The Gospel of Mark has a low Christology. The recorded history of an emotional Jesus, a man who gives voice to his anger and rolls his eyes at the disciples, who screams at the storm and weeps on the cross. And in today’s story, which biblical interpreters would rather redact and proper preachers would rather avoid, Jesus is at his worst.
So why, of all the stories to tell about a divine Christ, does Mark include this one about a very human Jesus?
Mark 7:24-37 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 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.
To be reminded that the Jews come first and Gentiles second.
Jesus can be ironical, smiling his way through this encounter.
Even a crumb of Gospel is enough to save.
Jesus just wanted to watch the ball game and be left alone.
Sometimes a nagging woman is needed to hold God accountable for being God.
He rebuked the unclean spirit and cleansed the leper, he healed the paralytic and restored the withered hand, he resuscitated the little girl and stopped the woman’s bleeding but the crowds kept coming and coming and coming. Jesus could have his way over sickness, but he couldn’t find his way to the Sabbath.
Why does Mark include this story?
Because saving the world, even for the Son of God, can get exhausting. Day in and day out, another soul in need of salvation, another body in need of mending, another step closer to burn out. Caring comes with a cost.
Sacrificing your needs to please others? Defining your worth by what you do? Construing conflict as always your fault? Exhibiting an inability to set boundaries? Then you, like Jesus before, are likely suffering from compassion fatigue. Compassion Fatigue. It happens to 72% of mental health workers, 85% of health care professionals, and 100% of Christians. Or all of us called to the religion of helping.
That’s why Karl Barth says, “A being is free only when it can determine and limit its activity.” So lock the door and disconnect the phone, clear the calendar and decline the invitation, and practice the spiritual disciple of saying, “I’m not available right now.” “No,” can often be the holiest word we utter.
So the next time there’s a barking voice under the table or a mongrel biting at your ankle, just let the “Gospel go to the dogs” (Heidi Husted).