Sunday, September 9, 2012

An insignificant, unnamed woman (Year B Proper 18)

Mark 7:24-37

Today I want to focus on the first few verses of the lectionary reading. I want to think about verses 25-30, the story of the Canaanite woman. It was interesting to read the lectionary choice of gospel passage for today. We are at the beginning of our Autumn book read and this passage (although Matthew’s version) is the subject of chapter four in Knowing Her Place.
It is an incredibly rich passage. However, I will leave most of the riches to be unpacked when we read it together with Anne Thurston.
For today I want to focus on one thought. It is the thing that always strikes me first about this passage. (Of course, I know some of you will have heard me on this before)
For me the focus of this passage is how God uses this woman so powerfully. When I read the scriptures I think that this is a most significant moment. It is the moment that it was revealed to Jesus that now was the time for his ministry to include Gentiles. The woman is used as a prophetic voice to show that this ministry is for all. It is to be an inclusive ministry.
There are several such moments in the gospels where women challenge Jesus and the result is a new beginning, a prophetic revelation that now is the time for something to happen. (for an example . . . read the marriage at Cana in this light)
Today’s gospel is a really significant passage. Yet, often, we skip over the story quickly.
Note that even the compilers of the lectionary did not allow the passage to stand alone. It is combined with the reading of the healing of the deaf man which being the second reading demands the readers/hearers attention. However, today we are not looking at the second part, we are resisting it being left with that thought. We are staying with this woman.
This passage is a puzzle . . . it is not comfortable . . . Jesus equating gentiles to dogs . . . doesn’t quite sound right. It doesn’t fit with our image of Jesus. It can make us uneasy.
I also want to note, as often is the case, when key players in a story are women they remain unnamed, thus insignificant.
This is one of those stories that on initial reading we have to do what Trible says and refuse to let the text go until it yields a blessing (Did you note that Thurston quotes this thought from Trible in her introduction)
So we want to remain with this text.
If we were asked when Jesus’ message and ministry was opened to the Gentiles our answer would probably be in Acts 10, the story of Peter and Cornelius. The account in Acts 10 is long and detailed. It includes that momentous verse where Peter declares, “I truly understand that God shows no partiality.”
Perhaps Peter should have understood earlier!
This short little passage in Mark 7 (or Matthew 10) revealed the same thing.
It was revealed by an insignificant, unnamed woman who was brave enough to challenge Jesus, who through her courage revealed to Jesus that this ministry was to be available for the Gentiles too.
When we remain with this text we get a blessing!