‘Right’ from the start- Thursday, 5th week in ordinary time- Mark 7: 24-30
Everything seems wrong about this narration. Jesus has left Galilee alone (or so it seems). He enters a house in Tyre, a Gentile region and He is quite probably residing in a Gentile home. He encounters and dialogues with a woman, who at that time was most certainly considered the wrong gender for a self-respecting Rabbi to be seen with. She is of the wrong race and wrong religion and has traditionally been the enemies of the Jews and finally she has a daughter who is possessed. For any Jew, just about everything was wrong and yet in God’s eyes just about everything was right.
You must remember that the Gospels are not biographies of Jesus but a post-resurrection faith narrative. The principal purpose of the Gospel is not to tell us what Jesus did and where he went but to give us an understanding of the theology and rational behind the mind of the Gospel writer in presenting the historical Jesus.
St Mark is writing to Gentile Christians in about the year 67AD. This was a community that was made to feel ostracised by the Jews and their Jewish Christians brothers who looked at the Gentiles Christians like they were some lower life form who ought to have fewer privileges.
It was a known fact that a Jew would not walk into Gentile territory not only for the fact of being defiled but also because they would be attacked. Jesus walks in alone and it is clearly Mark’s agenda to show that Jesus’ ministry was meant to include all. Yet astonishingly, the kind and compassionate Jesus seems to be rude and insulting. Was he play-acting in order to test the woman’s faith as some interpreters surmise? After all it was well known that the Gentiles were referred contemptuously by the Jews as ‘dogs’ and Jesus seems to use the same analogy.
St Mark seems to hold a twist in this narrative. His presentation of this and two more miracles is to make a point that Jesus came not only for the Jews but for all. Such words would have brought great consolation to his hearers who were facing rejection. The Syro-Phonecian woman kicks start a series of such encounters with her bold but respectful interaction with Jesus. She who finds herself insulted and turned down, does not give up and continues to debate Jesus until she has changed the mind of Jesus in relenting to her demands.
In most of the Gospel narratives, Jesus, on seeing the persons faith accedes to their request for a healing; not in this case. The Gospel does not tell us that she had faith in Jesus. It is the repartee that seems to win Jesus heart for the He says to her, “for saying that, you may go- the demon has left your daughter.”
St Mark presents her as the woman who won over the Lord and If Jesus accepted her with or without the question of her faith in Him, then so should the Jews and the Jewish Christians accept the Gentiles. Give it a thought; perhaps this interaction between Jesus and this very feisty Gentile woman prompted Jesus to work more miracles in Gentile territory. Perhaps it was a woman who ‘changed’ the mind of Jesus for He now went out and cured a man who could not hear and could barely speak and then then fed 4000 people in Gentile territory.
But for now, it was a woman, who was traditionally considered to be all wrong, who made it all right.
Fr Warner D’Souza