This coming Sunday we join Mark the Gospeller as he continues to upset our images of a gentle, meek, doe-eyed Jesus. Last week Jesus took on the theologians from the big city as they called him on his lack of attention to ritual detail; he left no stone unturned in berating them (and everyone) on the sullied state of the human heart.
We pick up the story at the next verse: Mark 7:24-30. You can read it here:
As is typical in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is on the move again. He’s left town, and headed northward towards Tyre. An odd place for him to go if we stop and think about it, especially with what follows. I wonder if he was heading away from all things Galileean and Judean because he was exhausted. We’re told he went to a house in Tyre, hoping for some peace and quiet. This is obviously NOT a mission trip. He’s looking for downtime.
It’s not to be, as human pain and trouble knocks on the door and invades his sanctuary, in the form of a woman. A foreigner. A mother. Mark doesn’t waste ink on her name, or the name of her female child. Very soon, as the story unfolds, most of us forget those details as we reel, shocked at what’s coming out of Jesus’ mouth now. Last time it was anger directed at the city-dwelling hotshots, an anger many of us would have applauded – until we get caught in the backdraft of it. But now, well look what he says:
“Whatever it is you’re wanting, woman, you’ll have to wait. What I have to offer is restricted. For Club members only. ”
(That’s a paraphrase: what Mark records is worse. ” ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
What??!! Did Jesus really just say that, did he just call her a ‘dog’?
You can be sure that this is one of the most interpreted (and rarely preached) texts in the Gospels. Many rush to defend Jesus: those who see a human Jesus want to forgive him because, they say, he’s exhausted, he’s only joking, after all the word dog could be translated as ‘puppy’. Those who want to preserve a theology of Christ’s divinity (he’s God incarnate) cannot permit exhaustion or error, so they suggest that this not-so-veiled racial slur is part of some divine plan. So they suggest Jesus is testing her, he’s using her as a ‘teaching tool’ to make a point.
I don’t know about you, but none of these excuses are good enough to protect Jesus from the righteous stares all all mothers, all women, all foreigners, this writer included. Who does Jesus think he is to limit the healing mercy of God to a chosen few?
Wrestling blessing from this text is going to be hard. That’s my task this week as I prepare for Sunday. And just to add to the tension, our congregation will be augmented this week by the extended families of two women (and their partners) who are bringing their daughters to be baptised into the community of faith!