You may already know this about me but I am not by nature a quiet person. Third child in a household of six, I had to speak up loud and clear to be heard. An extrovert par excellence, I feel compelled to fill awkward silences in awkward conversations.
An extrovert, who also happens to have worked in a library (Bishop Payne Library at VTS,) I was often shushed by the Head Librarian. In fact, in my final year there, on my stellar annual review, under “room for improvement,” my boss wrote:
“Joani needs to remember to use her library voice.”
Yes, my library voice. As the noisiest person on staff, I was positioned in the perfect place – at the circulation desk.
Checking books out — I dealt in public relations. Checking books in — I did a fair amount of pastoral care. We’d talk church politics. We’d talk reading assignments. We’d talk family. We’d talk churchmanship. We’d talk theology. We’d talk mental health. We’d talk small talk. We even talked a little bit of trash.
I was a noisy and priestly librarian want-to-be. An Anglican who LOVES the OUT LOUD prayers of the Book of Common Prayer, I would make a very lousy Quaker.
A very lousy Quaker indeed.
But even I know that “to everything there is a season… a time to be silent and a time to speak.” (Ecclesiastes 3:7)
A time to sit at Jesus’ feet and a time to shake our fists at God.
Jesus is exhausted from taking his mission out on the road – preaching, and teaching, and miracle working. People everywhere are clamoring to hear him, to get close to him, to touch him.
Venturing into Gentile territory in Tyre, he is bone tired. He is beat. He retreats into a local’s home and begs his host not to let anybody know that he is there. Jesus just wants a little rest for his soul, some peace, some quiet — at least for a little while.
But it is Jesus after all.
A Syro-Phoenician woman — desperate for her daughter — hears that Jesus is in town and seeks him out. She comes and bows at his feet and pleads with him to deliver her little girl. It seems the child is possessed. She is distraught, distressed, and out of her mind.
Please, good Lord, deliver her.
And so, what does Jesus have to say?
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
“…and throw it to the dogs.”
A very human Jesus throws an ethnic slur. Yes, he is physically depleted and mentally exhausted. And scholars for centuries have tried to justify Jesus’ hurtful words. To soften their blow. To explain them away. It’s just a proverb. Like “Charity begins at home?”
But the Syro-Phonecian woman does not slink silently away.
She comes back strong.
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
“For saying that you may go,” Jesus says. “The demon has left your daughter.”
“For saying that…” he said.
She was a Gentile, an outsider to the Jews. She was a woman in a world where only men had a voice.
She rebukes Jesus. She straightens him out. She opens him up.
Salvation may start with the House of Israel but look up Jesus. Look at me. Look at my child. All God’s children need a little saving — just as much saving as your own people.
Like the woman who knocks and knocks at the door of the unjust judge, this woman will not go away until some kind of justice is done. The Syro-Phoenician woman is one ballsy lady.
And Jesus listens to her.
This is a really embarrassing story for Jesus in the Gospels. It’s a wonder really that Mark did not take out his eraser and clean this story up. Hush up the embarrassing details. Silence it. But he doesn’t. He leaves it in.
And for very good reason.
God wants us to speak up! Even to Jesus. God wants us to speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves.
The second part of the story is literally about a man – deaf and mute – with an impediment in his speech. And just as the woman spoke up for her daughter — his friends speak up for him. They bring him to Jesus and beg him: Please, lay your hands on our friend.
And then with a little spit, Jesus opens the man’s ears and loosens his tongue and quite ironically tells him to be quiet! To keep silent!
But that is really a non-starter. By the end of the story – nobody can keep the man quiet. Nobody can keep anybody quiet. And the more Jesus ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed their Good News.
Noisy Christians make noise for very good reasons. Noisy Christians make noise for the good of the kingdom.
So friends, take a look around. Take a look around the pews. Take a look around your house and family. Take a look around your office, your school, your neighborhood, your community, your world.
Who are the outsiders? Where are the outcastes? Whom have we neglected? Whom have we ignored? Who is it that we least want to listen to? Who has been silenced and has no voice?
The poor. The mentally ill. Victims of violence. Refugees and the dispossessed. People of different colors, different faiths, or just people not like us. The list goes on.
Whatever your honest answers are to these questions might be, consider how you might speak up: Speak up, make phone calls, write letters, sign petitions, knock on doors, march in the streets, give of your time, give of your treasure and show up. Show up and make a little noise to maybe make a difference — for the better — in the lives of others.
Give voice to the voiceless. Be bold in your prayers. Be brave in your speech.
And consider this week – with God’s help — how best to be a NOISY Christian.
The Rev. Joani Peacock, Editor for Emmanuel Voices: A Parish Blog