Today's Gospel reading contained the story of the Syrophoenecian woman (Mark 7:24-30), although the lectionary recommendation was Mark 7:31-37 which immediately follows the story.
"From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 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.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone."
This has been called one of those "difficult" passages. Difficult passages create issues, and even though "we are not an issue church," I think that they must be faced. I have heard the story interpreted in various ways. The last time we had a sermon on this, we heard how insulting the word "dog" would have been to the people of the day. But, there is an issue over the word translated as "dog." Later, I learned that some believe that the word might mean "little puppy" or "house dog." That seems to fit the context a better. A domestic dog would be the kind of animal that would be allowed under the master's table and not a street dog. When I questioned that sermon, you would have thought that I had stepped into the arena; there were so many downward directed thumbs shown.
Today, we had another issue raised as Mary Cat preached on Mark 7:24-37 and James 2:1-18. I thought she did a good job with the passage from James, but when she got to Mark, I started having issues.
My first issue came after the statement Mary Cat made that Jesus was given a lesson by the Syrophoenecian woman. I am wondering, in order for this to be true, Jesus would have had His fully human part turned on, and His fully God part turned off. This leads to the assumption that the fully human aspect of Jesus was prejudiced and needed to learn a lesson. The problem I am getting into is the issue of Christ as being without sin. He can't be prejudiced against this woman and be without sin can He?
The next issue I had with this sermon was the statement that Jesus had His ears opened by the woman. Recall the later part of today's readings from Mark 7:32-35,
They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.
Did the woman heal Jesus? This is not a road that I want to go down. It seems to lead to the conclusion that not only does God have a lot to learn from us, but that God is also in need of our healing powers. This would be a convenient God, one who could be more easily molded to fit my desires.
Needless to say, I don't think this is where the Gospel wants us to go. Unfortunately, the sermon might take some there. Hopefully, susceptible ears remained unopened.