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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He 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.” 28But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 32They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 33He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 34Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.” 35And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 36Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 37They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”
The healings in this narrative mirror those in chapter five - the raising of Jarius’ daughter and the healing of the unnamed women who is called “daughter” by Jesus. These previous healing moments should be in our memories as we sit at the table with Jesus and the Syrophoenician women and encounter the request of the crowd to heal the man who is unable to hear or speak.
The Boldness of A Mother (24-30)
Jesus withdraws to the region of Tyre after his heated discussion with the Pharisees. This action is not new to the ministry of Jesus. It is already well established that Jesus would withdraw, perhaps to pray or rest, before resuming his ministry. But his ministry has gained so much popularity that even far off the beaten path (Tyre is way off the path of Jesus’ usual travels) Jesus is known for his healing abilities.
If we didn't already recognize that Jesus was on the “other side,” Mark’s description of the woman as Gentile, a Syrophoenician, to fully drive the point home. Jesus is dealing with an outsider to the Jewish faith, one who is ritually unclean and has no place at the table.
If the moment when Jarius kneels at the feet of Jesus in chapter five was meant to present honor, this moment when the Syrophoenician woman kneels at the feet of Jesus is meant to present shame. “Unlike the approach of Jarius, her solicitation is an affront to the honor status of Jesus: no woman, and especially a gentile, unknown and unrelated to this Jew, would have dared invade his privacy at home to seek a favor (Myers, 203).”
The response of Jesus is expected. He acts according to cultural and ethnic expectations. But let’s not move too quickly through the statement from Jesus, there are clues woven into the words.
The word translated as food in verse 27 is actually arton, the Greek word for bread. Bread has become symbol for Jesus’ ministry. He is the one who shared bread with the hungry masses in the wilderness. He is the one who breaks bread at the table with the outcast and sinner. His ministry is all about bread and sharing it with all the wrong people - prostitutes, tax collectors, those who cannot return the favor, and sinners. This word may indeed draw us back to the feeding of the five thousand in the wilderness, where Jesus symbolically shares bread with the children of Israel, the Jewish crowd. Perhaps he thinks the time is not yet right for the bread sharing to cross over to the “other side.”
But the woman does not back down. She demands justice. She takes Jesus’ words, and his insult, and turns them back on him. Even those labeled as "outcast" by culture and tradition wait for the bread that Jesus shares. They recognize the radical nature of his ministry and want to join in: “Suddenly it is she who seeks to defend the ‘rights’ of her people to the liberating power of Jesus’ exorcism ministry (Myers, 204).”
Here is the radical turn of the moment. Jesus allows himself to be shamed. He responds, not because of her faith, but because of her statement.
“This drama represents another example of status-equalization. Jesus allows himself to be shamed (becoming ‘least’) in order to include this pagan woman in the new community of the kingdom; so to Judaism will have to suffer the indignity of redefining it's group boundaries (collective honor) in order to realize that Gentiles are now welcomed as equals (Myers, 204).”
Themes of the Gospel begin to weave together. Bread sharing is not only reserved for those in the family, the people of Israel, it breaks boundaries and spreads into new territory. This moment also alludes to the feeding of the gentile crowd in the wilderness at the beginning of chapter eight.
Jesus ministry is demonstrated to be for all people, Jew and Gentile. The pitching of the storms in the crossing to the “other side” can be weathered and survived. Jesus demonstrates the openness and humility it will take to cross the great divide.
The Healing of a Gentile Man (31-37)
Jesus continues his journey among the Gentiles by traveling to the Decapolis, the ten cities. We need to recall that this was the territory of the healed Gerasene man who once resided among the tombs when he was plagued by demons. It seems that his proclamation was a success - the crowds line up to see Jesus.
This healing is initiated by the crowd. They bring Jesus a man who cannot communicate. He cannot hear, nor can he see. It is interesting that Mark tells us that Jesus takes the man aside to perform the healing. This is odd because of the public nature of Jesus’ healing ministry.
One thought is that Jesus healing this man in private because of the crowd’s enthusiasm for the healing. Perhaps they are tired of trying to communicate with the man and see Jesus’ healing as a solution to their problem, not the man who is visually and auditory challenged. This places an interesting question into the mix of discipleship - do we ask for healing for others because we ourselves are uncomfortable?
Jesus heals the man by touching him with saliva, once again breaking the cleanliness code: “But as in the case of the leper in 1:40ff - the contagion is reversed, and the gentile healed (Myers, 205).”
Myers sums up these two healing narratives: “These two pairs of healings demonstrate Mark’s mastery in using narrative action to illustrate the ideology of inclusion, which is the cornerstone to the new social order being constructed by Jesus. The social dynamics of status and honor, fundamental in the life of antiquity, have been turned upside down to make way for the outcast Jew and the alien Gentile (Myers, 205).”
The ministry of Jesus breaks all social norms and demonstrates the radical equality of the kingdom of God. This will be demonstrated again in the feeding at the outset of chapter 8.
Questions for Modern-Day Disciples
- Are we willing to become the least or to be "wrong" for the sake of the Gospel?
- How do we overcome social norms and constructs to reach out to the “other side.”
- Do we ask for healing for others because we ourselves are uncomfortable?