Theme – Sacred Conversations – Jesus Confronted & Corrected?
Scripture – Mark 7:28 - “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Today's story is perhaps one of the most puzzling, if not troubling of the stories of Jesus. We are accustomed to the warm and affirming welcome that Jesus offers to every outsider he comes in contact with, Samaritan, Roman, diseased, leprous, differently abled, possessed. All experience a compassionate presence in Jesus. Except the woman in this story. This Syro-Phoenician woman (Greek, in other words, not Jewish) comes to Jesus pleading for him to intercede in her daughters suffering. She falls at Jesus' feet and begs we are told. Her location is important. Mark, the gospel writer repeatedly tells us that she is an outsider. But he also repeatedly tells us that she is so accustomed to being 'down,' that she readily falls at Jesus' feet. And we would expect Jesus to reverse her situation (and that of her daughter), bring them in and raising them up. But, he doesn't.
Not only does Jesus NOT bring her in or raise her up, but he appears, initially, to reinforce her status as less worthy other. He engages a metaphor for his life's mission which is to feed the children. He pressed the metaphor to say that if he were to help her, he would be wasting good bread meant for the children on a dog. Jesus calls her a dog. It's shocking! It hardly seems like the Jesus the rest of the gospels reveals to us. Perhaps it helps if we remember that Mark's Jesus is very human. What this story reveals is the process by which Jesus discovers (God reveals to Jesus) what his mission is. His mission is to welcome all humanity into the Reign of God and to create wholesome community that reflects God's kingdom. But in order for Jesus to come to this realization, he must be confronted by the blind-spot in his world-view. He has failed to consider the suffering of those not Jewish, not his own people.
As unsettling as this story is it still contains good news. Its just discomforting news. When we are confronted by the truth that we have not realized or accepted, by our unconscious dismissal or degrading of others, it hurts. Holy Conversations are not pain free. Nor are they immediately joyful. Jesus appears to immediately hear the word of God for him through this woman's confrontation. We may be less receptive and grow defensive or angry. Jesus sets for us an example. To listen to the experience unlike our own. To listen to the story that does not fit into our already firmly held opinions, beliefs and worldviews. To listen for these challenging conversations may indeed mean listening to the unsettling voice of God calling us to grow and change. But it also may reveal a meaning and purpose for our lives that we would not realize otherwise as it does for Jesus. While we should not design with malice our conversations to be shaming for the purposes of vengeance, this story also reveals that sometimes conversations must confront injustice and sin which can be painful in order to be holy.
Prayer - Help me today Lord as I reflect upon unsettling conversations of the past and anticipate them in my future, to trust in your love and grace to guide me. Teach me humility so that I can admit when I have been wrong, that I have more to learn, and have sometimes reached the wrong conclusions. Strengthen me for this soul stretching work with the knowledge that we are always growing and encourage me with the assurance that you are the one shaping me, sometimes through challenge.