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"It’s been quite a year and a half, hasn’t it? Never could you and I have imagined what our life would be like on June 5, 2021," said Bishop Laurie Haller in her Episcopal Address and Opening Worship on the first day of the Iowa Conference of the United Methodist Church's 2021 annual session.
Bishop Laurie went on to recall her and everyone's naivete in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, saying, "What have we learned over the past fifteen months? If nothing else, we are more convinced than ever that we are all connected in Christ and are called to watch over one another in love. Think about the other great challenges we have faced." She listed the following:
"Through this time of testing and while facing great uncertainty about the future, we are all connected in Christ and are called to watch over one another in love. We realize that we are one human family and that what affects one person in a far corner of the world affects all of us. We are literally all in this together," said Bishop Laurie.
She noted that the result of all the uncertainty brought about a massive outpouring of creativity and imagination in our local churches and the discovery of new ways to reach out to their communities, including setting differences aside and seeing our common humanity before God by responding with compassion.
Bishop Laurie reflects on Mark 7—where Jesus heals a paralyzed man, feeds five thousand hungry people, frees a demon-possessed man, walks on water, and heals the sick wherever he goes—all kinds of people have begged Jesus to allow them to grasp even the hem of his clothing, for everyone who touches Jesus is made whole. She focuses on Mark 7:8 (CEB), where a Greek woman begs Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter, and Jesus pushes back, saying, “Look, the children have to be fed first. It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
"Wait a minute. Did Jesus just call that woman a dog? Well, that’s pretty nasty, insensitive, and dumb of Jesus, wasn’t it? Jesus clearly lays down a line of privilege," said Bishop Laurie.
She explains that Jesus is using a metaphor found in Jewish writing where "children" are the children of Israel and the "dogs" are the Gentiles.
"The Greek word that Mark uses for the woman who enters the house in search of help for her daughter is Gyne (jine), from which we get the word “gynecology.” The use of the word Gyne indicates that this woman has social status. She is a Greek “lady,” which means that she trumps Jesus and could tell him what to do and where to go. But she chooses another way," said Bishop Laurie.
Bishop Laurie continues, noting that Jesus normally gets the punchline in these stories, but in this case, the Gyne, the lady, has the last word. She chooses not to exert her authority and says that even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.
"You see, the gyne was not asking for a teaching but a healing. She isn’t seeking to argue but to advocate. The woman is simply asking Jesus to consider the worth of her daughter, a child of God. 'Good answer!' Jesus says. 'Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter,'" said Bishop Laurie.
She goes on to remind us that we are insiders, and we forget that this woman, the outsider, is us. This woman is our ancestor, our foremother in the faith. And so, when we come to the Lord’s table, we, too, hope to catch the crumbs of God’s mercy and grace not instead of, but in addition to, God’s first family.
"The good news is that...even the crumbs that fall from the table are more than enough. Even the leftovers of God’s grace and mercy are more than enough to heal, save, redeem, forgive, and bring those of us who have ever felt like outsiders into God’s fold. And Jesus gives us far more than leftovers!" said Bishop Laurie.
She concluded by saying that even in the midst of an uncertain future, her prayer is that we will continue to reach out into our communities with grace, humility, and hope and watch over one another in love.
"For when all was said and done, Jesus affirmed that there are no dogs in the human community. There are only precious children of God. And so, with all people, you and I need to continue to learn from one another; confront hatred, racism, and bigotry; reach out to the least, the last, and the lost; and seek the common good. Most of all, may Jesus give us the power to share the gospel in new and creative ways that we never imagined before, for God is not done with us yet," said Bishop Laurie.