From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre.* He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir,* even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
--Gospel of Mark 7: 24-30
I would never have gone looking for the above passage if my mentor and supplier of “approved” reading material, Mtr. Lee Shafer, hadn’t pointed me in its direction. And I’m glad she did. Because this is one passage in which I think we get to see an imperfect Jesus, the haughty Jesus, the very human Jesus. And it’s a woman….one of those of the “other” group…who dares to talk back…and may have swayed his thinking about “others”.
Here’s how I interpret this story: in Mark's gospel, Jesus has already walked on water, and in the passages before this one, he has defended his disciples eating with “unclean hands” which was offensive and a no-no to the Pharisees and scribes. He says to the crowd gathered:
“…there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”* (Mark 7:15)
And he explains this to mean: “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come.” (Mark 7:20-21)
So, after he has waxed eloquent here, he then tries to go incognito into a region which apparently was populated with Gentiles, a group the Jews of that day thought were…well…like dogs as in “not worthy” “not human”. And even Jesus gets in on the hard-hearted, Gentile-bashing act when this woman, who must have heard about all the stuff he was doing, bows before him and asks him to get rid of the demon possessing her daughter, and he blows her off because it’s “not fair to take the children’s food (meaning the gifts of God for the Israelites) and throw it to the dogs.” Now, instead of sulking away and feeling two-inches tall, this woman lets him have it:
“Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
And I say, “You go, girl!” Her standing toe-to-toe with him seemed to cause a shift in his thinking. He did as she asked. And she got her daughter back. End of story. Except it’s not. Because, as I read this, I see a changed Jesus in that he will not be quite so cavalier in his treatment of the “others” of his day…and possibly this is the start of seeing that the "good news" is open for more than just “his kind”. Unfortunately, I am not scholarly enough (or schooled enough in theology) to know this for sure, but I wonder if this encounter didn’t pave the way for some new thinking, and new way of being for Jesus and later his disciples? Could it be that Jesus getting the what-for from an “other”, a Gentile, meant that he would sit by a well in the Gospel of John and take all the time necessary to convince a Samaritan woman that, “Yes, even you are eligible to drink from the water I offer.” ?
It may seem heretical to suggest that Jesus didn’t have it all together all the time, and needed to learn a few lessons along the way of his life. After all, if you’re Christian, one of the things you should accept is that Jesus is the physical manifestation of God. So, if Jesus is God, then he shouldn’t make mistakes ever, right?
Except it’s because of his missteps, screw-ups, speaking harshly before realizing what he’s saying that makes Jesus truly one of us. And because he is truly one of us, it makes the rest of the story of his death, resurrection and ascension that much more powerful because it means that act of love and forgiveness at the end of his life applies to me, is available to me, and I can achieve a level of transformation that takes me out of "death" and into "life". That doesn't mean I believe I will be raised three days after my soul departs my body and that I will break bread with my mortal friends when I find them walking around Lake Ella earlier in the day. But it does tell me that I can be different, lighter, happier, more alive in the world. It dawned on me some months back, right around the start of the year, that it was imperative for Jesus to have entered life as a baby with a biological mother who gave birth to him on this planet. Again, if I’m going to be Christian, such an event has to take place because, for me, it is the signal from God to…”Check me out, people: I’m going to experience what it means to be you with you while trying to clue you in on the real meaning behind all those laws you hold to be true. And when I die, I will die as one of you...and not just any one of you...as a criminal...the least, the last....so that, through me, you'll gain life.”
The story of the Syrophoenician Woman says something to all of us: we can change our opinions of “others”. We can realize our own prejudices, colored by whatever is our experience, and we can modify what we believe, especially when we are confronted by the very type of “other” we think we don’t need to think about.
All that out of six lines of the shortest gospel in the Bible! Whoa. I’ve got more on different passages. Stay tuned!