The Secret Spreads
The passage today opens with yet another reference to the “secret” of God’s Kingdom as the Gospel of Mark tells it. Yet this time, the secret is spreading to the foreigner. And we have a somewhat troubling passage in the Gospel.
The question here is, what is going on with the Syrophoenician woman? As an interpreter, you have to decide: is Jesus testing her or is Jesus being convinced by her? Given the general tone of Mark’s gospel, and of Scripture as a whole, option one seems unlikely. Instead, we get the gospel idea that while Jesus has come to all nations, it is to Israel first. He responds “First”, indicating there will be a second.
Is Jesus calling her a dog? That seems a bit rude. Perhaps. Yet, I think that we misunderstand the rhetoric. It seems that Jesus is drawing on a relevant example of how mealtime works. He is both bread and father, and at a Jewish meal (as in any household) the family is fed before anyone else. Israel has always been called God’s son, and Christ is noting that, at least right now, those outside Israel are not yet God’s children in the same way.
The woman’s response presses the metaphor beyond what Jesus intended (i.e. his intent was not to insult her). However, she is right that the Kingdom may be able to spill over as it is breaking through. He did, after all, come to her village. So Jesus’ compassion toward her breaks through and her daughter is healed and kingdom spreads.
In direct contrast to the nation of Israel that are incapable of hearing the message of the Kingdom, Jesus encounters a physically deaf man. His response is quick and to the point “Be opened” and it is so. The language is creative in nature (“Let it be opened” as in “Let there light”) indicating a connection with restoration. And so the “secret” gets around all the more.