6 September 2015Mark 7:24-37
“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.’” (vv. 27-28)
Psalm: Psalm 146
Is Jesus intolerant, racist, xenophobic? Surely that's not possible? But when Jesus refers to Gentiles as dogs (the Jews are 'children') then he is repeating the racist negativity that marked contemporary Jewish attitudes towards non-Jews. We must face up to how Jesus is portrayed in the Gospels - this is how he is communicated to us, however difficult that might be.
It is argued that Jesus was perfect, sinless (though this is never stated in Jesus' story), he was never wrong and never did anything wrong. The difficulty with having made up our minds first and then trying to explain away anything that doesn't fit - when we say 'Jesus didn't really mean that' - is that we miss out on engaging with Jesus as a fully-rounded personality. He was difficult, tetchy, angry, even rude, like anyone else.
Jesus did not want to meet this woman, he was on retreat. He uses a casual racist slur to persuade her to stop bothering him, telling her that she is unclean, outside, unwelcome. She was not part of his target audience. But, like the best characters, she has something to say, something new, and the same old script is not going to work. She has what he most sought, often lacking amongst his own people, even his closest followers - faith. She apparently has no malice, but must be speaking with a twinkle in her eye - 'yes we are dogs, but we are grateful for any crumbs we can get hold of'. He is changed by this encounter, he will no longer stand in her way, he has been challenged and gives her what she wants.
As so often happens in the story, he bumps into someone else along the way, while he is still in Gentile territory. There is no mention of 'dogs', but a detailed account of a healing. Jesus urges the inevitable crowds to say nothing. This crowd also departs from the script and shows appreciation for this foreign healer-prophet. Intolerance is over, returning to his own people, he is generous and compassionate (Mark 8:2).
- How do you cope with the tension between explaining and explaining away difficult verses in the Bible?
- What does it mean to you that Jesus had a fully-rounded human personality?