This Is a Woman to Celebrate

Mark tells a really fascinating story about a woman whose daughter is sick with an “unclean spirit.” She wants and needs Jesus to heal her child. We who are the readers of the gospel get to witness something really unique in her exchange with Jesus.

From there he set out and went away
to the region of Tyre. [Jesus] 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
Syrophoenician 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. —Mark 7:24–30

I am not a media expert, I am a theologian. But you and I both know this is not really good press for Jesus; it is not his best moment. He is caught in the act—in the act of being human. Let the children be fed first, it’s not fair to give their food to the dogs. Wow. These Gentiles are . . . dogs! This is Jesus being a product of his culture, shaped by being a man, a Jewish man, a Jewish religious man in a time and space where his identity meant not being for everyone. We are witnessing something very human in Jesus. We are seeing something, if we look closely in the mirror, that we might see about ourselves. We can be, in our humanity, prone to stick with our own kind and kin; to be fearful of, even disdainful of others.

More about Jesus ina sermon soon. But let’s think for a moment about this woman. She is also a product of her culture. She knows how Jewish people felt about Gentile people, about Syrophoenician people. She knows how a male rabbi would feel about talking to any woman not his wife or family. But talk to Jesus she does. She asks for what she wants, she engages his prejudices and sexism on behalf of her child. She stands in when Jesus rejects her; she basically tells him that #TimesUp on his behavior. What she needs for her child surpasses Jesus’ biases; what she wants pushes her out of her prescribed role.

This unnamed woman is a woman after my heart. She is bold. She is brave. She is womanist/ feminist. She reaches past the space allotted to her and causes this man, this human, this rabbi who happens also to be the son of God, to change his mind. We who are women know what time it is. Time’s up on treating us with disrespect. Time’s up on ceilings that must be broken, on pay that is less than we deserve. Time’s up on objectifying our bodies, and teaching our girls there is only one way to be beautiful. Time’s up on competing with each other for small crumbs under the table.

March is Women’s History Month and I want to start our celebration by honoring this woman, this unnamed bad-ass who takes on Jesus. This story speaks of Jesus’ humanity. This story speaks of the extraordinary poise, power, and tenacity of a woman. A woman who teaches Jesus how to be a better human. She is a woman to note, to admire, to emulate. Listen to #Herstory.

Jacqui Lewis