Why is Jesus being an asshat?

Warning: Contains Religion

Note: This is sermon 3 of 3. The other two were written on paper and have yet to be digitally transcribed (in either sense of that word). I’m using the revised common lectionary for the last while as an ongoing narrative (which it is as we’re essentially going through Mark with some add-ins from John). I’m including weeks I’m not preaching in the narrative.

Reading: Mark 7:24–37

The story thus far: Jesus has spent an almost inordinate amount of time trying to escape from people and failing. His cousin John was executed and he tried to take a boat trip to a nearby mountainside to get away but the people found him. He disappeared in the middle of the night, he literally walked away from everybody in the only direction that they could not follow and they still managed to find him when he arrived on shore. He spoke about the requirement to eat his flesh and drink his blood and still people hung about asking for miracles. So he gathers his disciples, his core group, and heads north. The Pharisees see his disciples having a quick snack and he loses his mind and just goes off on them for having the unmitigated gall to completely miss the point of worship and piety. So Jesus says forget it. He heads north. He heads into another country entirely. He goes to Lebanon. The people are not his people, the culture is not his culture. Tyre is a major sea-side port on the Mediterranean sea. This is not the quiet little lakeside town of Bethsaida or Capernaum. This is huge. This is leaving Cobourg and Port Hope and going to Montreal1. He is finally in a place where he is not the center of attention. He is finally in a place where he can be free of the obligations and pressures that come from being the messiah. So of course the only story we have of this adventure is someone asking him to be the messiah.

The gospel relates that Jesus went into a house and did not want anyone to know he was there but no matter what he did the people started talking. One translations says that he could not pass unrecognized. Think about that for a moment. We are discussing a completely different country, a country that you have to cross mountains in order to enter. We are also discussing a time without cameras, without pictures, without portable paintings. The fact that these people not only knew who Jesus was, but also knew how to recognize him is astounding.
Then a young lady hears that Jesus is in town. She rushes over. The gospel is quite clear about this: the moment she hears about Jesus she runs to his house and lands at his feet begging and pleading that he cure her daughter. We don’t know what was wrong with her, the story only relates that it was an unclean spirit. Typically that means something fairly complex. This is not a mother with a little girl suffering from the sniffles. This child has some serious problem, enough that her mother is willing to drop everything and beg for help from a strange man from another country.

This is where the story gets a little odd. We are used to the smiling Jesus, the happy Jesus, the “suffer the little children to come unto me” Jesus. What we are shown here is an abrupt, angry, racially insensitive Jesus. ” ‘The children should be fed first, because it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the little dogs.’ ” You, ma’am, are subhuman and there’s no reason for me to even look at you let alone help your child. This is not exactly the nicest thing one could say. It strikes an even deeper chord with us in Canada this week. The young boy who washed up on shore, who’s family was not allowed to escape to Canada for whatever reason could very well be a descendant of this very woman. It is that ugly of a concept, it is that ugly of a statement and yet here we have a story of our saviour saying such a horrible thing.

Where does this come from? Where is our kind and loving saviour? Where is the Jesus who says love is the answer?

First of all, this is the Gospel of Mark. This was the first gospel, the one written down to get things out there. It does not attempt to be all inclusive with its stories. This is the gospel, after all, that kind of forgot to include anything past the scene in the garden when angels tell Mary that Jesus was risen from the dead. We cannot depend on Mark to tell the whole story. Matthew and Luke pick up where Mark leaves us bewildered. They take the stories told in Mark and add more about what is going on. The story in Matthew adds the disciples, a pedagogical moment, a narrative that makes the blow a little less severe. But we are not reading Matthew right now, we are reading Mark; and, in my view, there is another reason not to worry too much about Jesus being a bad guy.

“You do not deserve to eat the food prepared for the children,” Jesus says, to which she replies, “Yes, but even the dogs get the crumbs.”

It is powerful moment. Instead of running away ashamed or angry or incredulous this random woman from another country goes toe-to-toe with a man who verbally duels with the Pharisees and wins. In the story just before this one, is Jesus freaking out on the men who provide the intellectual foundation for modern Judaism and they cannot figure out a comeback. This Syro-Phonecian woman does.

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”

To my recollection there is no other place in the gospels where someone else essentially gets the better of Jesus. The Centurion who asked that Jesus heal his servant told Jesus that he didn’t require the Saviour to enter the door because he understood the nature of the command structure and faith. The woman who grabbed Jesus’ cloak only spoke to him after the fact. The Pharisees never get the last word, the Sadducees are mocked if they even get a word in edgewise, and the Herodians barely get more than a single mention about money and paying your taxes. Yet this random woman wins a debate.

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”

One of the main explanations about this story is that Jesus came to save the Jewish people first and the Gentile world second. There is a theology around primary and secondary directions of salvation and it gets tied into eschatology and what is supposed to happen when the world ends.

There is also another reason. We have to be careful with it because it depends on Jesus’ human nature and if we go too far onto that side we jump into heresies quicker than you can imagine. If you remember the Creed of Saint Athenasius the Jesus’ mix of divine and human nature is complicated.2

To me the reason for his abrupt and very angry response is tied into a single fact: Jesus is tired of being the healer. He’s up in suburbs of a major port city where there really ought to be other things to do. He is trying to escape the crowds of people that are following him everywhere, crowds that are so intent on following him that they don’t think to bring a lunch with them. He is tired of the hyper-religious picking apart every tiny thing that he or his disciples do and using it as the focus for an attack. He is tired of people not getting the fact that he is trying to change their world.

And the first thing that happens when he gets there is someone bursts into the house, literally lands at his feet, and begs him to heal someone.

Jesus says no.

Then someone reminds him that what he is doing is more important than his exhaustion, his frustration. Someone reminds him that he is about God’s work.

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”

To me it prefigures the moment in the garden when Jesus looks up to heaven and asks his Father if there is any other way. “Do I have to? All right. Your will be done.” There is a level of humanity in Jesus that we tend to ignore because we are afraid of the theological implications. To me it is heartening to have a saviour who gets frustrated with people not getting the point. I understand why it is important that Jesus remain a spotless sacrifice without a blemish of sin; but, I think there is something lost when we don’t get to see him tired and saying something that he knows is wrong the moment it comes out of his mouth.

The woman’s response reminds us that people are human even when, especially when, they need help. The Syrian refugee issue has been going on for around two years but it was a single child’s death that brought into focus the fact that these are people. Groups of people have a boat capsize and a number of newspapers in Europe simply read let them sink.

Yes we have problems of our own in this country. We have poor people living on the streets. We have hungry people. We have malnourished children. We have shelters that need staffing and funding. Our slice of the world is not perfect. But in the words of this random woman “even the dogs get the crumbs that fall from the table.”

“You are absolutely right. Go home, your daughter is healed.”


  1. I have been using Cobourg and Port Hope as a decent representation for the two biblical cities in terms of size and population. Technically Tyre is probably more like New Orleans but it does not really fit the geographical narrative of my current location 

  2. I led the service on Trinity Sunday and had the congregation read the Creed of St. Athenasius. I’m not sure if they’ve forgiven me yet. 

Sunday May 3, 2015 — Easter V


“Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.” John 15:4b

I want to start off today by wishing everyone a very Happy Easter. The candy and chocolate bunnies have been eaten and we have begun thinking about how we are going to celebrate Victoria Day but we are nevertheless still in the season of Easter. We have a couple of more weeks before we celebrate Pentecost and move into the next phase of the Christian calendar.

Scripture does not record a great deal about what happened during this time, when Jesus was hanging out with his disciples between the resurrection and the ascension. Luke mentions that he spoke about the opened the scriptures and explained the kingdom of God, Matthew does not mention much past a final declarative statement, Mark just ends, and John has the core group going on a fishing trip. To offset this lack of knowledge the church spends this time focusing on the last major chunk of theology and teachings given in John’s gospel. Last year on this day we focused on Christ as the Shepherd, this year we focus on Christ as the True Vine.

The lesson begins with Jesus issuing the statement “I am the true vine and my Father is the gardener.” This is not the first time Jesus used the vineyard as a metaphor. Those listening, in this case the disciples, understood what he was trying to communicate. Jesus is confirming once again that he is establishing something important. By using the vine as an image Jesus is drawing on the traditions of Ezekiel and Isaiah. The vineyard is Israel and by calling himself the vine Jesus is placing himself as the reason the vineyard even exists. He is declaring that he is not just a random offshoot from Judaism but the new face of how the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is to be worshiped. His message is neither a sucker branch growing in a weird direction nor a weed growing in a garden. He is the true vine, the core essence of faith.

The verse continues, “He [The Father] takes away every branch that does not bear fruit in me. He prunes every branch that bears fruit so that it will bear more fruit.” Pruned branches, cleansed branches, branches that have had metal blades taken to them and snipped back to their very core. I have not had the opportunity to deal with grape vines but I do understand clematises and rose bushes. Each year you cut them back so that the plant will spend its energy in the most useful areas, that way the plant isn’t spending its time feeding and growing areas that aren’t going to have flowers.

Now this is where I differ in my reading. I know a number of people look at this verse and believe that the troubles and problems that come our way is God’s way of pruning us, shaping us to grow a certain way. I am not entirely convinced of that because of the sentence that follows. “You are clean already because of the word that I have spoken to you. ” We do not need to worry about the pruning process because it has already happened. We have been cleaned. We have been pruned. Through the waters of baptism we were removed from the vine of sin and death and grafted onto the vine of everlasting salvation. When we celebrate communion and receive the Eucharist we are fertilized with the body and blood of Christ. Through the gift of the Holy Spirit we are given a drink from the waters of life. God’s pruning does not come through the harsh things in life. God’s pruning comes through the changes in the spiritual core of our being at the onset of salvation. The trials and tribulations that come at us in life are the hail storms that try to rip off the fruit that comes about as the result of the pruning process, the fruit that comes by constantly reflecting on Christ and bringing forth a Christ-like nature in our lives.

So how do we go about producing that fruit? Verse four, “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it remains in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. The one who remains in me—and I in him—bears much fruit, because apart from me you can accomplish nothing. ” Remaining in Christ. Abiding in Christ. This is how the fruit of our life is created. It requires a dedicated focus, a constant returning of our attention from the distractions of this world to Christ.

I was working in Oshawa a couple of weeks ago and stayed in the city after work one night to take care of some things and as a result had an opportunity to attend a service at St. George’s Memorial Church downtown. On Wednesdays they have an evening prayer service from the Book of Common Prayer. Now I like the BCP. I spent six years studying English Literature with a focus on the Elizabethan/Jacobean eras. I understand the what Archbishop Cranmer was trying to accomplish when he picked up his pen and started revising a prayer book until either enough people agreed with him or they were happy about the fact that the other side was annoyed with his decisions. But even knowing the language, understanding how and why the services was structured in that particular way, enjoying the solemnity and decorum of the service I found it remarkably difficult to pay attention. I constantly found myself skipping to different thoughts. How should I deal with this particular issue at work? What should I write in my homily? What is that picture in the stained glass? Why is ahh pay attention! You see even though our core being has been sanctified, we still need to focus our attention on the process of abiding.

“If anyone does not remain in me, he is thrown out like a branch, and dries up; and such branches are gathered up and thrown into the fire, and are burned up.” Yet again, this is not a case of “God will prune us out of the vine and throw us into hell.” If we do not abide in Christ we are like a branch that is separated from the vine. We are like the dead-fall that Kevin and his family picked up off of the lawn this past week. It is just a branch that will not bear fruit because it is no longer attached. We also need to think about the fact that the fire in this case is not a punishment, it is what you do to dead wood that has fallen off a tree, provided you get a permit from the fire department to burn beforehand. You make a fire out of dead wood to make heat. You make a supper. You make sm’ores. The branch is not useless, it just is only useful for acting just like any other piece of carbon-based material. It is only useful for a single purpose where is it ultimately used up. A branch that is still attached is useful for making fruit season after season.

Our reason for trying to remain attached is twofold. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you want, and it will be done for you. My Father is honoured by this, that you bear much fruit and show that you are my disciples.” We receive benefit from our attachment to the vine. We can ask things of the Father. We can lift our voices in prayer and supplication. We can spend our morning asking for God’s blessing and favour. We also honour God by living a life that can produce fruit. We show our discipleship by our actions.

We spend our time at Easter learning the importance of Christ’s crucifixion. In a few weeks time our focus will change to learning to live the life of abiding. We spend our time in the season of green vestments and decorations, of growth and life. We learn how it is to live the life of the vine. For now, we get to spend some time reminding ourselves why it is such a special thing to have the opportunity to be connected to the true vine. We get to spend some time reflecting on the importance of the Easter season. So I wish you again, a happy Easter with all its implications.

Checking something out

I’m playing with Amazon affiliate links right now, more so I can stop wondering about whether I should post an image of the books I review.

[amazon asin=0451414837&template=add to cart]

April 3, 2015

A year ago …

… I had never cut down a tree.

… I had yet to light a fire using the embers of the previous day’s blaze.

… I had never owed a pool.

… I had never hung my clothes on my clothesline.

… my youngest uncle was still alive.

… I lived in Freya’s house.

… I was still an apprentice.

… I had never worked out of town and come home on weekends.

… I lived in the city.

… I did not have a church I called “mine.”

… I did not own a grown up car.

… I was not yet brave enough to permanently cut off a communicating with a relative.

… I had never read the New Testament in one fell swoop start to finish.

… I didn’t have “happy” days.

… I didn’t come home after a journey, close the car door, look up a the stars, and sigh with contentment.

… I did not have a library card for the place where I lived.

… I did not have a +5 proficiency in fire wrap

… I had never covered a duct with pvc.

… I had never worked a job from start to finish.

… I did not have to go for physiotherapy.

… I was not as satisfied with my life as I am today despite the tragedies and hardships that have come my way.

Review of the New Testament

Back in January I decided that my resolution would be to read the entirety of the Bible. Wait? Did you hear that correctly? Yes. The entirety. I wasn’t convinced I had read all of the minor prophets let alone all of Isaiah and there was a nagging suspicion that I never really did finish Hebrews. So I grabbed a Bible app and clicked about until I found a New Testament in 40 days reading plan. I figured I had read most of the New Testament and it would be a decent litmus test for my perseverance.

So I read the New Testament in 40ish days. Why the ish? Well we’ll get to that when I review the app. Why the delay in writing about it if I finished back in February? It’s called working tens. It is an evil shift that I despise because you are so exhausted that even if you live close to your jobsite you are not eating until 6:30/7:00 at night and you go to bed at 9 or so because if you don’t you will suffer from sleep deprivation and fall off a ladder.

My goal was not to be enlightened. My goal was not to increase my Spirituality or Holiness quotient. My goal was to read the New Testament. I sucked it in. I did not pause to contemplate much of what I was reading and I acknowledge that for some such an admission is sacrilege; however, as I’m a heretical Anglican with delusions of accepting that other religions have just as much right to exist as mine I’m bound for hell anyways so I don’t really care. I wanted to read the New Testament.

My thoughts in bullet point form:

  • There is a clear separation between the Pauline and deutero-Pauline books. I totally agree that they are not all written by the same person or group of people. Remember that not caring bit from before? Totally continues along here my single author friends.
  • The ending of Hebrews is a total add-on by a scribe. My first impressions are that it was written for a post-diaspora audience that was not super educated about their own faith background. I’m still undecided about whether the intended audience was Jewish. I need slower look for that decision.
  • James? I do think it was his brother but I’m not convinced that the church of Jerusalem was completely free of the “Pauline style” Messiah as spiritual saviour. There is a lack of dying for sins in the book but there is a waiting for a messianic return mentioned. If Hebrews was written a Jewish intended audience from the Jamesian school of theology (I don’t know the proper terms off the top of my head so academics can climb in the not caring bus with the fundamentalists here — try to keep the blood of the seats) then the shift was indeed happening, especially after the diaspora.
  • With that last bullet point in mind, I’m still not convinced by the Jesus as solely political figure theory. I do have a bias towards my religion and I see no evidence from the text that can pull me away from the idea that there is something to the whole religious saviour thing. I recognize that there is far more of a Jesus really didn’t intent to create a new religion thing going on but I’m already in deep heretical waters as it is so I’ll avoid jumping into the how much divine knowledge did he have debate just now thank you very much.
  • I agree with those who say that whoever allowed the Book of Revelations to be canon deserves a smack upside the head (I’m looking at you Jerome).

No I have no real plans to tackle the Old Testament, yet. I have a JPS version on the desk but I really don’t feel like going through Leviticus. Again. I swear it kills any and all momentum I pick up from the first two books. I might keep to the plan of reading the various sub-sections. Maybe I’ll start with the histories.

I should also mention I’m still on the fence as to whether I should call them the Old and New or Jewish and Christian. Forgive me if I do not remain consistent with my methodology.

Level Complete

One of those odd professional moments happened yesterday when I worked on a job from start to finish. I have been there for the opening and the closing but never for both on the same job. This particular job took five months, a bit longer than the eight to ten weeks I was originally told. The last few weeks were rough. I miss my home. I have lived in this house for a year less a week and I have been working out of town for seven months. I couldn’t find a mixing bowl the other day. I had no idea where we kept them. 

Luckily the site itself was quite good. There weren’t any serious arguments and no one really failed to get along. That’s not to say it was perfect. We got the “the site is going to disappear so you better be done” about a month ago with no real heads up and a bunch of work to complete on the roof, in winter, beside Lake Huron. Thanks to a “why the hell didn’t we get this earlier” bit of overtime on Tuesday we pulled it off.

The other fringe benefit to working the same site for five months is that I gained a +5 proficiency to working with fire wrap. While the others were slaving away on the roof I was working like a madman inside the building. When I gained an apprentice I realized that my speed was substantially higher than I thought it was and I could just yell out measurements for odd sized spots without having to spend much time thinking about them.

I’m still going to be working out of town for a bit. I’m headed back to Burlington. The boss offered me the chance to take a lay-off and see if anything pops up in my direction but I’m not a gambler. Hell, I’m barely out of being a late adopter of technology (my phone is fancy although it did take me ten years before I upgraded).

Snow Day

Snow days for work are similar to snow days in school: you go to bed at your regular time and wake up at dark o’clock as you normally would. Then you live in stasis. I’m out of town so it’s not like I can just putter around the house doing the miscellaneous chores that pile up. Hell, I’ve only been here three days so it’s not like I even have enough laundry but I nevertheless threw a load in just to have something to do.

Exploring is pretty much out of the question. I could brave it but for what purpose? Work is closed because the visibility on the roads is optimistically described as poor. I can see across the road but I’m in a tree-lined, secluded neighbourhood. We went for breakfast and couldn’t see more than a block when we go to to the main street in town.

It still feels a shame to waste a day of light, diffused throw white flakes as it is. I think I’ll bundle up and walk to the corner. By then my brain should clue into the fact that doing so is a really stupid idea and look forward to watching netflix or reading an ebook (because of course I didn’t bring a real one for the first time in months).


The solitary life

I’m staying out of town for a spell, a camp job close to home. It is a 3 hour drive home each night, crossing all of Toronto and then some. I’m staying in a hotel.

The boredom inherent in seeing the same bland walls is starting to creep in. I had a nightmare about someone else’s pain filled life which segued into the final acts of a domineering corporate entity destroying the last vestiges of someone’s soul.

I am at that point.

I tried to get technology to assist me out of my doldrums but the inherent setup of motel wifi is proving frustrating. I brought my mini-router to act as a bridge but cannot get it to connect to the antenna somewhere in this building. I bought a chromecast last night to ease the pain of tying my laptop into the tv with an hdmi cable across the room from where I sit. It requires me to use my router as a bridge. Are you sensing the problem yet?

The work itself is not bad. It’s a commercial site. Drywallers and their inability to understand the concept of the equal sign are the bane of our existence. So situation normal.

I don’t watch a lot of television at the best of times and even with compelling baseball on the tube I find myself frustrated at the sedentary nature of existence thrust upon me.

I’ve booked a different hotel for next week. I’m hoping that change will make things better. That and having access to a swimming pool.


Over the past 5 weeks I have been travelling to Markham in the afternoons for my final round of trade school. The class is, thankfully, idiot free and made up of learning interesting bits of geometry that allow me to turn a flat piece of metal into a sculpture-like creation of three dimensions.

The course also includes supervisor training and first aid. I learned that everything must be written down and that most of the principles of first aid have been dumbed down because people are too stupid to save lives. I am not exactly encouraged.

My aim has always been to be the top of the middle of the class and I can safely say my hands on work is putting me in that category. I’m not the greatest but I’m competent and you can leave me alone for a while without worrying too much.

The greatest discovery, however, is that I need 299 hours to complete my apprenticeship. I am almost done. Five years ago I started this with no idea about the industry or whether I could do it. I’m now three months or so away from saying that I fully belong. Quite an accomplishment.

vignette of camp life

I just saw an old guy fill a paper cup with pink bathroom soap to wash his clothes. Only in a place where you live for free, with food, can men be so cheap.

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