In today’s Gospel we learn some troubling things about Mark’s Jesus.
But we also learn some wondrous things.
First of all, the Syrophoenician woman.
In the first century, Jewish law and practice forbade a man from speaking to a woman who was not his wife.
Over and over, Jesus breaks that rule. And today he speaks to a Gentile woman.
Though Jesus had traveled to Tyre—about as far north as you can go in Israel—on the Mediterranean Sea. He is trying to escape the turmoil his ministry has caused in Jerusalem and around Jerusalem.
Some of his followers want to proclaim him King and the Pharisees was to stop his ministry.
He enters a house trying to not let anyone know he was there, but the woman finds him.
She falls on her knees and begs Jesus to cast out the unclean spirit that is torturing her daughter.
Jesus’ answer is disturbing. “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
What an insult! He is calling the woman and her daughter ‘dogs’!
(We might understand his words better if we remember how Jews looked down on Gentiles. The Gentiles were ‘unclean’. If a Jew encountered a Gentile in his business or even on the street, the Jew would perform a ‘cleansing ritual’ to remove the uncleanliness they had been in the presence of.
That attitude continued in the earliest church—Jewish Christians considered Gentile Christians as beneath them. It was only the missionary travels of St. Paul that began to change that attitude.)
Interestingly, the woman does not rebuke Jesus’ words, but says, instead, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
So, in a wondrous moment, Jesus realizes how harsh he was being and says, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left you daughter.”
She went home and found her daughter healed.
Jesus can change his mind in this passage. That is good news indeed!
And he shows compassion to someone very different from himself.
If only we can have that compassion toward those who are different from us.
As we heard in James’ Epistle today, “MERCY TRIUMPHS OVER JUDGMENT.”
Have Mercy, my friends, have mercy.
Unable to escape recognition, Jesus returns toward Galilee.
Again, people know who he is and brings a man who was deaf and unable to speak.
Jesus takes the man aside, to hide his miracle from the crowds. Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears and spat and touched the man’s tongue.
“EPHPHATHA”, Jesus says—which means “be opened.” Then the man was able to hear and speak.
Jesus tells the crowds not to tell anyone what he had done. Good luck with that!
The people were astounded and spread the news of Jesus’ power far and wide.
If I could have any wish I wanted today, it would be that Jesus would proclaim to each of us, “EPHPHATHA!” and our eyes and ears and minds would be opened—opened to the neighbors far and wide the James reminded us today to love.
“Openness” is so much more merciful, more gracious, more compassionate and more productive that having closed mines and closed hearts to all around us.
“EPHPHATHA!” my friends.
Amen and amen.