Jesus only lost one argument. Not to a Scribe or Pharisee, not to a cross-examining lawyer or the High Priest. But to a woman. She was not from around here, a pagan from the Mediterranean coast who bowed to foreign idols and defiled herself with dirty fingers. Disregarding the prohibition against Jews and Gentiles mixing, she showed up with a mother’s desperation- willing to trespass any boundary- for her daughter’s dispossession.

Face covered by the hood of his robe, Jesus was trying to hide. He traveled off the map, beyond the clutch of the crowd, ready to not be seen or heard or put upon. Worn out by triaging the world’s pain, he eased through the back door of a friend’s home and collapsed on the couch. But before he could exhale, the woman hurried across the threshold and threw herself at his feet.

“I beg you,” she pleads, “take this demonic spirit from my child.” “Get in line,” Jesus answers dismissively, “the Chosen People eat first. If there are any leftovers, you half-breeds can fight over the crumbs.” “Yes, Master,” she says non-defensively, “but don’t the dogs still get fed?” Conceding defeat, Jesus relents. “You’re right. Return home. Your daughter’s affliction is no more.”

Because Jesus hurls a religious slur, most interpreters of today’s scripture cringe privately and publicly move on to the miraculous exorcism. But we can’t. Even though these words are terribly out of character, contrary to his preferential bias everywhere else for the most marginalized people, why does Jesus call the Syrophoenician woman a dog?

Mark 7:24-30 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.

Congregational Responses:

Jesus was having a bad day.

The Phoenicians colluded with Rome and oppressed the Galileans.

He was testing her faith, curious if she would back down or not.

Grind culture killed her dad. In 2013, Tricia Hersey was chasing her father into the grave as a Master of Divinity student negotiating sick loved ones, a dwindling bank account, and the threat of racial violence. Exhausted, her black body depleted from the “cult of busyness,” she took to napping all over campus as an act of defiance. Unwilling to participate any longer in the hustle of hyper-productivity, Tricia saved her life with a pillow. Turns out, she wasn’t the only one bleary-eyed from sleep deprivation. As an invitation to the chronically tired, she started Collective Napping Experiences, a ministry of protest against the culture of capitalism and white supremacy that views divine bodies as machines of labor. After participants enter a curated space filled with ceiling drapery, full-length cushions, and soft floors, the Nap Bishop offers these words of invocation: “The doors of the Nap Temple are open. This is an invitation for weary souls to rest. [Rest] is resistance… a counternarrative to the lie that we aren’t doing enough. We are enough. You are enough simply by being alive.”1

In Mark’s Gospel, a very human Jesus never lies down, not even as an infant in the manager. With no birth story, he’s thrust into the wilderness and baptized into ministry among the suffering masses. Furiously working his to-do list, he heals a mother-in-law, rebukes an unclean spirit, cleanses a leper, restores a man’s withered hand, resuscitates a girl, stops a woman’s hemorrhage, casts out many demons, and feeds five thousand people. But the crowds keep coming, increasing in size and misery, an overwhelming crush of need that never gets met.

Through seven chapters, with so many contending for his care, Jesus pauses precisely once—to quickly kneel in prayer before rushing off to a preaching engagement in Galilee. Although he tries to escape, his attempts at retreat are repeatedly thwarted. Channeling the power of God for the good of everyone else, he’s powerless to clear his calendar.

Without time off to engage in the spiritual discipline of rest, practicing holy ineffectiveness for at least one day a week, Jesus violates God’s most ignored commandment- Sabbath keeping. SABBATH KEEPING. Grinding away, month after month without a break, he calls the Syrophoenician woman a dog because he’s suffering from compassion fatigue.

Saving the world is grueling work. When Jesus and his followers refuse to clock out, our behaviors become unbecoming. We start preaching legalism instead of grace, guarding the Table instead of pulling up chairs, turning beloved children of God into objectified mutts, and forgetting that caregiving always comes with a cost.

“A being is free,” said Karl Barth, “only when it can determine and limit its activity.”2

Jesus lasted three years in ministry. Strangely, if we want to practice our Christianity for longer than thirty-six months, don’t do what He did. To those of you who come to worship Wednesday after Wednesday- sleeping in the pews and snoring through the sermon- your slumber is a profound act of faith. For everyone else, it’s time to turn the lights out and close our eyes.

1. Tricia Hersey, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto (New York: Little Brown Spark, 2022), 40.

2. Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith (New York: Harper One), 125.