Jesus traveled abroad. We usually think of his ministry in a Jewish context. Mark’s gospel tells of Jesus visiting what we now call Lebanon and then going into the region of the Ten Cities, semi-autonomous city-states influenced by Roman and Greek culture. First-century Jews lumped together all non-Jews, Gentiles, as foreigners, unclean and to be avoided. If there is one consistent sin in human history, a sin portrayed very early on in the Bible with the story of the Tower of Babel, it is xenophobia, as present today as at any other stage in history.
These two miracles stand out. Jesus makes whole people who were regarded as inferior. Note the connection in the first miracle between a Gentile and a dog. We think of dogs as loved pets, almost family members. In Jesus’ time, dogs were regarded as vermin. The Arab woman was so desperate that she invaded Jesus’ space while he ate with his friends, knelt, and begged Jesus to heal her daughter. She abased herself, took on the posture of a begging dog hanging around a table at mealtime. Seizing on that, Jesus uses the metaphor to question the faith of this person so desperate that she braved rejection. Jesus used her answer, witty and brave, to teach his disciples a lesson. He offered a glimpse of a reality only fully realized when the Risen Lord challenges his followers to take the good news into all the world.
In the Decapolis, the Ten Cities, Jesus encounters another Gentile in need. As in the healing of the Arab woman’s daughter, Jesus heals in private. A deaf man hears and speaks for the first time. Although Jesus asks the man to tell no one, the healed man bursts with joy and shouts aloud to all who will listen: “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
Perhaps our insularity is of a different sort. We have faith and we gather in church with others who share our faith. Yes, we put a welcome sign outside the building and advertise in the local paper, but we assume that other people in what we view as our secular life would not fit in, would not be interested in the culture of our “holy club.”
Grant us, O Lord, to trust in you with all our hearts; for, as you always resist the proud who confide in their own strength, so you never forsake those who make their boast of your mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Look It Up
Read Mark 7:24-37.
Think About It
How many people do we neglect, even when they are hurting, because they are not Episcopalians?