Many, if not most, of us are familiar with the Syro-Phoenician woman.
Her story appears twice in the Gospels, Mark and Matthew, and because they are a little different, I want to focus on Mark …
Mark 7: 24-30 (NIV)
24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.[a] He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Yes, I find it problematic that Jesus was arguably guilty of a less than pastoral response to the situation of this woman. But at the end of the day, he listened.
One of the great problems in our current world is that it is our normative practice to listen in order to reply rather than to truly understand. Bonhoeffer writes: “The first service that one owes to others in the fellowship consists in listening to them. Just as love to God begins with listening to His Word, so the beginning of love for the brethren is learning to listen to them.”
Jesus listened the first time and gave a problematic, not particularly loving reply – he didn’t understand, it was momentarily outside his feasible solution space. Did he think he did not owe this outcast a deeper debt of listening?
But instead of castigating him as an unfeeling, moronic, anti-Syrian, anti-Phoenician, anti-Greek speaking misogynist, this unnamed heroine invited Jesus to expand his ministry horizon beyond. In the words of Mark Miller, she invited him to “draw the circle wide, draw it wider still … ”
And Jesus did, Jesus did draw the circle wide, wider still … and instead of replying that she was a two time loser with non-Jew and non-man tattooed on her forehead, he actually listened to her and displayed God’s love, God’s Grace.
Mark’s red letter words are a little different than Matthew’s. Jesus says to the unnamed woman “For such a reply, you may go” it is her logos – which the NIV translates as reply – that got his attention.
Logos is a word used over 300 times in the Greek bible. Our most familiar rendering of it is from John 1 where we are told the word/logos was with God and the word/logos was God. But here, the word/logos changes the very heart of God, through the human manifestation of God actually listening, in love, in Grace.
"For such a word, you may go ..."
I have to wonder a little if the reason Jesus listened was at least in part due to the negative critique he had just given the disciples. Jesus had just told the disciples that what pollutes one is not what is outside of us, but rather what is inside of us.
Mark 7: 20b: ‘
He [Jesus] went
on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For
it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come— [fornication],
theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit,
lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these
evils come from inside and defile a person.”
Sounds like to me that this unnamed woman advised Jesus that his own words coming from deep inside Jesus were defiling him – here arguably arrogance.
But instead of retreating into a world of privilege, Jesus, listened. He didn’t attempt to come up with some clever, mind numbing, self serving, retaining the old position, reply. Jesus listened, and then he complimented her for the word she spoke back to him and granted her wish.
How often are we in the position of Jesus? Invited to hear God’s word in a way that is new, exciting, and refreshing, and instead, we retreat into our own arrogance, our own hubris, and we endeavor to reply from our privilege?
I love this interaction. I love it.
This non-person times two in Jesus world – woman, non-Jew – weighs the scales of the dialogue, and she gives back to Jesus what he had just given the disciples – a righteous critique.
And Jesus after getting his answer righteously chewed up and given back to him, responds in Grace, reminding the woman that it was her word – her logos – her use of his words – her use of the logos that is Jesus – that won the day.
If “Jesus wept” is the shortest passage most people can quote from the bible, I wonder if this might not be summarized as “Jesus listened.”
I think the challenge for us in the Church is to be listeners like the second Jesus here in this Mark 7 passage. We can retreat into tradition, history, and rules, just to name three things, ad nauseum (and yes there are an infinite number of retreats here) and engage in an enormous exercise in missing the point.
The point of all of us being here today is to help deploy resources that make the basilea – kingdom, kin’dom, reign, pick the one that works for you -- of God just a little bigger, a little larger, a little more Jesus like, surely a little more Syro- Phoenician woman like. I think many if not most of us can recite or at least paraphrase the United Methodist mission statement but we must stay focused on the why, how and where of our collective community task: Our why echoes from John 3: 16 about why God gave us the gift of Jesus -- love – love for the world. How we reflect that love is transformation (our what), and our where is the local church.
In our listening, are we the first Jesus, ready to see things the way they had always been seen, or the second Jesus, new, creative, fresh, drawn from the very words of God. The choice is our – how do we listen?
Selah, Pastor Dennis