Thursday of Week 5 of Ordinary Time – Gospel

Commentary on Mark 7:24-30

Having challenged some of the religious principles of Pharisees and scribes, Jesus now pointedly goes into gentile territory. The next three stories take place in non-Jewish areas. Why did Jesus go to the city of Tyre on the Mediterranean coast? It may have been to give him some breathing space from the crowds which pressed in on him everywhere. Later, he will move on to Sidon, and then eastwards by way of the Sea of Galilee to the area known as Decapolis (Ten Towns). All of these places were dominated by Gentiles. Because the people there recognised his healing powers, he ministered to them also.

We are told that he entered a house in Tyre and did not want to be recognised. Why was this? Because his mission was only to his own people? Because people without faith only saw in Jesus a wonder worker? Nevertheless, he was already too well known even here to escape notice. His fame had spread even to these places.

It is then that a gentile woman came to him. She was a Greek, but Syro-Phoenician by birth. She prostrated herself before Jesus and begged him to exorcise the evil spirit in her daughter. Jesus’ answer seems somewhat strange and out of character:

Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

Jesus’ words suggest an image where the children of the family are fed first, and then the leftovers are given to the dogs under the table. In so speaking, Jesus indicates the prior claim of the Jews to his ministry. In fact, we see this, too, in the missionary work of Paul. Whenever he arrived in a town for the first time, he always went to the Jewish synagogue first to preach the message of Christ, and only later to the Gentiles. Because of the shared tradition of Jews and Christians, they were the obvious people to hear the message first.

Jews (and also Muslims) avoided dogs as unclean animals. They were unclean because they ate all kinds of things indiscriminately. The name ‘dogs’ was sometimes applied by Jews to Gentiles, and for the same reason. It is likely that the woman would be aware of this disparaging title.

It is also important to sense the tone in which Jesus spoke, and this is indicated by the reply of the woman. It is done in a mood of friendly banter. This is clear from the immediate response of the woman:

Lord [notice the title], even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.

In other words, they do not wait until the children are finished eating. They eat simultaneously, even though they only get scraps. Her powerful faith is immediately rewarded and her daughter is healed.

This is a story anticipating the faith of future Gentiles who will become Christians. Let us pray that such faith may be ours also. We know that Jesus excludes absolutely no one from his mercy and healing power. Both as individuals and communities, may we too be as inclusive as possible in our relationships.

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