Mark 7:31

On returning from the district of Tyre, Jesus went, by way of Sidon, to the Sea of Galilee, across the district of the Ten Towns.

life is more than a circle
it’s great circle route
experiences straight lines
as actual arcs

to move northerly
to arrive south easterly
continues to amuse
voyageur and pilgrim

such lost circling frees
our result-seeking mind
sniff the air ahead
along with passed roses

such is creation’s path
barren verdant continuing
neither distant nor at hand healing
demonstrates good news

it is as it is
incomplete wisdom
bewildering location
confused learning

everywhere along the way
we intentionally engage
as hearth and home
come feast and story tell

The Greek is clear. The significance of the route is not.

Presumably Jesus had not retreated far enough from the crowds of Galilee to yet be able to return. Wilderness retreats also face a testing as to whether they have accomplished what was needed. Sometimes we can return very soon after leaving. Sometimes we need to go further.

Edward Albee in Zoo Story, has Jerry say, “Sometimes it is necessary to go a long way out of the way in order to come back a short distance correctly.”

Jesus travels further north to Sidon, away from the Lake of Galilee. When there he doesn’t just do a U-turn, but proceeds much further inland to finally come to the Lake from the East, from the realm of the Roman Deca-cities, a larger area than the Quad-cities of Davenport and Betendorf, Iowa with Rock Island and Moline/East Moline, Illinois (a 4-county area).

This journey would affirm the clamp Rome had on Palestine, how Rome had made the very edge of its empire into its own image. The cities were revamped into Roman design, having enough independence to commercially prosper through the Roman infrastructure. It is as if there were a noose or cone of silence placed around occupied Israel until it, too, would fully embrace Roman rule.

Mark 7:30

The woman went home, and found the child lying on her bed, and the demon gone. 

returning to a house
that had lost its status
as a bonafide home
for demons stole
a family member
breath is held
until a healing word
transforms euphoric
to everyday
differences and challenges
afforded by living people
in all their uniqueness
for most of us this ordinariness
when we pause to consider
is a continuing and deepening
exhilarated hope to shared joy

As we proceed through life we find opportunity after opportunity to declare life a tragedy or a comedy. All too often Christianity has turned an opportunity for comedy (seeing the rise of the outcast) into a tragedy (active ignoring of an individual or a group to double down on their exile from their inherent Neighb*orliness).

Here, in the midst of the trauma from the visitation of one or another demon, when we could do ourself in by acceding to legalize a communal norm against ourself and dear ones, we find a tragic situation redeemed with what Carrington157 calls “a sense of humour, courage, and a ready wit”.

All three of these are evidenced by Mark and his Jesus story as they explore their scripture base and keep finding a living G*D inhabiting one impurity after another. Feasts keep cropping up. Outsiders keep being brought into a house of changed lives.

When finding the demon gone and her daughter recovering, which do you project came first and which second—laughter or weeping to express relief and joy at a relationship restored that needed no faith and no visit to a religious authority for confirmation?

– – – – – – –

Jesus’ receptivity to her wisdom points to a critical truth: Oppressed people often have a profound analysis of social situations, and know the paths to justice. People in position of authority need to heed them…. ¶Similarly, it is when we finally allow ourselves to hear and heed the broken parts of our selves—[not casting them away]—that we can see more clearly the paths to our own inner healing. ~Myers85

– – – – – – –

This passage also reminds pastors, teachers, and others in positions of authority how to lose an argument. When Jesus recognizes that the woman’s argument is stronger than his own, he grants her petition. Many of us do not have nearly so much graciousness. ~Perkins611

Mark 7:29

“For saying that,” he answered, “you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.”

recognizing we’ve been caught
in knee-jerk responses
built by a self-protective culture
is unusual enough to be remarked upon

expanding recognition to repentance
bypassing all expressions of such
including sorry and other excusatory phrases
refreshes all parties and next generations

the only recognition result
is changed behavior and restitution
ever here we usually can only
go so far as present forward

without a tangible recompense
past indiscretions leave an opening
to repeat bad behavior to another
bottom line no restitution no repentance

hooray for every small reversal
a slammed closed door
removed from gerrymandered lines
in such moments girls and boys smile

Matthew’s version of this episode points to “faith” being the turning point. This Gentile, Syrophoenician, woman with at least these three strikes against her was deemed to have “faith”. (Mt. 15:28)

Mark has no mention of faith. Tangling honestly with Jesus was plenty enough for him.

It would certainly be easy to turn a willingness to risk a second rebuke with a verbal riposte or saucy retort into a faith-based statement, but we are talking about a mother literally fighting for her daughter’s life and that carries as much weight as faith in something or someone else.

Elizabeth Struthers Malbon’s chapter in Anderson51 notes:

“For this saying [word, logos]” (7:29, RSV), Jesus says you may go home to a healed child, a healed Gentile child. (Jesus, too, seems to have experienced healing).

Not only was faith not noted, there is no mention of following Jesus, being a missionary in her own territory, or conversion to Judasim. In some sense this might have been the first Gentile exorcism of a demon, rather than the unnamed Geresene.

The inclusion of all promised by the prophets of old, is underway even as the healing was underway before Justa arrived home.

Mark 7:28

“Yes, Master,” she replied. “Even the dogs under the table do feed on the children’s crumbs.”

to all my siblings
who come to table
with washed hands and faces

you fool no one
after you leave
the floor is a mess

none us are mess free
nor any simply a mess
discernment wherefore art thou

A couple of technical matters are important.

When we hear “answered” or “replied”, it seems like a rational, straight-forward response. The Greek is far stronger, “certainly”, “assuredly”, “exactly”, “yes!”

This is an agreement with the previous statement that is not at all an agreement. Now we can hear the relationship, the play, the “Come on, get real.”

“Lord” is church lingo, The far better translation is simply a term of respect such as “Sir”. Practically, this is the only place this particular word, κύριε (kurie, a title of honor) is used. While the word is found in some manuscripts in 1:50, it is not used in translation. It is also found in 10:51 in some manuscripts but usually translated as if from Matthew or Luke’s version. Read this as you would “M’ Lord” or “Lady” in a Victorian novel.

Just because a healing is being looked for or has already happened doesn’t mean that the seeker or the healed will let the medium through which the healing happened become a deity. From the other side, though, there are apocryphal stories of some surgeons thinking they are G*D.

Justa follows her “Yeah!(?)” with the same “little dog” images and extends it to “crumbs” or “little bread”. In Mark there is a lot of feeding with bread. To reduce the Eucharistic overtones of this to a bit of bread too small to care about brings us back to earth, under the table rather than over it, as were Herod’s party or well-washed Pharisees.

We can almost hear her say, “Did you see what I did there?”

Other references to this back-and-forth are reported by Myers82:

Jesus’ insult may echo a rabbinic saying of the time: “He who eats with an idolater is like one who eats with a dog” (see also Exodus 22:31). But the stipulation that “the children must first be satisfied” suggests a deeper symbolic issue.

A twinkle in Jesus’ eye has been met with a gleam in Justa’s.

Mark 7:27

“Let the children be satisfied first,”answered Jesus. “For it is not fair to take the children’s food, and throw it to dogs.”

by our images are we known
our word reveals gaps
between intention and effect

creative words lighten abundance
when enough are involved
there is always enough for all

restrictive words fear scarcity
building compartmentalized storage units
seven for me one for you

in the end there can only be
a full eight units for me
none for incompatible thee

in the end there can only be
four for each
north south east west

wherever we look
our image looks back
learn well from this teacher

Commentators are pretty well agreed that the “children” here refers to Israel and Jesus’ felt/expressed priority to his own.

It can’t be posited that this would be universally understood by others, particularly since there is a report in 3:8 that people from Tyre and Sidon who came because of “what he was doing”—healing. This barrier had already been broken. If they could be healed by going to Galilee, why couldn’t the Galilean heal here in Tyre?

It is also possible to read the second part of this response as a question, “Is it right for the children’s bread to be tossed to the dogs?”

There is a technical matter of “dogs” being better translated as “puppies”. This introduces a bit of fun being had already and removes some of the solemnity of the initial rejection.

Any of these three can easily cast doubt upon any certainty in the priority stated. As in every time, the outsider knows the insider better than the insider knows themself. The classic example is the slave whose best interest is served in anticipating their master’s moods. Aichele101 affirms this, “In Mark it is outsiders such as the Syrophoenician woman (7:24–30) and the scribe (12:28–34) who appear to understand Jesus best.” This, of course, raises a question about how well a privileged, institutional church can know Jesus.

Mark 7:26

the woman was a foreigner, from Syrian Phoenicia – and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.

our own another
asking demanding
resisting complaining
wanting not wanting
healings release

out out damn demon
not of my own causing
with all my power out
I call upon every resource
in seven regions

falling heavily
upon a last
pair of feet
still unwashed

Remember to cast your mind back to previous similar events. Mark does his best to not only move us along, but to have us bring the whole story along with us.

Myers82 reminds us of this context in both prior stories and the culture of the time,

The woman who falls at Jesus’ feet appealing on behalf of her off-stage daughter reminds us of Jairus, but she represents a world remote from that of the synagogue leader. Because we are unfamiliar with what constituted social propriety in Hellenistic antiquity, we miss the scandal of this encounter. In conventional Mediterranean “honor culture,” it would have been inconceivable for an unknown, unrelated woman to approach a man in the privacy of his residence. Worse, this woman is a Gentile soliciting favor from a Jew. Mark’s description is emphatic: She is “Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth”.

Mark seems to enjoy the various combinations of relationships he reports. This is true of the interplay he sets up between sets of parables as well as individuals. Much is lost if we overfocus. This is one of the dangers of doing a verse by verse response. It is important to be able to pull back while zooming in.

Consider the differences between the Jairus and “Justus” stories. Both come forward falling at Jesus’ feet: one in public; one in private. Both have sick daughters: one physically sick, close enough to touch; one demonically possessed, at an unknown distance. Both need to assert themselves: one begging repeatedly; one entering debate. Both receive their requested healing: one a named, male, Jewish, religious leader; one an anonymous, female, pagan, foreigner.

These, plus the differences you named, are enough to legitimize a Feminist Theology. There are many excellent resources available. To continue focusing on Mark, try A Feminist Companion to Mark, edited by Amy-Jill Levine.

Mark 7:25

For a woman, whose little daughter had a foul spirit in her, heard of him immediately, and came and threw herself at his feet –

wouldn’t you know it
once word is out
there is no retracting it
from any even them

a quiet house comes full
rankings are pulled
in-line claims first
class and money bargain hard

it turns out
the most despicable
is the most desperate
and equally resolute

facing countervailing desire
is ever more difficult
as our own is thwarted
yet one more time

Verse 6:31 seems a long way back. Jesus and the disciples couldn’t find time to eat. It was time for a break. Boat. Feeding 5,000. Water walking. Gennesaret. Pharisees.

Matthew has the disciples present at this encounter in a safe house in wealthy Tyre. Had they finally gotten away?

Mark has no mention of the disciples until he summons them again in 8:1. Had Jesus finally gotten away, even from the Twelve?

No longer among Israelites, his people, there comes another intrusion from the wealth of the Tyrean area feeding off Israel (remember back to Elisha’s cavalier approach to Naaman). At the very least it is a test, in the wilderness of Phoenicia, of the inclusion of the unclean Jesus touted before the Pharisees prior to coming into the anonymity of a foreign city.

The last time Jesus roamed far from Jewish territory it was to the southwest with the Gerasene “demoniac” who also did obeisance. This man was instructed to stay in his foreign land and tell his story of Jesus, a forerunner of later churches in the area. At question here is whether the Gentile mission will be further expanded.

I don’t know what to make of it, but there is a tradition kept alive in the Eastern Orthodox tradition of the woman at the well having a name, Photina (The Lady of the Light). Also, the Clementine Homilies speak of Peter directing Clementine to stay in Tyre with “Bernice, the daughter of Justa the Canaanitess”. Sometimes there are extra-biblical traditions that can be helpful. Does it make a difference to your reading of the story if this woman and daughter are named? If it does, will you be bold to add them in when you next read this pericope aloud?

Mark 7:24

On leaving that place, Jesus went to the district of Tyre and Sidon. He went into a house, and did not wish anyone to know it, but could not escape notice.

been feeling pretty
high and mighty
words of wisdom and division
rolled easily

in another breath
we are again elsewhere
quietly cocooning
o for space and quiet

as soon as this is acknowledged
our desire evaporates
pressure heated
with multiple needs

Before proceeding to a next scene it will be helpful to have Matthew 15:22–28 open alongside. There will be opportunity to reflect on whether both Mark and Matthew are using an independent source or tradition. This is a scene that makes it very difficult to know which came first, Matthew or Mark, and gives evidence to both sides of debate.

The opening word, ἐκεῖθεν (ekeithen, from, and thence) is not clear in the above CEB translation. It is the only time Mark uses this word, while Matthew has 13 uses. Is Mark following Matthew or a common source to both? This word may be Matthew’s version of Mark’s euthys or “immediately”.

The sudden shift of location from debate with Pharisees to pagan territory suggests that we are now entering a new part of the narrative.

This is a clear indication that the purpose of the journey was to secure privacy, not missionary activity. That the purpose of Jesus was unfulfilled because of a reputation that had preceded him from Galilee is the obvious sense of what follows, but it may be that Mark wishes us to understand that Jesus was everywhere immediately recognized. Matthew omits any mention of Jesus’ crossing the border, and he has no equivalent of Mark’s 24b. ~ Mann320

This reference to entering a house is not about one entrance, but carries the weight of establishing residence. In Mark, home and house is something that Jesus seems to carry with him. It also challenges his followers to travel with an expectation of a hospitality he commissioned the twelve to look for on their fishing-for-people expeditions. This continues to challenge a settled church.

Inside every situation an en-homed Jesus finds himself, people find healing shining out from the construct of his life. Being at home in our own life may be the lure Jesus taught people-fishers.

Mark 7:23

all these wicked things come from within, and do defile a person.”

Ojo de Dios
sees and dives deep
into unknown tracts
unknowable seas

dirts muck pollution
are not unknown
unless eyes are closed
partnership denied

when all sufficient
internal enlightment
turns way up
contamination denied

deeper diving
finds strange partners
where there is strong contagion
inside outside blur

unknown clouds
consolidate and poof
split and are gone
in a G*D’s twinkling

These actions or states of being, both singular and plural, are not a contamination. Note Jesus’ acceptance of brokenness and lostness in need of shepherding for a season. There is not a shying away from the “evils” listed. What United Methodists name as “prevenient” grace keeps us reminded of the call to a changed heart and life because mercy and forgiveness are already underway (remember the blanket statement of 3:28, “Truth: all will be forgiven, all that is called “sin” and “denial of an original blessing”.

A question must be asked, “What does it mean to be contaminated in G*D’s view?”

“Contaminated” is all too easily heard as “condemned”. Most translations leave it with a person being unclean without a direct connection to G*D’s disapproval. What can be said here is all the pre-washing in the world doesn’t rid one of their internal wilderness.

For some, negative injunctions help them control their behavior, grit their teeth, and strenuously resist a particular outward expression of their inward temptation. This acknowledges addiction’s ever open opportunity for one more drink or hit. Negativity does assist some addictive responses. Others get trapped here and self-condemned.

Remember the context here is Jesus’ response to the Pharisees concern about pre-washing that he shifted to address the Corbanists and Mark, here, attends more to Paul’s preaching for conversion than Peter’s witness to not call unclean what simply is (an internal wilderness). Fortunately this is not the end of the story.

Mark 7:22

adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, indecency, envy, slander, haughtiness, folly;

name what you will
make it as disgusting as possible
there is nothing unforgiveable
even before it is evident

repentance can be resisted
held until the twelfth of never
on a theory of righteousness
to save wrong’s embarrassment

foolishness is arrogance
returning envy for insult
greedily loosening deceit
all the while denying betrayal

to any list of evil
there is no last temptation
the shape of privilege
changes faces but not feces

The list of inside issues continues. There is no parsing of this list that doesn’t add to our resistance to acknowledge that there is a whole wilderness within us.

“The devil made me do it” is an all too easy way to stop our journey toward a retreat rest that will clear our eye and allow such as these to rise and leave without grabbing our attention and taking our partnership with creation for granted long enough to let it slip through our fingers and fall to the ground.

A second convenient rationale we come up with has to do with our being bad soil so we might has well let our dogs out to feed where they can. This dishonors a gift of life and love. Our ordinary wilderness gets turned into internalized evil.

What started out as an attempt to speak to purity rituals that keep separations within and between in place and growing, is seduced into an unhelpful listing of wrongs as though violence can only be countered with violence, evil with evil (even trying to claim a lesser evil as a good compared with evil per se moves down the road of hypocrisy).

While there is nothing inherently bad about listing the ways we don’t love ourself or others, they do trigger our fascination with testing boundaries. Whether they push outward from our inside or are beckoned outward from beyond ourself, it is our lack of experience with them that allows them to break forth. There is nothing that is hidden that won’t be revealed and so we need to return to learning and teaching non-attachment that we might simply allow temptations to rise and fall without grabbing our life as their recurring appearance passes by.