I got distracted yesterday. Sermons at rural Grace Church, where I serve a couple of times a month in my retirement, have become conversations. One can do that with a very small congregation. Our conversation about the Syrophoenician woman in Tyre and the deaf mute man in the Decapolis swerved around to the importance of doing good things for people less fortunate than us. That sort of doing is always important, but I think we missed the point. We can do good for others but fail to extend hospitality. We are particularly poor at extending the sort of radical hospitality to which I think these stories point.
Radical hospitality is what this is about. Mark’s narrative brackets Jesus’ Galilean ministry with the gentile territories of Tyre on the one hand and the Decapolis on the other. In each he extended the ministry of radical hospitality to those outside the comfort zone of Galilean Jews. The difficulty with which he responded to the Syrophoenician woman becomes for us an object lesson to guide us through the breakdown of our own prejudices. The comfort and ease with which he healed the Decapolis man is where we are headed. Each of them is outside of the allegorical comfort zone of Galilee, wherever our own Galilee might be.
As long as I’m stretching a point, I’ll go on to say that these healing stories are not so much about physical healing as they are about restoring wholeness of being at two levels: within the local context of one’s life, and between one’s self and God. Note that Jesus did not ask the woman or the man to follow him, become Jews, move to Galilee, or anything of the kind. Each was honored in the place where they were and made whole in the context of that place. We don’t know what the woman did, but it is said that the man went about enthusiastically exclaiming his new way of being in relationship to himself, his community and God.
From that point of view, radical hospitality honors the other without trying to make them over into something else, something more like you and me. Radical hospitality opens up the possibility of exploring new ways of being within the context of authenticity. That is to say, within the context of one’s community, ethnicity, history, family, etc. I think that is a huge step beyond merely doing good for someone less fortunate. It’s also a huge step beyond our usual sort of hospitality that opens our doors to others if they want to come into our space to become as one of us. In my case that means to become a North American rooted in northern European ways nurtured by various Pagan mythologies encased in the Anglican tradition of the Christian faith as expressed by the Episcopal Church.
OK, that’s enough rambling. The whole train of thought needs some reflection and development.