The passage for the day, Mark 7:24-30, brings out all kinds of thoughts. The gentile woman (Jesus and she are insider/outsider to each other) asks for healing for her daughter and Jesus says “Let the children be fed first, for it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” To which she snaps right back, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus capitulates, “For this saying you may go your way….” And she goes home to find her daughter healed. It sounds like Jesus did not heal in spite of the sass but because of it. That’s the thing, Xochitl said. This woman would not be deterred. She knew Jesus had healing in there somewhere and she was going for it. Our group tiptoed a bit around whether Jesus has to always be the hero of his own story…whether he would be willing to look bad to make a point, or whether he could even be wrong as part of that whole huge project of becoming human to fix what’s wrong with being human. But for Jesus and the writer of Mark it’s pretty clear this act belongs to the woman. Jesus may be God. But she’s right about how God ought to be, and he’s not. Maybe what we see here is the danger of Jesus clinging a little too tightly to his role and place. If so, he certainly learned the lesson.
I asked Xochitl how we could hope to bridge the gap between those in a congregation like ours and those in her pub church. The same beautiful building that is “storied” with memories of joy and peace for many inside it is “storied” for others with layers of pain and indifference….just as a bar that is lovingly called a “dive” may not conjure up a vision of church for some. It’s the same good news for both, she said. And, after thinking longer, she said. It’s not about changing who you are, but it is about holding it more lightly. Today, thinking back, I see that as the lesson Jesus learned. Maybe I can.
By the way, for some great further reflections on Jesus and the sassy woman, see Mary Luti’s reflections at http://sicutlocutusest.com/2012/09/17/what-if-jesus-and-the-syro-phoenician-woman/ .
S. Mark Heim is the Chairman of the FBC Council and Samuel Abbot Professor of Christian Theology and Andover-Newton Theological School. He is author of Salvations: Truth and Difference in Religion, The Depth of the Riches: A Trinitarian Theology of Religious Ends and, most recently, Saved From Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross (Eerdmans, 2006).