September 6, 2015 - Mark 7.24-37

“She’s a Dog”

Mark 7.24-37

September 6, 2015

 

24From 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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now 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.” 29Then 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.

31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

 

This is called a problematic scripture.  We call it problematic because if we read it, and pay attention to it, we usually end up saying, “Um, I think we have a problem here.”  Did any of you catch what might be considered problematic?  Did it get you, or did you do like most people do and you just kept on reading without thinking about it?  Did you notice it?

Oh, to be sure there is a lot going on in this scripture.  We have a miraculous healing and a demon being cast out.  Yes, we surely do.  And many sermons have been preached about those.  They are incredibly important in that they point to who Jesus is as the Son of God, able to heal and cast out demons.  Amen.

But that is not the problem. 

If you weren’t paying real close attention here, you might have missed it.  Jesus says something that frankly, just doesn’t sound like how we expect Jesus to sound.  The woman comes in and asks him to free her daughter from the demon, and Jesus responds by…calling her a dog.

He did.  And I KNOW that Jesus wasn’t cruel to women or a bully to anyone.  SO HOW and WHY does Jesus do this?

You don’t call a woman a dog.  You just don’t do it.

Perhaps if you are a “thug rapper” you might constantly insult women by calling them a horrid name that is used in canine circles.  But then again, if you are a “thug” rapper (their words, not mine) then you really don’t care about treating anyone with respect, do you?

Sometimes men might do it when women aren’t supposed to be listening, but it’s still rude.  It might be used for comic effect.  On one episode of the Andy Griffith show, Andy Taylor and Barney Fife went to a social for bachelors and single ladies.  Barney started the conversation after looking around the room.

“Dogs, Andy.  They’re all dogs.”

Andy scolded, “Now, Barney.”

“Andy, if you flew a quail through this room every woman in it would stand up and point.”[1]

Now Barney Fife can get away with it because he is clueless and that’s what we expect from him.  Andy could have never said that, but Barney can.  Thug rappers get away with it, because they try to perpetuate the foulest reputation possible.  We have lower expectations of Barney Fife and rappers.

So what do we do when we read the seventh chapter of Mark and we hear Jesus call the Syrophoeneican woman a dog?

You might have missed it if you did not listen to or read the scripture very carefully.  Hear it again, Mark 7, verses 26 and 27:  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.”[2]

He’s using a metaphor.  It is actually a “catch phrase” of the day among the Jews, kind of like “Show me the money,” or “It takes one to know one.”  The food is the work of the Lord, in this case, Jesus.  The children are the Hebrew children of God.  From the Jews perspective, the children must be fed first.  The gentiles are the dogs.  A “dog” was a favorite insult, because dogs were unclean, mangy scavenger animals.  

What do you do with this?  Was it an insult?  Was it a harsh rebuke?  Did she catch Jesus on a bad day?  What?  We cannot dismiss it or try to explain it away, or make an excuse for Jesus.  Jesus needs no preacher to make excuses for anything he has ever said or will ever say.  I have heard some preachers mention that the word used is the diminutive form of “dog,” which is true, but this means nothing since there is no affection in the word at all in Hebrew.  Jesus said what he did for a reason.

Was it a test?  Not so much for the woman as it was a whopper of a challenge to anyone in earshot.  She already proved her mettle, since she was a) a gentile and b) a woman and c) had to have been mad-dog determined to even get to see Jesus.  This was a test, but for everyone but the woman.

Everyone else there was a student that day.  When Jesus said what he did, I can see in my mind the heads of the disciples nodding in agreement.  “Of course.  This message is meant first for the Hebrews, then the Gentiles.”  It was the prevailing sentiment of the day.  Gentiles are dogs. They are not like us.  I have known a few that were decent folk for the most part, but the majority of them are no good, not to be trusted and not the right kind of people to associate with us.

The woman is not rattled.  In fact, she brings back the exact answer Jesus wanted.  It’s a beauty, and she got a triple word score for it: …She answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”[3]  Wow.  She’s good.  She is not angry.  She is clearly very clever.  She knows that she is not Jewish, and she is used to the look she gets from them.  If hearing that slur one more time might get her closer to getting her daughter made whole again, then she’d do it a hundred times.

Jesus gives the woman what she is asking for – to release her daughter from the hold of a demon. 

You must admire this woman.  Even though she knows she is not a dog, and cannot be compared to one, she is willing to submit to the role of one if it means she can get some crumbs from the table.  Perhaps it is the dogs that truly know what the bread is worth.

The dogs are the first to go hungry.

The dogs know what a tight belly is like.

The dogs are the ones that can really appreciate what comes from the hand of the master.

The children are well taken care of.  They are privileged.  The children of the master have never had a tight belly.  They’ve never been without food.  They could almost be called spoiled.

As I reflect on this, I find myself sitting in the chair at the table filling the role of spoiled child.  I have lived all my life in a place where there is religious liberty to worship God.  My church is out in the open for all to see and freely join.  I have never been oppressed as a member of a minority, or denied opportunity because of my faith, or deprived of an equal share of anything, or lacked anything in my life because there were always enough financial resources to provide for my needs. 

What Jesus did was to allow this woman to tear down all of the misconceptions and prejudices that the disciples had of her.  He allowed her to do it.  Jesus, by using that catch phrase that many of them agreed with and thought to be perfectly appropriate, completely took away their ability to ever use it again.  Jesus shows that these walls that separate them are false.  Not only that, but they are flimsy when faced with the power of the gospel.

The people healed by Jesus in verses 31-37 cannot keep silent about his ability and willingness to heal them.  Even though he tells them to keep quiet, they tell everyone within earshot.  Both this woman and the crowd that is healed are driven by a real urgency.  They want to get to Jesus, to tell their world about Jesus.  He is trying to hide and be alone, but they seek him out.  There is urgency here.  There is real urgency in these people.  I wish we all had that urgency.

As a church we are coming to an important new beginning (hopefully) in our life as a church.  But while we are focusing on our new beginning, let us not forget that we only get so many “new starts” at things in our lives.  We only have one go around in this life here on earth.  This could be our last dance.  We are under pressure to do what must be done so that the people that do not have the gospel can find it.  We do not have time to waste allowing walls and boundaries to separate us from each other, to hold us back from becoming the magnificent witness God intends us to be, and to keep us from reaching those people that need Jesus more than we ever knew we needed Jesus.  We are under serious pressure to get the gospel to those who have some wall in their way.  A songwriter wrote:

…and love dares you to care for
the people on the edge of the night
and love dares you to change our way of
caring about ourselves.
This is our last dance.
This is ourselves
under pressure[4]

And someday, maybe today, this Sunday, there are folk here who are here in church with Jesus because they need a miracle in the worst sort of way. They may not have all of our answers, know all that we know, but today's Gospel suggests that they are close to the heart of Jesus. Their presence here is a reminder of the seriousness, the resourcefulness, the riskiness of the love of Jesus.

The woman said, Lord, never mind about the puppies, or the fact that I am a heathen. My daughter is sick, help. And Jesus said this is the beginning place, this is why I have come into the world. It may not be the end of a journey with Jesus; it may be where the journey begins.  What about your journey?

 

[1] The Andy Griffith Show, Desilu Productions, year and writer unknown.

[2]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[3]The New Revised Standard Version, (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers) 1989.

[4] Bowie, David and Queen; Under Pressure, recorded by David Bowie and Queen.

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