It’s been almost a week since my last post – I’m going to catch up on them over the next few days.
Reading: Mark 7:24-37
Jesus is in hostile territory in this passage (Tyre, up in the North West), and several commentators contend that he is staying in a Jewish house, trying to avoid the crowds. Suddenly a Syro-Phoenician woman comes in, asking Jesus’ help with her daughter. In Mark’s gospel, Jesus is rarely depicted talking to a woman (this is the second time, and we’re essentially halfway through the gospel), and this woman is a Gentile, likely a wealthy one, who comes into the Jewish sanctuary Jesus has sought out to ask him to cleanse her daughter of the evil spirit that possesses her. Jesus essentially responds by calling her a dog (it’s wrong to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs). Ouch. The woman regains her composure and argues for table scraps, eliciting a terse, though less aggressive, response – a dismissal (‘you may go’) and healing which happens for the first time at a distance. We’re confronted here by Jesus’ seemingly flawed humanity, expressed in a derogatory epithet directed at a foreign woman. The passage forces us to answer some questions:
Are these really the words of Jesus, or have they been added later as part of an editing process we don’t know about?
If they’re really Jesus’ words, how do we deal with what looks like some base racism in someone we proclaim as the light of the world?
Why would the author of Mark put these words in the gospel?
Of course, the community from which the gospel arose wouldn’t have had quite the concern with nastiness to foreign women that we do, but still, there’s no way I can see of putting an airtight positive spin on this story.
When Jesus leaves the area and returns to his home base, he heals a man who is deaf and mute, using fingers and spit and audible words and everyone says how impressive he is. Maybe the dog comment is a glitch; a temporary loss of control when the fully human element of Jesus is tired and run down. Perhaps it’s a mystery we’re invited to ponder as we contemplate our own discipleship and our encounters with people we don’t know who ask of us what we don’t want to give. Perhaps it’s an invitation to accept grace for our own outbursts – if Jesus can have them, so can we. Or perhaps it’s just an odd story that is missing the piece of context that would see us understand it fully. Whatever the reason, it’s a challenging story, one that we should treasure as a reminder not to sentimentalise the prophet from Nazareth, or to oversweeten the healer of the Galilee.