By Elizabeth Baumann
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, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 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.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So 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. 32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
A lot of people have struggled with the gospel lesson we have today. Jesus at first ignores the Syrophoenician woman, then calls her a dog. Without wishing to dismiss anyone’s discomfort, I have to confess I don’t share it.
We are consistently told in the gospels that Jesus sees people’s hearts. He gives them exactly what they need, says what they need to hear. Why should we think this woman is any different?
Notice the bookends on the story. Jesus seems to travel all the way to Tyre and back just for this one woman to find him. He goes out of his way to come within her reach. Is it too much to imagine that the comparatively little way she comes to meet him is just the distance she needs? And once we’ve imagined that, it’s easy to imagine that the moments he appears to ignore her are also space she needs, and a chance for her faith to fully express itself in perseverance.
What Jesus says to her is the very thing that allows her to state her faith so well. With her one line about dogs eating crumbs, she’s able to verbalize both her explicit belief in Jesus and her humility. It’s one of the most memorable lines of the gospels. We don’t know her name, but we perfectly know her faith — and her wit — because Jesus gives her the prompt he does. Anyone who’s known the agony of not being able to express quite what we need to, or the triumph of being able to say exactly what we mean — with the resulting feelings of being known or unknown — should be able to appreciate the way Jesus sets this woman up to shine. And sometimes God will treat us the same way: not, perhaps, in the way we want, but giving us the very thing we need for faith.
Elizabeth Baumann is a seminary graduate, a priest’s wife, and the mother of two small daughters. A transplant from the West Coast, she now lives in “the middle of nowhere” in the Midwest with too many cats.
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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer
Today we pray for:
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Baton Rouge, La.
The Diocese of Dhaka (Church of Bangladesh)