Sunday, September 06, 2009

Did Jesus Get His Ears Opened?

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.


  1. Rubashov10:15 AM

    Well, yes, the "woman teaches god" story seems silly, but I don't think it's appropriate to just dismiss it. IMHO, If we accept that Jesus became "man"--that imperfect being--it makes sense to say that Jesus's understanding/appreciation of God's plan grew over time. Or to say that as he approached the climax of his ministry, he put aside those human weaknesses he had been born with.

    I read your post as insisting that Jesus was perfect (which is different from sinless) from birth, but (again, IMHO) that trivializes his incarnation, making it so he "resembled" man, not "became" man.

    Anyway, I do enjoy reading your commentaries on the weekly lessons.

  2. Rubashov,

    As I said, it is a difficult story because raises the issue one person/two natures.

    One question: Is this too deep a subject for a Sunday sermon?

  3. There is a Jewish tradition (not universal, but at least in some Rabbinic schools) that a would-be convert should be refused three times to test his/her resolve.

    If you compare Matthew's account (15:21ff) of this event, you see Jesus use exactly this method... first, he ignores the woman, then he and the disciples talk about her as though she's not right there, and then he says the "dog" thing.

    In this exchange, Jesus is the Word (Logos) of God, expressing the divine will through very human form. The woman responds in faith and, like several other Gentiles in the Gospels, carries a witness to Jesus' power that will be waiting when the post-Pentecost church comes to proclaim his resurrection and preach salvation in his name.

  4. The problem is people to not understand the story. They see Jesus as a totally separate being from God. They see him as human only.

    Yet Jesus is God. In the King James Version retold in Matthew, the woman is called a "Canaanite." They were evil. They sacrificed their children to their gods. God decreed they should be destroyed for their wickedness.

    Jesus reminds the woman of that judgment, but she humbles herself, acknowledges Him and seeks His mercy, which he bestows.

    Contrast this woman with the Pharisees whom he rebukes earlier in the Matthew 15.

    The fact is none of us are worthy. We are all "dogs," but for the grace and mercy of God through Christ.


  5. Regarding that troublesome word prejudice, I don't think here Jesus shows prejudice but judgment. Mr. Sherman points out that the Canaanites had practiced child-sacrificed; this lady and her daughter lived near Sidon, the home of Jezebel. She had the audacity to call Him "Son of David," and I think He wanted to put her faith to the test in front of His disciples (we forget that they were still learning what real faith looks like).

    1 Corinthians 5:1-5 and 2 Timothy 2:16-18 are examples of passages that teach us the need for discrimination -- it is the faith of on-lookers (or hearers) that is at stake.

  6. Anonymous8:54 PM

    A couple of further different perspectives are available, in addition to R Sherman and Chuck and Tim's offerings.

    Unfortunately, it is the use of the phrases "opened Jesus' eyes", etc., in Sunday sermons that betray making use of someone else's work. I don't have time to follow the trail on these phrases, but like "follow the money" one can "follow the phrases" back to whomever got them started. Once there, one should not be surprised by the names of authors and academics revealed.

    One further perspective of the jse of these healing stories together in the Gospel reading is this:
    there is no physical (etc) condition that Jesus cannot heal; and there is no one from any social "condition" who cannot receive Jesus' healing.
    So whatever you think you have that cannot be healed or whomever you think you are that Jesus can't minister, come to Jesus.

    Second, considering the other lessons (I used the RCL lections with Isaiah), not only is providing physical provision a labor, so also is Kingdom ministry a labor. Responding to such labor with distancing, and selfishness, survival tactics, is the easiest response from the flesh. We must choose often the labor of doing things right, and see before us the benefit of doing such, to see bubbling springs from burning sands.
    So Jesus, also faced with the human limitations of his incarnation comes out of retreat and off mission track to bring an exorcism, and, still weary, with a deep sigh brings blessed healing.
    Far above our own pay grade in the results and fruit of power ministry, Jesus still must, and indeed chooses to, labor on.
    Choose the Way of Holiness with Jesus; choose to Labor on.