Lectionary Homily for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost

Originally published at: https://confident.faith/2021/09/10/lectionary-homily-for-the-15th-sunday-after-pentecost/

  • Isaiah 35:4–7a
  • Psalm 146
  • James 2:1–10, 14–18
  • Mark 7:24–37
Homily recording: click to play.

For God shows no προσωποληψία — a word that appears only four times in Scripture: in the verse in Romans just quoted, in our reading from James, in Ephesians 6:9, and in Colossians 3:25. A curious word in Greek — if we take the ‘literal’ meaning, then it would be something like ‘face taking’, which sounds quite odd until we actually think about it. To commit the transgression of προσωποληψία is to regard that which is not relevant, or, as our study Bible puts it: ‘to judge unfairly on the basis of worldly criteria’. In our reading from James, this partiality is demonstrated by way of an example — the preferential treatment of the wealthy.

But it is always morally wrongful to show preferential treatment to the wealthy? Would not such a blanket condemnation condemn such things as VIP tickets, private jets, luxury vehicles, expensive restaurants, and a whole host of other such things? If the prohibition is not properly understood, yes. But it is not a blanket condemnation, for we must look at the context: The condemned partiality is being shown in the Church with regard to irrelevant, worldly criteria. The wealth or poverty of an individual should not decide where he may or may not sit in the Church, and the poor should not be made to feel unwelcome.

And yet the pastor stands before the congregation where others are not permitted to stand, and speaks words others are not permitted to speak. Ah, but that is not according to irrelevant, worldly criteria — the pastor is called and ordained, and so stands before the congregation properly and not due to any partiality. Similarly, we may provide preferential parking, seating, et cetera, to the old or the infirm. The issue is the appropriateness of the criteria we are employing as warrant for our actions. And so, in the words of Leviticus, we rise before grey hairs and honor our elders, but we do not permit the large donor to have his own parking space or a reserved pew, at least not because of his wealth.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, this is a matter primarily of the right-hand Kingdom in our reading from James, but the rule applies in the left-hand kingdom as well. We are prohibited from perverting justice — we may favor neither the rich nor the poor. All truth is one, and to subvert justice is to pervert truth. The propriety of any of the aforementioned forms of special treatment afforded the wealthy is a separate matter — the central issue is justice (when dealing with the left-hand kingdom). But let us return to the right-hand Kingdom.

In our Gospel reading — and do carefully note that — Christ calls a woman a ‘dog’. Or does He? The Greek word for ‘dog’ is κυων, but Christ calls her κυναριον, not god, but the diminutive ‘little dog’ or ‘puppy’ — the term you would use of a household pet. Perhaps His disciples missed His point, but the woman did not, and she answered Him in kind, saying that even the family dog feeds on the scraps. But what point was Christ making? He was testing her faith and instructing His disciples. There is nothing special about Jewish blood — the blood descendants of Abraham are not saved by their blood. There is only one Blood that saves, and it was spilled on Calvary, and we receive it in the Sacrament.

Christ was not insulting the woman — He was teaching. He commends her for her faith while simultaneously making a polemical point against Jewish conceptions of how one is saved. Again: This is the Gospel reading.

When Christ came, He healed the blind and the lame as our reading from Isaiah prophesied and the mute and the deaf as the second half of our Gospel reading related. And yet the Jews saw but did not see, heard but did not hear. Trusting in their lineage, many of them rejected the clear teaching of Scripture that we are saved by faith alone. And yet Judaizers persist to this day. Some take the form of ‘Messianic’ Jews, who insist on keeping the ceremonial law — a righteousness of works — by which none is saved — instead of faith. Others take the form of Dispensationalists and ‘Christian’ Zionists, who insist that the Jews are special in some way — a significantly more egregious partiality than that shown to the rich man in our reading from James.

You are not saved by your blood — whether it is German or French or Dutch or Jewish or anything else; you are saved by His blood, by the holy, precious blood that Jesus Christ shed to cover the sins of the world. If you would be saved by your blood, then you will die in your sins. Solo Christo — by Christ alone — are we justified, washed in the blood of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world.

It is God Who sets the prisoners free, opens blind eyes and deaf ears, heals the lame and the sick, and makes us white as snow. Do not be deceived by false teachers who would preach another gospel and another righteousness — whether of the blood of men, the Law, or anything else. Outside Christ, there is no salvation. Extra ecclesiam nulla salus — by grace through faith we are made members of the Body of Christ, His Church. With God, there is no partiality. Amen.