Jesus Grew Too

In Mark 7:24-30, as in Matthew 15:21-28, a woman comes to Jesus for help. Her little daughter is in desperate need. At first, the gentleness of Jesus is blocked by an assumption from the worldview he had grown up with. As Mark tells the story,

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.

NOTE: For a SUPERB commentary on Matthew's version of this gospel story, see The Rev. Dr. Lance Pape's reflections in Connections: A Lectionary Commentary, Year A, Volume 3, 2020, pages 242-244. The Rev. Dr. Pape is professor of homiletics at Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth, Texas.
PREACH IT, Professor Pape!!!

And now, back to Mark's version: At first, Jesus explains to this woman that there are two categories, the children of God—his God, that is, and… the dogs. He othered her. He rejected her. He treated her as if she were sub-human.

Not because he was a cold-hearted person, but because he thought… he just assumed, he just kind of “knew” that God would care most of all about his own kind, people of his own religion and ethnicity. He was Jewish, she was Syrophoenician, and that was that.

But it turned out that God had a different idea. God had a bigger idea. God had a more loving idea in mind.

So in this gospel story, God speaks through the rejected woman. And God invites Jesus to think again.

The good news of this story is that Jesus noticed God was speaking to him. Jesus heard God reaching out to him through this woman and her little daughter. Jesus understood that God was calling him into a more expansive and loving awareness. And his heart opened up. All of a sudden Jesus was able to respond to this woman as a person, even as a wise and witty teacher. He treated her as if she were his own kin, which in God’s eyes, she was.

And we see how one moment of healing opens the way for another.

Jesus was healed, and then the woman’s little daughter was healed.

Jesus went free, and then, in the same moment, the little girl went free.

We too sometimes find that our love is hindered by the assumptions we grew up with. We too tend to think that God probably approves of the familiar categories by which we learned to make sense of the world.

But, like Jesus, we can be ready to think in new ways about our lives, about our world, and about God.

As you may know, The New Yorker magazine has an ongoing caption contest on the back page. A cartoonist draws a sketch, and then readers from all over the world send in possible captions, and readers vote. One of my favorites is the the winning caption written by Shelly Goldstein from Santa Monica, California.

In the cartoon, we see God reclining on a cloud, with a long flowing white beard, of course, and the usual gown. And next to God, a psychiatrist is seated, looking earnest with his angel wings and his robe and his halo and his eyeglasses.

And this psychiatrist is looking studiously down at his spiral notebook and scribbling with his pen, and he’s saying to God, “When did you first realize that you were really a woman?”


The cartoon and winning caption are in the August 31, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.