Holy Father, let this message be all that you want to say and none that I want to say. Lay your Holy Spirit on this place, open our hearts and minds to your Good News, and stay with us as we go into our own mission fields, wherever they may be. Amen
At first reading, the verse from Mark can be awkward, to say the least. Let’s face it, Jesus just sounds so rude. There is no getting around it. Here is a person who has been telling the temple authorities that they are too exclusive, they have too many rules on cleanliness and as a result they are excluding people from society. Jesus has been saying those on the outside, the tax collectors and sinners are welcome to the Lords table. And then this. Jesus is telling a woman that she is no better than the dogs. It is so cringeworthy and embarrassing it just has to be true. What Gospel writer in their right mind would include it if it wasn’t. So we need to accept this scene, wrestle with it and try to make sense of what Jesus was really saying and doing, of what Mark the gospel writer was saying, and of what God is saying to us today through this piece of scripture.
Let us take Jesus first. What we sometimes forget is that Jesus was a Jew. His image has been so anglicised and photoshopped over the years that it is easy to forget that. But we do need to remember that the word became flesh within the boundaries of a 1st Century Jewish nation. He spoke Aramaic, not English, and it was his custom to attend the local Synagogue (Mark 1:21, Luke 4:16), and he wore a cloak with tassels – traditional male Jewish attire (Matt 9:18-26)
This scene from Mark has Jesus outside of the influence of the temple authorities. He has made his way to Tyre. It is a gentile town. It seems that his fame has spread even to here, since as soon as her arrives, he is sought out by an anxious mother. This is Jesus outside of the borders. What follows makes more sense if we remember that Jesus was Jewish. However, the really shocking thing is that he heals the daughter anyway. It is shocking because this is a story that cuts to the very heart of the clean/unclean debate that was so prevalent at the time. In fact, the story sits towards the end of a chapter in Mark (Ch 7), where Jesus attempts to clarify what makes people clean or unclean. He has to use some very basic language with his disciples to get them to understand. He reminds them in no uncertain terms in vv 17-18, that what you eat goes in by the mouth and comes out when you use the toilet. The Greek word Mark used was “aphedron” which means latrine. Jesus was being just about as clear about this as it is possible to be. He was making the point that what goes in passes through and cannot be seen as a reason for making you unclean, a classification that really meant making someone unsuitable to be included in worship. It is other things that defile people, not genetics, or food or disease. These other things Jesus then lists according to Mark “sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”
In the 1st Century being deemed unclean meant that you were effectively shunned by a significant proportion of society. It was a big deal. Jesus was trying to cut through what he saw as nonsense, powerfully dangerous nonsense.
So let us take a look at Mark, he gives us this vignette. This story of Jesus in Gentile country, beyond the borders. First of all, he is in a Gentile country which is by very definition unclean. He is probably in a Gentile house – which would mean unclean, though Tyre admittedly is a mixed area so we can’t be sure about that. He is approached by a Greek, Syro-Phonecian woman. Double unclean. Greek means Gentile, which we already know is just plain unclean, Syro-Phonecian in 1st Century Rome actually equates to being possibly a prostitute. Just how unclean can this scenario get. As usual, the Gospel writers are painting with rich colours; we should really get the hint.
Jesus’ response initially is to quote tradition. He is Jewish after all, their faith is for those within their society, not to be shared with anyone and everyone, certainly not with the unclean. Her reply, (another example of the shocking way Jesus treats women for 1st Century norms – normally she wouldn’t have a voice), implicitly states that the rest of the world is still there, despite Jewish traditions.
So human tradition has no power here at all.
This enables us to see the outcome in Mark in a different light. Jesus is the word of God, Mark tells us in the very first verse that Jesus is the Son of God, that he is the Messiah, and so God’s command, in an unclean city, in an unclean house (probably), to an unclean woman is active and powerful in healing her daughter. In other words, Jesus makes clean, the unclean daughter (she was gentile anyway and demon possessed to boot), of an unclean Gentile prostitute. Nothing that is unclean cannot be made clean by the word of God.
This is the power of God’s word as opposed to Man’s.
For the 1st Century, this is really shocking. And I think you will agree with me, no longer rude at all. Actually, I think it remains shocking in the 21st Century.
What is God speaking to us today through this event?
How often do we rely on our own resources, ignoring what God has to offer? How often do we get to the end of the day without making time in the day to really listen to what God is trying to say to us?
In our Old Testament reading this morning, the Psalmist reminded us not to rely or put our trust in Princes or men for they cannot save. Only the LORD can truly save, The power of God’s word against the power of Man’s word. He is the one who sets free those who are stuck in ruts, who gives sight to those who are blind to what is happening in their lives and lifts up those who are dragged down by circumstance. He forgives our past and helps us reclaim our future.
This word of God reminds us to lift our eyes to the LORD, for he can do wonders can’t he? And will do wonders if we just let him.
So what shall I leave you with today?
I think this simple question.
Will you trust God, let him into your lives, and let him act.?
Let us Pray
Father forgive us that we so often forget to let you in, we keep the door shut and lock you out along with everyone else. Help us open our lives to you, fill us Father, with your Holy Spirit, open our eyes and our minds so that we may be ready to listen to your word, feel the power of your word, just like those he worked with and accept your personal healing within our lives.
In Jesus Name