Sunday 23rd August

Reflection on Mark 7,24-30

Are you familiar with this situation: Someone starts talking to you and it is completely the wrong moment? Along comes this woman, you don’t even know her, and she wants your help. You are not at all responsible for the matter she is seeking help with and it really isn’t a convenient time for you to have to deal with anything else. Doesn’t she realise that she is bothering you? How many chances does this woman have to change your mind? What would change your mind about wanting to listen and help – neediness, cleverness, charm? Would how attractive she is or how she is dressed make a difference to your reaction? And what if this woman wore a headscarf?

Jesus meets such a woman. The woman is a mother, a worried mother, and she is certain: this man can help her daughter. This man has to help her daughter. That is her goal and it pursues this persistently. But he rejects her in, contrast to our image of Jesus, a terrifying tone. Interpretations of this story, despite various attempts, cannot deny the fact that it presents a deep insult to the woman. If at this point in the story there was a full stop, it would presumably not even have been included in scripture. But we do find this story here in Mark’s gospel, because it doesn’t end here and because it continues in a way one might not have expected.

We probably would have expected reactions such as the woman withdrawing from the scene disappointedly, that she leaves muttering to herself “there is no point”, that she turns away indignantly and tells everyone how rude this Jesus is, that she becomes aggressive and insults Jesus directly, possible even swears at him. But she reacts unexpectedly. She stays with Jesus. She has a goal and is not giving up yet. What it does is
take his negative reaction and convert it into a positive one. She reacts in a way we have many times heard Jesus do in his arguments with the Pharisees and scribes, quick-witted and astonishing. She takes the image used here to another level. Unfortunately, not many Bible translations make this particularly clear and unless we look at the original text, we might in fact miss it.

The word used by Jesus for child in v27 is an expression for child in the broadest sense. It could include grown up children and loved ones in its meaning. The word the woman uses for children though can only be used to refer to small children. The change of word therefore stands for a change from an abstract picture to the real-life problem the woman and her daughter are experiencing. The woman initiates this change by expressly addressing Jesus as who she needs him to be. “Kyrios”, she says to him, and if we rephrase her words to suit our modern way of expressing this: There is a little child that needs your help. After that Jesus no longer tries to ward her off. The woman has convinced him. He gives her the help she asked for. “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

We do not know what the woman in this story associated with the term “Kyrios”. It is an enigmatic term that could mean anything from a mere polite greeting to a confession of belief. We therefore do not know exactly what she believed in or not. We do know though that her words caused Jesus to change his viewpoint and actions after initially rejecting her. So we learn from this story that we can expect help regardless of whether we believe in the “right way” (if there is such a thing) or whether we belong to the “correct” (faith) community. We can expect help when we are sure that we have turned to the right one. Then we don’t need to give up too quickly, even if at first it might seem that our pleas for help are not heard.

Of course, the lesson doesn’t stop here, as this also means that others can expect help from us. As Christians we have a duty to help others when they are need, even those whom we might prefer to distance ourselves from. Whether to us these people represent homeless people, refugees, people addicted to alcohol or drugs, politicians, church leaders, homosexuals, feminists,… each of us has their own limits of whom we feel comfortable or uncomfortable with and this story reminds that if someone is in need we are called to overcome those limits in order to help those in need.

Sabrina Groeschel