March 6, 2018
Now Jesus is on the Mediterranean coast, near the port of Tyre, farther north than he has yet been. The ports of Tyre and Sidon are associated in scripture with Solomon’s expansion into more global trade, and Ahab’s marriage to Jezebel from those nations, and the cosmopolitan royalty who accommodated Baalism.
Is Jesus trying to get away from the rock star mobs? We’re told he did not want anyone to know he was there – but couldn’t escape notice. Why the secrecy, or how sincere was it – like a reclusive star leaking photo locations to the paparazzi? Is Mark alluding to a greater expansion of Jesus’ target market? I think so.
A woman with a daughter who has an unclean spirit comes to get exorcism. Trouble is, she’s of another race and ethnic group. Syro-Phoenician, she belongs to the coastal nations including Tyre and Sidon, likely in my reading of scripture to look a bit more North African, rooted in the ‘sea people’ of the Mediterranean.
In Jesus’ culture, there are only 2 kinds of people: Jewish or Gentile. This woman is clearly a Gentile, not a ‘lost sheep of Israel’, like the Samaritans who can be associated with the northern shrines of the former Israel, who remained as ‘people in the land’ after the destruction of the first Temple and the Exile to Babylon. She is what we would call ‘racialized’ or ‘othered’.
I have long preached that Jesus is a racist here. He starts with the prejudice of his culture toward the woman. He declines her request for exorcism in rude, racist tones: feed the children, and don’t give the good food to the dogs! She takes the insult, and turns it back on him: even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall off the table from the children. We’re rooting for her, and embarrassed by Jesus.
Jesus admits he has been bested, and says go, the demon has left the girl! Sure enough, she goes home and finds the kid exorcised. Even if Jesus’ people and original audience were Galileans, they identified as Jewish, and shared his initial bigotry toward the Gentile.
Mark’s community, likely up in what we call Syria or Turkey, a generation later, watching the Judean rebellions against Rome which culminated in the levelling of the Second Temple, may share the cultural bias – or might include people like us, relieved to see Jesus as able to learn and change in response to the woman.
How wide is the impact of Jesus and who gets the benefit, how? What bigotry have you got – after all, even Jesus was a racist toward Syro-phoenicians, according to me! Next, Jesus heads south, down the coast from Tyre to Sidon, then inland around the Sea of Galilee again, into the region called ‘Decapolis’ – east of Galilee, and south – ten cities in our Jordan and Syria. These are Roman projects, garrisons and engines of imperial occupation – like our own suburbs and urban sprawl, greenfield or brownfield economic development.
They bring him a deaf and dumb man. He heals him to hear and to speak. Once more, you are asked how you will ‘read’ your reality, in terms of this language of exorcism and healing, possession and disease. Even as we deny magic and supernatural readings, we recognize that the original writers and readers, speakers and hearers accepted those readings of reality and gospel. Whether fact or metaphor, what is the meaning or effect of the ailment of being deaf and dumb, or the change to become able to hear and speak?
Again with the Messianic Secret – and again, everybody tells… what’s the point of these stories that keep coming at you?
From there he set out and went away
to the region of Tyre.
He entered a house
and did not want anyone to know he was there.
Yet he could not escape notice,
but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit
immediately heard about him,
and she came and bowed down at his feet.
Now the woman was a Gentile,
of Syro-phoenician origin.
She begged him
to cast the demon
out of her daughter.
He said to her,
‘Let the children be fed first,
for it is not fair
to take the children’s food
and throw it to the dogs.’
But she answered him,
‘Sir, even the dogs under the table
eat the children’s crumbs.’
Then he said to her,
‘For saying that, you may go
—the demon has left your daughter.’
So she went home,
found the child lying on the bed,
and the demon gone.
Then he returned from the region of Tyre,
and went by way of Sidon
towards the Sea of Galilee,
in the region of the Decapolis.
They brought to him a deaf man
who had an impediment in his speech;
and they begged him to lay his hand on him.
He took him aside in private,
away from the crowd,
and put his fingers into his ears,
and he spat and touched his tongue.
Then looking up to heaven,
he sighed and said to him,
And immediately his ears were opened,
his tongue was released,
and he spoke plainly.
Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one;
but the more he ordered them,
the more zealously they proclaimed it.
They were astounded beyond measure,
‘He has done everything well;
he even makes the deaf to hear
and the mute to speak’.