Thursday, July 28, 2005

The Shameless Hussy of Mk 7:24-30/Mt 15:21-28

In one of the RBL reviews of David Rhoads' Reading Mark, Engaging the Gospel, Sean Kealy describes the story of the Syrophoenician woman who finds Jesus despite his efforts to hide, gets him to change his mind, and opens the way for the Gentile mission. In an earlier review (same page), Ira Brent Driggers describes Rhoads' account of Mk 7:24-30 as "one of the best" in "articulating how Mark advances the theme of Gentile inclusion" -- and doing so through a conflict that Jesus loses.

Mk 7:24-30(/Mt 15:21-28) is intriguing for being the single reported instance where Jesus loses in challenge-riposte. And of all things, he loses to a Canaanite woman, who has no business asking him for help, or publicly engaging him at all. John Pilch has discussed the Matthean version of the account here. Jesus rightfully ignores the woman, and when she persists he refers to her as a lowly dog. But instead of shamefully retreating, she shamelessly embraces the insult and one-ups the messiah in a clever rejoinder: "Lord, even the dogs get to eat scraps." To which Jesus concedes defeat: "For saying this you may go your way; your daughter is healed."(Mark) / "Great is your faith! Your daughter is healed."(Matthew) Translation: "Touché, woman; you dish out what you take, so God grants your favor."

Jesus was apparently amused by the fact that a heathen woman beat him this way. Never mind any supposed compassion and mercy. He had none here. If Mk 7:24-30/Mt 15:21-28 is at all historical, and has been co-opted by Mark as the pivotal account by which grace came to the pagan nations, then it's indeed amusing that it all happened (as Mark believes) on account of that shameless hussy who gave as good as she got, and gratified Jesus because of it. I'll have to add Rhoads' book to my reading list.


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