Meditation on This Week's Gospel
by Kristin Berkey-Abbott
The readings for Sunday, September 6, 2009:
First Reading: Isaiah 35:4-7a
First Reading (Semi-cont.): Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Psalm: Psalm 146
Psalm (Semi-cont.): Psalm 125
Second Reading: James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17
Gospel: Mark 7:24-37
Many people find this Gospel's depiction of Jesus disturbing, but I find it refreshing, even as it disturbs me. I grew up with an idea of an inclusive Jesus, a Jesus who came for all of us. The Jesus of my childhood was never angry (except perhaps for that incident in the temple), never irritable, never tired.
The Jesus of the Gospels isn't the Jesus of my childhood. If we read the Gospels carefully, we can see that the view of Jesus shifts as the community of faith continues to interpret the meaning of Jesus and to define what happened to Jesus and the first community of believers. Often we forget that the Gospels were written not by the first disciples (as I thought, when I was a child), but by people who came along later.
One early view of Jesus was an exclusive one, the one that says that Jesus came for the Jews. As the early Christian community expanded to include non-Jews, we can see chunks of the Gospels written with this development in mind. The story of Jesus and the Greek woman may be part of that mission.
Or perhaps we're seeing something more basic. I notice that a running theme in this Gospel is Jesus' attempts to get away, to move anonymously. It doesn't work. Everywhere he turns, there are the people who need him. We've all had those weeks at work or in our families where it seems that people need more and more of us and we can't get away from those incessant demands. We know how cranky that can make us. Maybe we're just seeing a Jesus who is tired and irritable. I like the idea of a snippy Jesus who can be reminded of his mission and who can soften his attitude. I like the idea that we can be occasionally cranky and not ruin our mission, just as Jesus was occasionally cranky, but managed to change our world so radically.
I also find the Greek woman to be refreshing. Here's a woman who fights for her daughter. Here's a woman who is told no, I didn't come for you--and she fights back. She presents a good argument, and it works.
I like the idea of a Jesus who can change his mind. I like the idea of a Jesus who listens to an outsider (a Greek, a woman) and becomes more inclusive.
Often the Gospel gives us a picture of Jesus who seems more divine than human. This Gospel shows me a refreshingly human Jesus, with traits (irritability, a desperate need for rest) that I recognize. I see a divine presence who might really understand me, since he's been under stress himself.