SUNDAY’S READINGS | September 5, 2021

Prov. 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 or Isa. 35:4-7a
Ps. 125 or Ps. 146

James 2:1-10, [11-13], 14-17
Mark 7:24-37

Jesus sets off into Gentile territory, first to the region of Tyre, northwest of Galilee, and then further north to Sidon. In both places, he performs miraculous healings, demonstrating that his mission extends to a universal church, to Jews and Gentiles alike. God called Abraham and Abraham’s descendants to be a blessing to all nations. So the Savior of the Jews would be the Savior of the world. This universal hope did not, however, overturn a special covenant with the Jewish people. Even St. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jews first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16).

In one of the strangest passages in the New Testament, a Syrophoenician woman appears to push a resistant Jesus, pressing him to extend his healing power beyond the Jewish people. She has heard about him. She comes to him, bows down at his feet, and pleads for her sick little daughter. Jesus seems to object. “Let the children — the Jews — be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). With an agile and quick wit, the woman responds, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28). “Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go — the demon has left your daughter’” (Mark 7:29). “For saying that,” that is, for her boldness, for her importunity, for her pleading, Jesus rewards her.

Jesus is the healer, but in this story, the woman is a secondary hero. She draws out of Jesus the full scope of his saving mission, after which there are no limits to its reach. Having healed the woman’s daughter, Jesus, still in Gentile territory, heals a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech. Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears, touches his tongue, and cries out, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” Indeed, the grace and healing of Christ are opened in these stories to every family, language, people, and nation.

What is Jesus doing today for Jews and Gentiles? He is doing what he has done. He liberates a little girl from oppression and so calls everyone to freedom. He opens our ears and unties our tongues so that we hear about the mighty acts of God and praise him with our whole being (Ps. 146). He gives sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, and strength to the lame (Isa. 35:5-6). He gives food to the hungry, sets prisoners free, lifts up those who are bowed down, cares for the stranger, sustains orphans and widows. If something or someone or some action is good, true, beautiful, healing, and righteous — Jesus is at the center of it.

He comes to the regions where we live. We have heard about him. Do we go to him? Do we fall at his feet? Do we plead from the depth of our need? Do we trust that he will help even us, unworthy though we are? Are we bold to say, “Help me”? In some sense, all prayer is an acknowledgment of need, recognizing that our very being and sustenance come, moment by moment, from God. “Oh God, make speed to save us. O Lord, make haste to help us.” Be bold in the power of the Spirit to plead your cause.

For God is an ear of compassion.

Look It Up: Mark 7:26

Think About It: Jesus, who is Wisdom, is said to have grown in wisdom. Did the Syrophoenician woman teach Jesus how far he would stretch out his loving arms?