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September 6th 2015 - Hugh Perry

Date Given: 
4 September 2015

Readings

Proverbs 22: 1-2, 8-9, 22-23

This is a selection of short proverbs encouraging generosity to the poor and the quest for justice rather than wealth.  Maurice Andrew places this section as straddling the second and third collection of proverbs. The second section is short sentences often using antithetic parallelism (lines of similar length and rhythm but opposite meaning).  The third selection may have been used to educate young men entering service in the royal court and unlike the third person style of the second section the style now moves to direct address of a second person.

Maurice notes that robbing the poor because they are poor sounds very like revising the finances of a country by reducing the benefits of those with the fewest resources. [1]

Proverbs are exactly that, short wisdom sayings that do not fully explore issues as a story might so are therefore dangerous as proof texts.  They are wisdom of a community and can warn us of recurring injustice and stupidity.

Mark7: 24-37

This reading from Mark contains an exorcism by remote control and a healing.  The woman with the possessed daughter not only is a foreigner but intrudes on Jesus’ private space.  Jesus’ response is not only a very human response but a cultural response.  He was interrupted in his ‘time off’ and Jews did not associate with foreigners.  In contrast to the Jesus of John’s Gospel we see in this episode a very human Jesus growing in divine awareness through his dialogue with the woman.  This is the only story in the gospels where Jesus changes his mind and it is a woman who led him to do so. [2]

In the next story Jesus heals by physical means, putting his finger in the man’s ear spitting and touching the man’s tongue.  This, according to Hooker, was typical of healers of the time and place so Jesus is practicing as a regular healer of the day.[3]  

What both Borg and Hooker point out is the significance of the summary in verse 37 ‘he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak’  This is typical of Mark’s irony where those who should be speaking and listening like the Pharisees don’t but the physically deaf and mute do. 

Sermon

Our alarm clock turns on the radio rather than subject us to some other loud noise.  We set it to the national programme so usually we are woken to the birdcall of the day, which is nice. 

However I was delighted one recent morning to hear a voice I recognised.  Inge Woolf  was speaking as the director of the Holocaust Research and Education Centre and she was saying the Government must increase its current refugee limit of 750 people and all nations should increase their refugee quotas.

Inge went on to say that no one willingly left their homeland in a leaky boat unless they were desperate to get to safety.

‘I'm a survivor of the holocaust and I know my family found it very hard to find shelter.  We eventually did by going on holiday visas to England, but most of my family didn't.’

Asylum seekers faced huge obstacles as they tried to get to safety and Inge felt real empathy for refugees trying to flee their homelands.

‘These people are desperate to leave the places they've gone from. They don't do it for a joy ride and it's up to the nations of the world to take in more of them.’

Inge also said refugees were valuable citizens to the country that took them in and that would be true of those I know who came as refugees.  With her husband Ron, Inge established a substantial photographic business in Wellington and as the news item shows she is active win the Jewish community.  Her son Simon continues the family business and is a Wellington city councillor.  Her daughter Deborah has a law degree and has worked in the family business.  She now lists herself on Facebook as a panel member of the Human Rights Review Tribunal and a director at the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand.  My friend Andres Apse was recognised in the Queen’s Birthday honours a few years back for his contribution to landscape photography.  Andy came to New Zealand with his mother as Latvian refugees after becoming displaced at the end of the Second World War.

This last week has been full of pleas for greater compassion as the news shows an increasingly desperate situation.

The Rt Rev Andrew Norton has added the Presbyterian Church's voice to those calling for an increase in the number of refugees that New Zealand accepts for resettlement.  He writes: ‘In this global humanitarian crisis where millions of people have been forced from their homes by war, a response that increases the quota of refugees accepted into New Zealand is part of what it means to be a good global citizen,’

I also remember Dr Brian Butterfields’ biologist’s view that we are all an invasive species on these islands where humanity was not part of the original environment.  We have no history of why the Tangata whenua set out from Pacific island paradises for these temperate islands but the best guesses are overcrowding and shortage of food.  Any understanding of history would suggest that such conditions would have lead to violence, so just like their European counterparts Tangata whenua would have been at least economic refugees but probably also fleeing violence. 

However I can also empathise with overcrowded European nations with failing economies and already large ghettoes of people of entirely different cultures and world views.  I can even feel a tiny bit of sympathy for the Australian government with only a tiny stretch of sea between them and a very overcrowd Southeast Asia that is filling with refugees.

How many refugees a nation accepts is certainly a justice issue and it tears at the heart strings to see small children crawling under razor wire or lying dead in the surf of some unwelcoming shore.  However the real justice issue is the conditions that drive people from their homeland and that issue easily slips into the diplomatic too hard basket.

Both the answer and the challenge is in our readings this morning.

Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity, and the rod of anger will fail. (Proverbs 22:8) seems to directly reflect the Western world’s military aggression towards the Arab world and the flow of refugees that has resulted.

Equally valid is verses twenty two and twenty three which implore us;

Do not rob the poor because they are poor, or crush the afflicted at the gate.  For Yahweh pleads their cause and despoils of life those who despoil them. (Proverbs 22:22,23)

European colonialism followed by the action of the World Bank and multi-national corporations has plundered the poorer nations simply because they can.  Alvin Toffler wrote of the principal of first price where a colonial power buys something they can process and resell at a huge profit but the local people do not see as having any value.  That first price then affects all future pricing.  Everything from chocolate to oil fits into that category.  Even in New Zealand Rio Tinto regularly threatens to close down the Bluff aluminium smelter to keep the price of power down.  In the role of international bully they know that closing the smelter would have a huge social impact on Bluff and Invercargill.  Furthermore New Zealand would not be able to immediately use the electricity that would be made available. 

This process is now also supported by the World Bank and other multinational banks who tempt nations into debt and then demand austerity measures like cutting back education and health benefits.  They also threaten food security by focusing on crops for the world commodity market to create cash for loan repayment. 

Milk prices have plummeted but one bank is regularly advertising on New Zealand Television the offer of pasture improvement loans to increase production.  On a global scale Oxfam predicts that by 2016 the richest one percent of the world’s population will own more than half of the world’s wealth. 

All this is on monumental proportions, robbing the poor because they are poor and eventually in places like the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Africa people rebel.  Desperate people seek out the streams of zealous nationalism in their faith traditions and unite under the banner of a God who despoils the life of those who despoils them.

That is made worse when wealthy nations try to secure their interests by force, and set out to forcefully eradicate what they perceive as evil. 

Combating evil appears to be a whole lot easier than doing good.  Bombing ISIS is quite straightforward and with drone technology relatively safe.  It is certainly easier than eradicating poverty.   However armed combat has now created the greatest flood of refugees since the Second World War. 

The only way to truly stem the tide of displaced people is to heal the hurts and offer hope to those people who face the deadly alternative of lethal combat or fleeing the land they have occupied for thousands of years.

The second part of our gospel illustrates the dilemma of world leaders who seem unable to listen and reluctant to speak.  The story of the healing of the deaf mute parodies the inaction of those we expect to hear the issues and speak about the solutions.

The story tells us that in first century Palestine and our world today it is only Jesus that can make the deaf to hear and the mute to speak. 

More significantly the first part of our reading shows Jesus’ own spiritual growth towards divinity where dialogue with the foreign woman opens him to the possibility of concern beyond his immediate neighbourhood and those he saw as his people.  That indeed, as Inge Woolf pointed out, is one of the gifts refugees bring a receiving nation.

As the Spirit calls us all to mission the Christ within us does not just open our ears to the plight of the displaced people of the world.  Christ calls us to speak out about the injustice that drives people to lethal combat that produces wave upon wave of refugees.  We must in whatever way we can support our Christian Agencies who form global partnerships that promote self-sufficiency and the raising of standards of living. 

People will only beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Isaiah 2:4) when they can look to the future with hope.  It is the call of the Christ within each of us to be part of delivering that hope.  It is also the Christ inspired call to speak out and open the ears of the leadership of our communities, our nation and our world to the reality that an increasing gap between rich and poor will only bring disaster.  The tide of refugees can only be stopped in safe villages of hopeful futures. 

This father’s day let us remember that no father puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.  So let us all pray and act for a world where fathers no longer feel compelled to pass their children through the razor wire of nations’ boarders, risk suffocation for their families in closed vans or drowning in unsafe boats heading to unwelcoming shores.

Rather than be awakened by, even a familiar voice, tinged with past terror pleading for the fate of others in desperate circumstances, let us celebrate the arrival of the Christ inspired spring of hope. 

As we celebrate the beginning of Spring let the dawn chorus of birdsong welcome a new realm of hope and the recognition that we all belong to the universal family of all humanity.



[1] Maurice Andrew The Old Testament in Aotearoa New Zealand  (Wellington: DEFT 1999),  p.377,378.

[2] Marcus Borg The Gospel of Mark (Harrisburg-New York: Morehouse Publishing ,2009),p.66

[3] Morna D Hooker The Gospel According To Mark (London: A&C Black1991), p.186.

 

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