A progressive Christian reflection on the woman who taught Jesus a lesson he never forgot.
Just to reiterate -The Bible is mythos; not myth, not history. By that I mean that whether or not the events recorded in it “really” happened or not is irrelevant to my faith.
Passages like this one from Mark speak to me powerfully about the man Jesus, whatever the “truth” of his existence two millennia ago might be. It’s told as though it were a simple story about a young man on a mission. He’s an itinerant preacher, perhaps a little full of himself because of what he can do. And he’s a bit arrogant, with the arrogance that only the young can possess.
This story is about the day the man Jesus was taught a lesson by a nameless woman in the crowd.
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. Mark 7:26-29
There are still people today who think that Christianity is a term limited to those who carry a certain membership card; or who follow a certain set of doctrine and dogma. In Jesus’ day it was no different. The Israelites were the “chosen ones”, the “children” as the author of Mark has Jesus put it.
This Gentile woman wasn’t a member of the club. She was, in Jesus’ words, nothing more than a dog.
Can’t you just hear the people in the crowd laughing? Boy, Jesus sure slapped her down didn’t he? Uppity Gentile. Our guy Jesus put her in her place.
She could have accepted Jesus’ scorn. She could have just went away. She didn’t.
It must have been hard to stand there after being ridiculed like that; the jeers of the crowd ringing in her ears. Why did she do it? Was it just because she wanted her daughter to be well? Reason enough certainly. But Jesus had made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t about to waste a miracle on someone like her.
Maybe it was something more. Jesus might be able to wave a hand and cure the sick, but this woman knew something that Jesus didn’t seem to.
She knew that God doesn’t play favorites.
She could have engaged Jesus in a religious debate. Goodness knows that the scribes and Pharisees used that tactic often enough. Not very successfully of course.
She could have argued that all people are created equal, or that all had the same ancestors, the same roots in Adam and Eve. She could have protested Jesus’ characterization of her.
She did none of those things.
She didn’t dispute Jesus’ characterization of her as a “dog”. But she reminded him that even the dogs are fed.
Sometimes when I envision this story the woman speaks angrily, shouting the words at Jesus. Sometimes I imagine her as saying them softly, almost wistfully; and yet her words reach Jesus’ ear, even through the noise of the crowd.
Jesus hears her. And he heals her daughter.
What happened, I wonder, to the crowd then? Did they fall silent? Were they impressed with Jesus’ generosity? Or were they annoyed at Jesus for being weak? Were they angry at the woman for her persistence? Did they get the message?
Jesus heard what she was saying. And he understood that he wasn’t there just to reform Israel. He was there to transform the world.
He realized that the Message of the Christ was for everyone. No exceptions.
I don’t know about the “historical accuracy” of that story. I do know that if there was a Gentile woman who confronted the man Jesus, and if the man Jesus hadn’t listened to her, Christianity would be a far different faith than it is today. And a far poorer one
But Jesus listened.
If Jesus could learn from a “Gentile”, from someone who followed a different faith, a different dogma, a different doctrine, perhaps we should be willing to do the same.
I don’t know whether or not the man Jesus “cast out demons”, or miraculously healed the sick or fed the multitudes. I do know that every time we reach out to one another, without reservation, without hesitation, without exception, we bring heaven just a little bit closer.
And that is both “real” and “true.”