The gospel reading on Sunday, Mark's story of the Syrophoencian Woman, is one that I have blogged about before. But it is a story I love to think about, write about, and talk about because it is one of those rare moments in the Bible where the average person suddenly sees Jesus as the "not-so-nice" guy. There is no way around this. No way to pretty up this story. A woman, a Gentile (read "Icky" in the parlance of the First Century) takes a chance and asks Jesus, the Son of David (read Jewish man of "the right stuff") to heal her sick daughter. She's heard about this Jesus because no matter how many times he tells people not to talk about what he's done... that's the first thing they run-off and do.
Take a good look at this picture above because this depiction of the scene is an accurate portrayal of the situation. She's down on her knees, and Jesus is hovering above her, his shoulder turned to block his heart from her. The posture is not welcoming, not friendly, and neither are his words:
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." (Mark 7: 27)
Ouch!! Not fair? Dogs? At the service I attended this past Sunday in Austin, the priest admitted that this is not the Jesus that he likes to acknowledge is in the Bible. He doesn't want to admit that what the Messiah has just said to this woman is extremely insulting and dismissive and, well, thoughtless and mean. That Jesus, of all characters in the Scriptures, has now drawn a line of there are MY people... and YOU people.
Tough as it is, though, as I talked about this story in my Education for Ministry class last week... I think this is a good story for all of us to hear. How many times have we said something thoughtless, something cutting, something dismissive to another person? This gets back to last week with James' letter and the "unbridled tongue" that will curse and bless out of the same mouth. Jesus himself had just finished an eloquent argument about the ritual cleansing laws and how it's not what goes in that defiles, but what comes back out. And then, here he is, in a land of the Gentiles being... well... a jerk with curses coming off his tongue.
And I say, "Good!" Not "good" that he was a jerk. But good that Mark (and Matthew, too) gave us this example of Jesus, so that we see that he really was "just like us" as a human. Even with his divine DNA, he is not without the ability to stub his toe on prejudice during a moment when approached by yet-another person wanting to experience the wonders he was bringing to the world.
And then there is the woman. While in the portrait above, she is shown in her moment of pleading in desperation and love of a daughter possessed by a demon, I imagine that when he called her a dog... her spine straightened, her chest became full, and her gaze became more focused and intense:
But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
Take that, Jesus! You can call her a dog, but this dog will not cower and whimper and hide, but instead stands her ground in the face of one with incredible authority and power greater than even she was really aware. We don't know from Mark if Jesus felt the slap across his cheek that this woman just delivered to him. But you get the sense that his decision to tell her, "For saying that, you may go--the demon has left your daughter" may indicate that Jesus, realizing that she has just given him pause to consider who is a "dog" in the First Century, maybe got schooled in what his mission really entailed. A lesson that would translate into the events in the book of Acts with apostles learning who's in and who's out... and discovering that many of those who they thought were supposed to be out are very much in.
As a lesbian, I love the Syrophoenician woman for her courage to stand her ground in a society that was very patriarchal. And I love considering the potential that this, another of the nameless many in the Bible stories, was the place where Jesus had an awakening about welcome... and who is part of the Kingdom of God. Not only does it make Jesus seem so incredibly human; in his humanity, you get the idea that even the most stubborn powerful men can soften and do change... and do become broader in their thinking. It leaves me feeling like there is always hope for humanity, even when the current posture is the cold shoulder.