I am a lectionary preacher. This means I use the proscribed 3-year cycle of texts (with readings from the Old Testament, Psalms, Gospels, and Epistles each week) designed to allow a preacher and worshiping community to encounter most of the Bible in three years. I’ve done sermon series. But I like the lectionary. I like the order it provides and how it forces the preacher to encounter familiar and unfamiliar texts. I think it is important to be challenged with hard texts, texts you wouldn’t normally choose to preach because “you like them” or “enjoy them” or “they spoke to you”. This is the basic logic of being a lectionary preacher. It is also why Mark 7:24-37 is on my mind.
It’s one thing to encounter a “hard text” within the lectionary cycle, such as Solomon and his concubines. You force yourself to come to terms with the political realities of the moment and find something within those words which might preach to a contemporary congregation. It’s another thing to be presented a text causing you to question your faith in Jesus. Mark 7:24-37 has always had this effect on me.
Jesus has left Galilee and gone to Tyre. He’s technically out of the country. He’s in a different region where Jews aren’t the dominate nationality. Being constantly bombarded, Jesus wants some time away. This is understandable. A woman, whose child was sick, hears Jesus is in town and finds him. She, we are told is Greek (of Syrophoneican origin). This means she’s native to Tyre. Jesus is in her country. He says, “I can’t feed you. The children (meaning the children of Israel) have to be fed first. I can’t toss it to the dogs.” She replies, “Even the dogs get crumbs.” It’s a solid comeback. Jesus issues no apology.
Jesus went to another region and said to a local, native born resident, your culture isn’t worth a damn. My culture it’s the best. I can’t help you because you’re not one of my culture. Jesus is in another country and lecturing a local resident about how his culture is superior. I have trouble with a Jesus who would do this. Can you imagine that happening? It happens every day. It’s not only with Americans tourists in Europe. Examine the ways United Methodists approach issues of race and faith. How many people from beyond the AME knew exactly what the AME response to the horrific shooting should be? How many straight people want to tell lesbian, gay, and transgendered people how to feel and be Christian?
I question Mark’s judgment for recording these words of Jesus, someone I believe to be loving and nonviolent, words which were of the most hurtful, racist, sexist kind imaginable . Was the whole story made up? It makes me doubt Mark’s version of the man who said them, so willingly as if to test another human being with their ability to respond to racist language. Is the whole purpose of this story to heal or not heal this woman’s child unless she can withstand his racist quips about eating leftovers from the white’s only table?
It makes me frustrated to hear people say, “Jesus is having a bad day”. It’s usually followed by, “we all have bad days. Jesus was fully human, remember? Now go out and have a Jesus approved bad day.” Everyone around Jesus knew his referral to the Syrophonecian woman as a dog was wrong. He didn’t call her a puppy, even though some Greek scholars make the argument. He called her a bitch. How bad does your day have to be to call a minority (Greek) woman (minority) a dog (a bitch)? There are no racist diatribes reported by any of the gospel writers on the day Jesus was executed. That was a much worse day. It has always seemed Jesus is going out of his way to insult this woman. I don’t like that. A woman, begging for her child’s health, in order to be heard by a man with privilege isn’t a feel good story.
The Jesus of Mark 7 isn’t the Jesus we want to let into and flow through our lives. We want to keep the Jesus from Mark 7 as far away from our lives and churches as possible. But here’s the thing, my fear is we have more of the Mark 7 Jesus on the loose than we realize. The Mark 7 Jesus is in our churches, right now and you may not know it. Hiding behind the coded language of xenophobic patriotism, race, and theology, we’ve learned how to insult each other, all in the name of Jesus.