a biblical reflection, based on Mark 7:24-30, for the 15th Sunday after Pentecost, September 6, 2015
Each of us – with our individual histories and memories, experiences and frames of reference, ways of perceiving, understanding the world and our selves – stands somewhere. Standing somewhere is a quintessential aspect of being someone.
There’s joy is this. Each of us, saith the psalmist (139.14), is “fearfully and wonderfully made.” Special in God’s sight. Unique in all the world. There may be another like you, but no one is you, but you.
Yet this fundamental exclusivity of our individuality embraces another equally attendant reality. In standing somewhere we cannot stand everywhere, believe everything, or hold as sacred every point of view. And this state of existence of being one in a world of other ones (whether “one” is defined as an individual, a people, a community, a nation) is the root of much of our human conflict as manifested in the walls we build, the barricades we erect to assure, for the sake of our comfort and security or our integrity, that the twain of “this one” and “that one,” of “us” and of “them” don’t meet.
Apparently Jesus was not immune to this inherent human tension, this intrinsic human dis-ease.
A Syrophoenician woman, a Gentile, a non-Jew, steps across a clearly marked cultural prejudicial barrier, begging Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus is reluctant. What an understatement! Matthew (15.21-28), in his version of this story, softens Jesus’ response, adding a clarifying declaration to explain Jesus’ more focused, less inclusive mission: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Still, nothing can mollify the crude chauvinism of Jesus’ retort, comparing his compliance with the woman’s plea “to tak(ing) the children’s food and throw(ing) it to the dogs.”
The woman, with unassailable courage aborning in her abiding love for her child, refuses to retreat, replying to this harsh rebuke with an eye-opening, heart-and-soul-rending word of God’s unconditional, uncontainable love and justice: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Being challenged and knowing truth when he hears it, Jesus complies: “For saying that, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.”
We, standing where we are, being who we are, cannot be everywhere with everyone. Apparently, in this instance, not even Jesus. Nevertheless, to the extent that we, as he, will encounter and engage “the other”, allowing ourselves to be challenged, we can and will be changed, becoming larger persons, growing more whole, being at one with all creation.
Illustration: Jesus exorcising the Canaanite Woman’s daughter from Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, 15th century