His ears were opened, his tongue was released and he spoke plainly. ' The true heart of his healing lay in the fact that he could now belong fully in his family and village. His profound isolation was ended.

The man could now hear and proclaim a Gospel message that is all about all about the ending of such isolation and division. Christian congregations such as ours can be signs and agents of divine healing and reconciliation. Those who are isolated can be befriended. With compassion, with humour we can extend the hand of friendship to those who are different from ourselves, so that all of us can receive the good things at the heavenly banquet that is the Kingdom of God.

In this service we pray that we may both receive and be the means of such healing, with our ears open to hear the Gospel and our tongues to speak of it.


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Last updated 08/09/2003 09:00 Author: Fr David Shepherd