The bark of a Dog that changed everything!
I’m a big proponent of individual responsibility. I tell my kids and self often, “It’s not what happens to you in life that matters, it’s all how you react.”
There are some interesting reactions going on in our past Sunday scripture passage, Mark 7:24-31. This passage is often called Jesus interaction with the Syrophoenician Woman.
Mark 7:24-31 (NRSV)
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. 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.” 29 Then 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.
It’s not an easy dialogue to follow, let alone understand, what do dogs have to do with Jesus’ answer or for that matter what crumbs are being fed to children? I marvel at Jesus and the unnamed Syrophoenician woman’s reaction. Their reactions speak volumes of maturity, civility, and healthy responses to painful realities.
It starts with understanding that Jesus uses a generic insult by using the word, “Dogs”. This insult was directed at non-Jewish people, particularly this woman and her sick daughter. Dogs were considered shameless and unclean. In using the term Dogs, Jesus let her know his mentality toward non-Jewish people. A reality reflected in his culture of the day.
Geography matters in this story! If you look at an ancient map of Israel in Jesus’ day, Tyre is a port city well north of Galilee, outside of the “Promised Land”. Jesus is in foreign territory. This Greek or Gentile woman is described as being Syrophoenician in origin. Syria and Phoencia are also north of the “Promise Land”, in an area that would be considered unclean. Jesus is in unclean land with unclean people. At least according to his culture.
Jesus’ use of the slang, “Dogs” for people who do not live in the “Promise land”, would have been culturally conditioned. Some conservative commentators suggest Jesus uses this insult to illicit faith….I have a problem with that. Let’s allow Jesus to be human, brought up in a culture that looked down on those who were different. Have things changed????? REALLY. I know I have to fight those impulses toward those who are different from me. Foreigners…..I notice difference in clothing, language, wealth, manners as well as skin color. I don’t like that, but it is who I am.
What’s amazing is the woman’s REACTION after being called a Dog. After having her sick daughter called a dog! She takes on the slur! She didn’t spit at him or curse him, she used her neo-cortex and his language to make her point! She reacted with civility and maturity. “Sir, even dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”
The Children are Jesus’ kind, those people who live in the “Promise Land”. Jesus is the food, his words, his teachings, his healing…he is the bread of life.
She is willing to recognize who the children are, what the food is, and that she might be considered a dog…but she will still take left overs, crumbs, anything for the love and healing of her daughter. WHAT A WAY TO REACT TO SUCH AN INSULT.
Jesus to his credit reacts well too, put in his place in a foreign land, by a foreign woman! He uses his neo-cortex and realizes she is right. All people deserve spiritual nourishment regardless of race, sex, religion, language or neighborhood. She was right. Jesus realized that and REACTED WELL. Her daughter was healed.
Then Jesus continued his new found understanding that his mission and words, his healing and teachings were for all people in all lands and left this unclean place, Tyre, and traveled to an new unclean place east of the “Promise Land”, the region of the Decapolis. (Verse 31) This unclean dog’s bark changed everything. In the Gospel of Mark this story presents a seismic shift as Jesus then continues his new expanded mission to new wild places, with wild people, to do wild things. In the wild place of the Decapolis.
This coming Sunday Jesus challenges his disciples to “Follow Me”. Will you do that? Follow Jesus to foreign lands, risk engaging people who are not your “Kind” and learning from them! Will you remove yourself from your comfortable TV news that confirms your believe because of the slant of the reporting? Will you remove yourself from email groups and face book friends that make enemies out of the “Other Side”? Our world needs followers of Jesus in order to embrace new ideas in wild places from wild people which might create a little wildness in us.
It’s amazing that a bark from a dog changed everything for Jesus!