10 February 2011Mark 7:24-30
"But she answered him, 'Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.'" (v. 28)
Jesus was debating with the religious leaders about what was
clean and unclean. He was challenging their interpretation of the
law of the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) and by doing
so was also starting to question the distinction between Jew and
Gentile (non Jew).
This is the only time when Mark draws attention to a Gentile being healed, but it is also an uncomfortable read. Jesus travelled to Tyre which lay outside the borders of Galilee and Herod's jurisdiction. It's possible he did so to escape the increasingly demanding crowds as his fame and popularity grew. However, even though he tries to keep a low profile, a Phoenician woman from Syria learns of his presence and seeks his help.
Her request is little different from many of those we've already heard about. However Jesus' response to her seems very harsh and not what we would expect. The term "dogs" was one that Jews would have regularly used to describe Gentiles. Its use by Jesus would not have been a surprise to those who originally heard it, in the same way that words used to describe different racial groups are no longer acceptable to us today even though they were perfectly acceptable to use just a generation ago.
Perhaps the more striking aspect of this story is that Jesus appears to change his mind. His encounter with a woman, and a Gentile woman at that, seems to make him reconsider his opinion, perhaps to question his own tradition as he had been urging others to do earlier in this chapter.
Many of those who read Mark's account, both Jew and Gentile, will have agreed with Paul, that the gospel brings salvation "to the Jew first, and also to the Greek [Gentile]" (Romans 1:16). The Gentiles would have been heartened that there were plenty of gathered fragments left over from Jesus' ministry to the Jewish people for them too. Yet our faith takes us further, to a belief that Christ is for all, and that none have to wait to know God's grace.
To what extent does it challenge our image of Jesus to think that he could change his mind?
Are there situations where we put the banquet of the Church first and leave scraps for others to feed on afterwards? How can we best avoid this?