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MK 7: 24-37
13th S.after Pentecost

Both incidents in today's Gospel raise the issue of comfort zones. In the first, Esther (let's call her that) confronts Jesus well out of Jewish territory. Why Jesus was there we don't know. Sometimes we end up in odd, inexplicable places, only to find we've been led there for a purpose. To meet some contemporary Esther (or her daughter, 'Miriam'). We can't plan such journeys, or encounters. It's a matter of divine initiative taking.

I can live with the fact that Jesus gives Esther a hard time, rationalise his first response to her as we may. To be our Saviour in some meaningful sense Jesus has to be a real human being. Maybe he's testing, probing, challenging her; but what he says to her at first sure looks like a gruff put-down! Maybe some of the responses we've had from God have seemed equally harsh? So hard we've backed off, run away, rather than joining in a bit of good old cut & thrust with God? We'll never know the possible end result till we do that, will we? Never know where we're meant to end up, & with whom?

One of the responses God in Christ may be looking for in testing us is the same kind of willingness to enter into anothers' pain as Jesus does here. The pain of an Esther with a child of any age in long term un-wholeness (addiction? schizophrenia? etc.?) or a Miriam (or male counterpart) embroiled in her / his own misery. But give the exterior demons a miss. I'm committed (at this stage of my own journey) to an understanding that our real demons are inside us, whether they get there via our genes (as our genes?) or are imprinted within us in our upbringing. If you doubt this, may I refer you back to what Jesus has said immediately before his encounter with Esther? It needs to be taken very seriously!

Reuben (so I'm naming him...we all need a name & a face) is as much an outsider as Miriam has been (& Esther, too, because of her) until Jesus has made them both whole. For all our modern enlightenment, those with physical, mental, or emotional disabilities still find it hard to come in from the cold. Unless someone will not only plead their cause but lead the way, be a Jesus figure in accepting & including them. I suspect most of the churches to which we belong aren't too good at that. I say that to my own shame. Out in those margins beyond our rows of pews are a lot of hurting people. Most of those who do reach out in acceptance & love & helpfulness appear to me to be from 'out there' themselves. A case of it takes one to know one. Maybe Esther & Miriam & Reuben aren't deliberately excluded, but excluded they are nonetheless, through thoughtlessness, ignorance off-handedness, etc., not to mention just plain fear. Fear on the part of 'in' people of others who function, often necessarily, beyond what's become our comfort zone.

When we hear this Gospel can we respond by taking the risk of letting God call us beyond our own existing comfort zones? Beyond our fellow 'in'-mates? To become a 'little Christ' walking close with the One who still 'does all things well' when by his Spirit we do them for him & as him.