By Sarah Cornwell
A Reading from the Gospel of Mark 7:24-37
24 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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He 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.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus appears to be a little cranky. He wanted to be left alone and seems to rebuff a distraught woman with a humiliating slight. The woman then humbly replies, appearing to shame Jesus into changing his mind, perhaps because he is embarrassed that he lost his cool. It’s a fascinating episode in Jesus’ earthly life and worth digging deeper to see if that surface level interpretation holds up under closer reading.
What about this dog comment? Initially, it may seem sexist or xenophobic, but these characteristics don’t jive well with Jesus as a whole. This is the same Lord, after all, who scandalously included women in his inner circle, women who later were the first to witness the miracle of his resurrection. This is the same Lord who held up the example of the Good Samaritan — a foreigner — as the ultimate example of what it means to love thy neighbor, and whose life, death, and resurrection extended God’s chosen people to include Gentiles.
No, something else must be going on. The woman in great faith continues to seek after the Lord, satisfied with even a crumb from the Communion table, knowing that would be enough to provide life, to sustain. Jesus is not cranky or prejudiced against the woman, he is giving her time to humble herself. We are that woman, the dogs of God’s chosen people. Are we willing to crawl to Jesus on our hands and knees seeking out the crumbs, confident that even they sustain more than the sumptuousness the world has to offer? Or would we rather storm off offended, preferring to cling to our overinflated sense of self-worth? Each of us has a will, and like the woman we may freely choose our response. May we all follow this good woman’s example and choose the way of humility, that is, the way of the cross.
Sarah Cornwell is a laywoman, ballet teacher, and an associate of the Eastern Province of the Community of St. Mary. She and her husband have six children and they live in the Hudson Valley north of New York City.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
The Diocese of All Saints Cathedral (Kenya)
Church of the Incarnation, Dallas, Texas