The summer of 2003 I was living on my own, a thousand miles away from family and friends, and I was in need of a car. At the time I had a car, well a mini-van, well it was a minivan by name, but by function it sounded much more like a coffee pot brewing than a vehicle. And it had a nasty habit of overheating on the highways of South Carolina, in the high heat of summer, in the middle of nowhere. So I needed a car. And fast.
One problem. My credit score. To say it was in the dumps would be unfair to your community dump. It was abysmal. Living off credit cards in grad school and getting behind payments can kill your credit score. Oh–and there was that whole balancing budget thing that I was painfully bad at, as well.
But the great divider…the barrier between me and a functional car that ran predictability…that great wall between me and my hopes was that credit score.
Just three numbers that seemed to determine my future.
Sure the car salesperson was fast to promise me that it all could work. That I just needed to say yes, but they were nowhere to be seen. I was in a room too small, sitting in one of the most uncomfortable orange chairs in the world, knees running into a metal desk separating me from the man who could decide my fate. The loan officer. And he was sternly looking at my credit score. I knew he was. Because the more he looked at it, the more judged I felt. The more small I felt. The more undesirable I felt. And the further I felt from getting a car.
It seemed like a chasm divided me from a vehicle because I didn’t have enough points.
There’s a lot of things that separate us from our hopes and dreams, from resources and tangible goods. There’s a lot of divisions. You know there are. Whether you’ve experienced it in the form of not having good or downright bad credit, or if you were somehow separated from something you longed for because of where you live, or how you live, or what you look like. We’ve all experienced some kind of boundary or wall that may keep us away from that which we need.
And I can tell you, how we divide ourselves by credits is only being further accentuated. I was reading in Wired Magazine that by 2020 the Chinese government hopes to have a credit score for its citizens that not only speaks to financial actions, but is determined by what you buy, what you do, how you spend your time, and who you spend your time with. And there have been American companies that have played similar algorithm games, as well.
Thinking about your health, your lifestyle, your financial choices, who you love, who you hang out with–would you say your social credit score could separate you? Oh how we excel at creating boundaries and divisions!
It’s true today. It was true 2,000 years ago. In some cases the 21st century is not all that different from the 1st century. There has always been boundaries and separation. It’s not surprising. What may be surprising is our encounter with Jesus in this week’s Gospel.
This is not the Jesus depicted in stained glass windows and children’s coloring pages–we don’t hear any great invitation to let all come to him. In fact, when we meet Jesus he’s tired. He’s physically, mentally, and most likely emotionally worn out from verbal sparring with religious leaders, the ever present needs of people, and the slow, thick headedness of his disciples. He is acting so…human.
He is needing some time alone on the DL. And yet, there’s no rest for the weary. Before getting into a new town and unpacking, there’s word that he’s there, and is confronted with yet another person in need.
And this person is described as a woman and a Gentile.
Now on the chart of how we can divide and give out credit scores–in the 1st century Jewish world you could wrack up points by who you were and who you knew. You gave points to your own kin, and then perhaps your spouse’s’ kin. As far as people who were given carte blanche, you had all the points in the world if you were one of the priests, Levites, and other religious leaders. If you were an Israelite male you had a good amount of power in the society. Good points there. Israelite women were further behind in the pecking order, and when it came to boundaries of social and economic power they had very little say. Not many points given at all.
And then came all the other folks in society who were cordoned off in one way or another–not given access to God or access to resources–like fatherless children, eunuchs, and Samaritans. And beyond all those people, the group that was the most boundaried from God’s good grace and the resources of the community were the Gentiles. They were the outsiders. Ones not to be included and often not to be trusted. They didn’t worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They weren’t connected. And so Jewish society of the 1st century compartmentalized them, restricted them, and kept them closed off. You could say their credit score in that society was in the dumps.
And so this Gentile woman seeks the help of Jesus for her daughter who is very ill. And Jesus’ response seems to be that of the party line. Closed to Gentiles.
Now I can’t tell you if Jesus’ humanity was showing through, and that’s why he responded so negatively at first. I can’t tell you if Jesus was testing the woman’s faith. I can’t tell you if he was engaging in a Rabbi dialectic that is meant to challenge in order that the seeker come to a higher conclusion.
What I can tell you is that I have encountered numerous parents and grandparents who in order to save their children will wrestle with powers high above and down below, and this parent was willing to wrestle with God that day. And from that encounter, something changed.
The points system just didn’t add up. Grace showed up.
And something continued to change. For regardless of how tired Jesus was, the healings continued. In fact, with the healing of the deaf man, Jesus prayed aloud, “Be opened.”
Be opened. What a prayer, what a petition, what a blessing. “Be opened.” I can think of so many places in my life that I need Jesus’ words: “Be opened.” Whether I’m wrestling with God, wrestling with myself and my own demons, or wrestling with the ways of the world. Two simple words of truth, “Be opened.”
A few weeks ago, I had the occasion to ask Pastor Russ Rockwell–the pastor of the Word of Life Deaf Lutheran Church about his thoughts on our Gospel today. Particularly, his thoughts about Jesus healing a man who was deaf. As a deaf community, what does Word of LIfe lift up in this story? Pastor Russ’ words were wise. He writes,
“When this story comes around in our lectionary, we don’t focus on the deaf-mute man’s transition from deafness to hearing, because that’s not the point of the story. Becoming open to God, and seeing in Jesus the way to God and the way to life, is the point of the story.”
And when we look at this Gospel story to see where and how the grace of God shows up–where do we see it?
We see God’s power open up what was closed.
We see God’s presence in the mom who wouldn’t say “no” or “I give up.” We see God’s love in the friends who accompanied the deaf man and wouldn’t leave him isolated.
We see God act so that hearts, and lives, and ears, and tongues are opened.
In our world that so easily divides and compartmentalizes, we have a God who sees beyond the lifestyles and labels, the dividing lines, and the trench lines.
In our world that too often labels us with a credit score that condemns us, God offers boundless grace and forgiveness that lifts us up.
In a world that can so easily isolates, God gives the gifts of companionship, accompaniment, and community.
And God blesses us to ‘be opened.’
In my case all those years ago with the car and the bad credit score? God was present calling me to ‘be opened.’ Be opened to credit counseling and budget training, be opened to receiving help.
In the case for our landscape today, the prayer ‘be opened’ can speak to cracking open the hardness of heart and thought, and to be courageous to engage with someone who differs from you.
Or perhaps to be opened to learn something new–perhaps with a fellow member of the faith in education or conversation. It’s a great time of year to learn something new in a Christian Ed class or small group! Or in my case learn something new from our deaf mission partners.
Perhaps Jesus’ prayer for you ‘to be opened’ is one where you can live freely assured that you’re not paying God to earn love or a place in God’s family. Through Christ, you have that now. All credits needed. No scores kept. So be opened to how God calls you into community. As one day soon, you may be that one called to wrestle with powers high and low or to be a friend to someone who is not heard or seen.
May God open us all for what lies ahead.