Dog September 10, 2012

by Terry Baeder
Director of Field Education

   24 From there Jesus set out for the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house there where he didn't think he would be found, but he couldn't escape notice. 25 He was barely inside when a woman who had a disturbed daughter heard where he was. She came and knelt at his feet, 26 begging for help. The woman was Greek, Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked him to cure her daughter.

   27 He said, "Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there's any left over, the dogs get it."

   28 She said, "Of course, Master. But don't dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?"

   29 Jesus was impressed. "You're right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone." 30 She went home and found her daughter relaxed on the bed, the torment gone for good.

   31 Then he left the region of Tyre, went through Sidon back to Galilee Lake and over to the district of the Ten Towns. 32 Some people brought a man who could neither hear nor speak and asked Jesus to lay a healing hand on him. 33 He took the man off by himself, put his fingers in the man's ears and some spit on the man's tongue. 34 Then Jesus looked up in prayer, groaned mightily, and commanded, "Ephphatha!—Open up!" 35 And it happened. The man's hearing was clear and his speech plain—just like that.

   36 Jesus urged them to keep it quiet, but they talked it up all the more, 37 beside themselves with excitement. "He's done it all and done it well. He gives hearing to the deaf, speech to the speechless." 

Last week President Neiman said that the Gospel lesson was a tough way to start the academic year.
Well this week things don’t get much better.
So… was anyone else disturbed by Jesus calling this woman a “dog”?
Ouch! Just a little harsh.
It seems that lots of scholars have struggled with Jesus’ words.
Even LSTC’s own Dr. David Rhoads wrestled with it.
Now, He helps us to understand that the Greek implies a “little dog” a puppy,
It’s a PUN, a play off of the woman’s “little daughter.”
David also helps us to understand that Mark is using a literary form called the “riddle:”
Jesus’ quirky question, which sets up this woman’s astonishing answer.
But… even if I can understand the special use of these words, the pun …and this unique literary form;
even when I get it that Mark is using this riddle…
to move us to a deeper, more profound theological insight
about the abundance of God’s grace,
which reaches across any boundary or human construct.
Even with all of that… I am still left with those …very harsh words.
If you were to turn that dialog in as a verbatim, your CPE supervisor would scorch you.
And… I keep hearing Dr. Thomas reminding us that… our words are powerful;
not only do they define who we are, but they shape who we will be;
and these are harsh, rejecting words!

And yet, …here’s the interesting thing.
Despite the harshness of Jesus’ words, …there is something engaging here;
something I find very fascinating, …even attractive – It is Jesus’ humanity
it’s …his vulnerability. Hunh? What you talkin’ bout Preacher?

Ok, let’s step back for a second… Context… is always important. …Always.
Whether we’re talking about exegesis or understanding human dynamics.
And the context is important here:
In last week’s Gospel lesson, which immediately precedes our text,
Jesus and the disciples are confronted by the religious leaders of their day.
The disciples were caught with their hands in the cookie jar,
AND their hands were dirty!!! (well, “impure” to be precise.)

It was a moment filled with tension, but it became… a marvelous “Teaching Moments.”

  • It’s not what you put into your mouth that defiles you, …it’s what comes out…
  • And, let’s not confuse human tradition with God’s covenant.

Now…  I don’t know if it was the drain of energy from defend his disciples,
or all the energy it took to deal with the religious leaders… who kept “dogging” him,
…but our text tells us that Jesus had to get out of town (actually out of the country!)
The Introvert in Jesus needed some privacy.
“He entered a private home …and didn’t want anyone to know he was there.”
See… This is the Jesus that becomes engaging; …the Jesus who pulls me in.
He’s tired, beaten down by the crowds, overwhelmed by the opposition;
…he simply needs a retreat.
And right at that moment… this woman… this Syrophoenician woman…
throws herself at his feet.

So, let me break into the story for a moment …to offer a …slightly different frame for it.
Last Friday, for our annual fall conference, the faculty took a field trip.
It was an “immersion” into this incredible city.
…an immersion into the “laboratory” that forms the context
for our theological endeavor.
At the beginning of the day, Dr. Shanta Premawhardana, the Director of SCUPE,
warned us that immersions into the real-life context of ministry
are always… “messy.”
As we met with pastors and lay leaders and people in the community,
our theology …and our emotions were challenged,
and pushed …and pulled in every direction.
By the end of the day, one of the faculty members said,
“I’m just overwhelmed; I can hardly process it all!”
Immersion into life does that.

So… think about immersion as the frame for our text:
Jesus has just stepped out of a faculty meeting …or a heavy duty class in systematic theology,
where he has pushed the boundaries.
He is emotionally and mentally exhausted …as he crosses yet… one more boundary;
this time, it’s a political boundary.
Suddenly he is immersed… immersed into the reality of a relentless woman.
And here… is Jesus’ humanity, full bore:
His… vulnerability comes face to face with this woman’s vulnerability.
He has given every ounce of his being to his disciples;
he is spent by the ungrateful religious leaders, …and he has nothing more to give.
He has no bread… to share with the dogs.

Ok. But… we can’t stop there. There is another frame we need to set around this passage.
It is the woman.  (BTW: have you noticed how Mark keeps using strong women
to shape the good news?)

Clearly… this woman is desperate. She would do anything for her tormented daughter,
As the parent of a child who went through the torment of cancer treatment,
I think I know a little of what she was feeling.
She was so desperate, that she was willing to go …to this foreigner,
…to this undocumented itinerant …because… she saw something in him.
It was something the religious leaders couldn’t see;
And Mark keeps reminding us… that even the disciples don’t get it.
She saw something that others did not see: …it wasn’t just hope.
She saw …the image of God, …the Messiah.
This woman saw beyond an undocumented itinerant …who was looking for sanctuary.
Clearly, she could not see the cross (…which you and I get to see);
she certainly couldn’t know the resurrection as we do.
But… she saw “the Messiah!”

About 5 years ago, prior to a very contentious vote at the ELCA assembly,
Presiding Bishop Hanson offered a wonderful word of wisdom.
“As much as we concentrate on the words spoken here…, when all is said and done,
the impact of our work …may depend most …upon our feet.”
Then, …drawing a reference to Peter walking on the water, he continued:
“For those marked with the cross of Christ, …walking on water is optional.
Plunging into the troubled waters of suffering and despair …is not!
For there …is where we may glimpse what God is doing,
participating in our very being, bringing healing, life
and salvation… in ways we can hardly imagine.”

God give us the courage and the insight of this Syrophoenician woman,
…to plunge headlong into the waters.




Mark 7:24-37

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