The Israelites, God’s chosen people, were living in slavery in Egypt. Led by Moses, God delivered them from slavery; they wandered in the desert for 40 years, and finally reached the Promised Land. They prospered there for many years. They peaked out with the reign of King David and his son Solomon. After that, things went downhill. The kings of Judah, the descendants of David, allowed for the worship of other gods, mainly the Canaanite god named Baal. They ignored the prophets who spoke for God. Finally, God allowed the Babylonians to defeat Judah in war. Most of the survivors were carted off to Babylon, where they lived for 60 years. Many longed to return to their homeland, but returning seemed impossible. The Babylonians had an army; they had nothing. A revolt was out of the question. It would take a miracle for them to go back home.
Isaiah brings a message of hope from God during these discouraging times. Isaiah gives the people hope. He told the people that God was going to do something miraculous. They needed to wait for it. Today’s reading is part of this prophecy from God through Isaiah.
In 538 B.C., Cyrus II of Persia defeats the Babylonians, and sends the people of Judah home. God had used a pagan king to liberate his people from exile. They were going home!
- This passage starts with a word of encouragement—“be strong, do not fear!” God is coming to avenge your suffering. Those Babylonians are going to pay! “Recompense” is one of those big bible words meaning ”to pay for wrongdoing”. The key phrase here is “He will come and save you.” (v. 4)
- Verses 5-6a tell of miraculous things that will happen. The blind see, the deaf hear, the lame walk, and mute will speak. Something impossible is about to happen. This section mirrors part of today’s gospel lesson.
- The remainder of the passage states that the journey home will not be as difficult as the exodus from Egypt. God is going to clear a path to lead them home, providing precious water for them on the desert journey. (vv. 6b-7a)
God still loves us and cares for us today. He will lift us up from our despair and misery. He will come and save us.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
Can you recall a time in your life when God provided you with the strength to escape an impossible situation? It is good to recall these times, and thank Him for his saving love and care.
JAMES 2:1-10, 14-17
Martin Luther found the book of James troubling. The apostle Paul clearly and frequently states that our “salvation is a free gift. It is not owing to works…” (Ephesians 2:8-9, my paraphrase) James’ book of wisdom has a heavy emphasis on “works”. In today’s passage, he even goes so far as to say “Can faith save you?” (14b) The difference between Paul and James is that James’ instruction was addressed to believers—people of faith. They are already saved. James is encouraging his Christian readers to show their faith in their actions. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s look at the detail.
- Imagine the situation where a TV celebrity unexpectedly walks into the vestibule of your church. At the same time, a homeless person enters through another door. Most of us would be so busy swooning and fussing over that famous person; we’d ignore that shabby, smelly other person. James reminds that Jesus has different priorities. Consider the words from the Sermon on the Mount “blessed are the poor”. Jesus would fuss over the homeless person. We should do likewise. (vv. 1-10)
- Remember, James is writing to saved Christians. He challenges them (and us) to show our faith in our actions. Our actions should be a reflection of our faith. If we say one thing and do another, we are not sincere. If the faith you profess is not shown in your actions, your faith is not alive. (vv. 14-17)
James speaks of accountability in verse 10. It is true that we will all answer to our failings on Judgement Day. But it is also true that our failings (or sin) are forgiven through Jesus’ death on the cross. We should strive to live a life free of sin, but rest in the assurance that our failings are nailed on the cross.
This passage is not intended to be a condemnation, but a word of encouragement to become alive in our faith. We do this by doing. Last week, we read James 1:22-- “Be doers of the word, and not merely hearers.” The apostle Paul also encourages us to “bear fruit”. Our motivation in “doing” is not to earn our salvation, but to show the genuineness of our faith to those around us.
Jesus and his disciples are on the road again. My father-in-law would claim that they drove a Honda, because “Jesus and his disciples were of one Accord.” (One of his favorite jokes.) But I believe that Jesus walked to Tyre from Capernaum, where he was teaching in chapter 6. Tyre is located in modern day Lebanon, on the Mediterranean coast. At that time, it had a reputation for being a wicked city. Also, it was populated mainly by gentiles and not by Jews. Why did Jesus go there?
- There is a hint here in verse 24 that Jesus might be trying to escape the crowds by going up to Tyre. But it didn’t work. He was healing people, and performing other miracles. The word spread. This was inescapable. But maybe there was another reason for Jesus to travel to this region.
- A Syrophoenician woman hears of Jesus’ presence. “Syrophoenician” simply means that she is from the area of Syria/Phoenicia on the Mediterranean coast. Her daughter is possessed by a demon, and she begs Jesus to exorcise the demon. (vv. 25-26)
- What happens next is a little disturbing to most Christians. Jesus “cops an attitude” with this gentile woman. He tells her that “the children” (the Jews) should be fed first. It is not fair to give this food to “the dogs”. You need to know that in Jesus’ day, dogs were not loved as they are today; they were trash-animals. Jesus is basically calling this gentile woman a trash-animal! (v. 27)
- The woman responds with a humble but clever answer. (v. 28)
- Essentially, Jesus says “you got me there!”, and heals the child, even though the child is not present. (vv. 29-30)
- On his journey home, Jesus swings by the Decapolis. The Decapolis is a group of ten cities, all of which have a gentile population. A deaf man is brought to him who also has a speech impediment. Jesus cures the man of both ailments. (vv. 31-35)
- Jesus orders everyone to keep this miracle to themselves. But how can you not share something like this with others? The people tell everyone. (v. 36)
- Next comes the link to today’s first lesson. The people are astounded at what he has done. It seems to be a fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophesy. [“Maybe this guy is the longed-for Messiah.”] (v. 37)
This “don’t tell anybody” instruction happens frequently in the gospel of Mark. We call it the Messianic Secret. I believe that the reason Jesus said this was to delay what he know would become of him, once he is identified as the Messiah. In addition to dying on the cross for our sins, Jesus also had many things to teach us. He need time to relay this message to us, and tried (vainly) to buy some time by telling us to put a “lid on it”. Now, of course, we need to remove this lid, and tell everyone!
Why would Jesus go to somewhere that is known to be a gentile area, if he considers them to be “dogs”? Was it just to get away from the crowds, or did he go there knowing that he would show God’s love to non-Jews? Maybe (and this is just my opinion), Jesus was leading his disciples on, adopting the attitude he knew they would have. Then, he shows them the folly of this attitude, and heals the woman’s daughter. He then follows this up by healing another person in another gentile city. Just as James reminds us, actions speak louder than words. Jesus’ actions tell us where his heart lies. This is good news for us, since we are all gentiles.