It is always difficult coming back from time away, especially when it is the Holy Land I have been to, and also when I come back with a pretty hefty head cold. Sometimes it feels like life is a big test and I am getting a C- in this thing called life – and that is at best.
But, it was SO good to see everyone yesterday. I have missed you all enormously.
Today in our scripture is the quirky story of the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter being healed, as portrayed by one of the New Testament’s most gifted writers: Mark. I say quirky because Jesus never meets the daughter whom he heals.
Those of you that remember my Thursday Noon Bible Study on Mark remember us talking about this trajectory in Mark of every miracle growing larger in breadth and stature. So this “growth” in the story is an exorcism from afar. Jesus is so powerful he doesn’t even need to touch you!
But it gets bizarre. The words that come out of Jesus’ mouth are almost seen as an insult or racial slur. This woman, this Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin begs Jesus to heal her daughter. His response? “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
It appears that her faith turns the tables. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
I am convinced that Jesus was using this as a test. Perhaps he was thinking, “I know how to get under her skin. I will see what she is really made of here.” She appears to pass, transcending the insult and focusing on the joy and grace that is presented her.
Tests. They are dreaded by high school students and college students alike. There are tests to get us into the Army, into jobs, to get out of high school. Tests come and often serve to move us to the next level of learning or what have you. Tests.
I hate tests. But they are all around us. Even when we are out of school the tests come, albeit in different ways. So many aspects of life are test-like – job responsibility, marriage, having children. Being in the church sometimes is a test – with the seemingly most abrasive people constantly thrust in our midst, perhaps at God’s direction to test us. Very few experience the church as “one big happy family”. Lately dealing with the news as with our new administration seems like a test of all of our patience.
It appears, from the Syrophoenician woman’s faith, that part of the test of this life includes standing up to injustice and racial inequalities. She smartly puts her foot down, and from that her faith shines. Jesus may well have been playing Devil’s advocate, impressed that this woman could hold her own.
How is Jesus testing us still? And how are we responding? With faith and determination? When are we called to reflection, and when are we called to action?