I am away from tomorrow and so have included two reflections for the next two Sundays.
Mark 7.24-end (NRSV)
The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
24 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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He 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.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Cures a Deaf Man
Jesus had embarked on a long journey – from Tyre to Sidon, for those of us living in Britain, this would have been like travelling from London to Cornwall – a significant distance. Mark includes this event before Peter recognises Jesus as the Messiah, which he explains in Chapter 8, immediately after this occasion. Barclay explains that these miracles beautifully shows Jesus’ way of treating people, especially his intimate and sensitive healing of the deaf man. (As a person who is totally deaf in one ear myself, I am particularly touched by this miracle).
This passage is a reminder of the fact that Jesus is for all people, irrespective of race, creed, class, disability etc. But it is also a reminder of the fact that what really matters is our relationship with our Lord. I love the honest and frank dialogue that takes place between Jesus and the woman. The woman’s request is at first denied because Jesus’ earthly ministry was first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. She does not contest this; she even accepts what appears at first to be the degrading allegory of being described as a ‘dog’ – the greatest insult for the people of the day – but her love for her daughter was so great that she was willing to endure this (and probably even more). But she would not give up! Neither must we. We will be sometimes forced to endure great hardship and even humiliation, but when we persist, our Lord will be there to meet us at our point of need, and bless us richly, just as this woman and her family were blessed.
But it is interesting to note that the word used by Mark for ‘dog’ is not the one used for any wild, unpleasant dog, it is in the diminutive form, and was the word used to describe a dear beloved family pet. Barclay suggests that Jesus was stating a truth – that he was first for the Jews – but he is also open to all who seek him. Barclay is excellent in providing contextual information. He reminds us that people ate with their fingers. They then wiped their hands on pieces of bread, which they then gave to their pet dogs. We can assume that the tone Jesus used was not harsh, but friendly, and that he was not insulting at all. In a similar way, people can use words that in a specific tone can be insulting, but in a different tone can be endearing. How many of us were called ‘little rascal’ when we were children, by a parent or grandparent who was amused by what we had done? Barclay therefore suggests that the exchange could have been much more pleasant than a cursory reading might initially suggest.
Charlie Moule adds that the women is to be respected on another account. He is sympathetic with Barclay’s portrayal of the situation and suggests that, despite being desperate for her child to be well again, she still had the composure to cleverly parry with our Lord in the discussion, which Jesus responded to well.
So, there is agreement that this is a wonderful passage reminding us that Jesus is for everyone, as we Methodists emphasise, all can be saved, it is not a matter of all without distinction, but rather all without exception. And Mark includes this passage because this is a truth that needs to be expressed and understood. All those who accept Jesus as ‘Lord’ – which is the form of address the women used – will never be turned away. This is the attitude Jesus had, and this should be our attitude as well. Barclay writes:
“Symbolically, she stands for the Gentile world which so eagerly seized on the bread of heaven which the Jews had rejected and thrown away.”
Jesus took the deaf man to one side. For most people this might not seem significant, but for those of us who are deaf, this is a wonderful gesture. One of the situations I struggle with most, is crowds because even then my good ear does not seem to work and I find myself drowning in a cacophony of noise. Jesus also used gestures – which the deaf man would have been able to understand as he could not hear words.
Charlie Moule points out that on this occasion, Jesus is recorded as having ‘sighed’ and that nowhere else is this mentioned in any other of Jesus’ healing miracles. Moule suggests that this indicated ‘deep exhausting prayer’ and shows how Jesus was moved by the man’s predicament and refers to ‘… a yearning towards God on behalf of the helpless man …’
A short periscope, but one of great blessing. I am grateful to the works of Barclay, Nineham and Moule for opening my eyes to experience so many blessings from this passage.