Friday, September 11, 2015
Garrison Keillor famously spoke of Lake Wobegon, a little town not unlike where you live. In this town all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Of course they are! We know that we are special and Jesus is just lucky to have us. Why if everyone were like us, the whole world would be better. Right?
But of course not everyone is. The world is filled with idiots and stupid people who don't do what we tell them, who bother us, and who just need to get out of our way. We have come to think that our cross in life is to have to live with such people and we complain that it is our lot in life to endure them until Christ comes again. We deserve better.
So it was long ago in the Gospel for today. Jesus had come to rest but people insisted they knew better what Jesus ought to do. There was even a Gentile woman who would not let Jesus go until she got her miracle for her daughter. She endured insult from Jesus who insisted neither she nor her daughter were special – but like dogs waiting for scraps from the table.
Jesus seems uncharacteristically harsh here. Aren’t we all special? Aren’t all our needs special? Why doesn’t the Lord give us what we want, do for us what we pray, and give to us what we desire? What doesn’t the Lord see how special we are? But her persistence and her unshakable faith in God's crumbs of mercy were not in vain. Dog she might be but she was a dog who had confidence in God's mercy.
When Jesus then leaves to go back where He had come from still they do not leave Him alone. In verse 34 our Lord is worn down and issues a sigh. The English there is poorly chosen. Jesus did not sigh like we might sigh out of frustration because of all the stupid people who bother us. No, the Greek is more precise; Jesus groaned. A groan is the involuntary sound of pain. Jesus is not frustrated or angry but weary and wounded by taking the pain, the wounds, and the hurts of us upon Him.
Romans tells us creation groans and all believers groan in expectation of Christ’s completion of all things. The Holy Spirit interprets such groans into prayers. A few verses later here in Mark's Gospel and Jesus groans again. We groan when the hurts and wounds of life steal our energy, our hope, and our endurance. Jesus groans because to bear our hurts, wounds, and needs empties Him and costs Him something.
We sigh because we have to put up with stupid people, with a screwed up world, and our own failings. Jesus groans as a Savior who carries all our burdens in Himself. A Gentile woman with a daughter afflicted with demons and a deaf and mute man. The groaning of Scripture has to do with our broken lives and sin – not impatience or frustration. It is groan of a world suffering and waiting the end of all suffering. It is the groan of Christians who suffer with and for Christ and who wait for the day when it will all be over. It is the groan of the Spirit who is at work in us and among us to keep us to the day when all groaning is over. It is the groan of Christians struggling in faith.
But it is also Christ who groans. He empties Himself over and over again for us. The woman whose daughter He healed of a demon and a deaf man whose ears He opened. Christ’s work to bring the Kingdom of God to us costs Him something. It is neither cheap nor easy. He empties Himself over and over again for us and we complain that He ought to do more. With each groan, Jesus demonstrates His love for us. His mercy is free to us but it comes at great cost to Him.
He takes our wounds into Himself. By His wounds we are healed. He takes our sins into Himself. By wearing our guilt, He makes us righteous. He takes our death into Himself. By His death, we are set free from death. Salvation is His work for us and though it is free to us, it costs Him everything.
We think we are special, that our cause is special, our needs are special, and that is why God loves us or why He answers our prayers. We presume that mercy is cheap and easy. How foolish we are. He bears all things in His flesh for us that we might be saved; the cost of our salvation is great. No miracle, no healing, no cause or need we bring is easy or cheap for Jesus. All our needs cost Him. This is the cost of love. This is what we need to learn in faith.
So repent. You are not special but God’s mercy is. We come to God angry and complaining because we are different, we are special, we deserve what He does. How foolish we are. We are not strong or good looking or above average. We are sinners, marked for death, who need a Savior who will carry our sin, die in our place, and rise to bestow upon us eternal life. Open your ears. Hear the Word. Repent. Believe the Gospel. Rejoice, for God loves you more than you deserve and gives you more than you are worth. He gives you His Son. In weakness He is your strength. In sorrow, He is your joy. In sin, He is your righteousness. In death He is your life.
And do more than repent of your frustration and your presumption. Learn mercy. Learn the mercy of God who loves you at great cost to Him. Learn to be merciful as He is merciful. Learn to bite your tongue when you sigh in frustration at your neighbor and learn to bear with him or her the weight of their suffering. For God's mercy is not only your gift, but your calling.
Every sigh that comes from your frustration is met with the groans of the God who carries your sin, who heals your broken heart, who sustains your fragile body, who restores your lost joy, and who bestows on you the life death cannot overcome. Be of good cheer, my friends. God loves even dogs with no place at the table and sinners with no right to mercy. And there is a place for you here. Amen.