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The Woman Who Taught Jesus a Lesson

We join a multitude of women from different parts of the world who resist all forms of domination and imperialism. We affirm our commitment to be participants in the struggle for dignity and life. And we remember and celebrate what women have done, what women are doing, and what women can still do.

Mark 7:24-30, narrates how a Gentile woman falls at the feet of Jesus begging him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus’ response was, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Not only does Jesus deny healing to a sick child, he insults the mother by saying that her child was just a dog compared to the Jews who were the so-called “children of God.” This is no different from how the early Filipino migrants in the U.S. were dehumanized. According to some novels and articles, in some restaurants in the United States just a few decades ago,  a familiar sign read – “Filipinos and dogs not allowed here.” Under colonization and neo-colonization we Filipinos have been humiliated and have been called ‘little brown monkeys’ and have been mistaken for ‘native pigs.’ And so when we encounter Jesus in this particular text, some of us can say that Jesus’ statement to the woman was racist.

Is this the same Jesus who said “suffer the children and forbid them not to come to me for to such belong the kingdom of heaven.” (Luke 18:16) How could he have responded to the woman with such apathy and cruelty? In the same breath, we must ask ourselves, are we not guilty of the same? In the face of the growing number of hungry children on the streets and despite the cries for land and justice by peasant farmers and laborers, many of us continue to worship in our churches proclaiming that we are “children of God.” Amidst earthquakes and killer floods, which have killed families and destroyed communities, caused mothers and fathers to commit suicide, our churches gives no statement against mining. Whether we accept it or not, many of us who call ourselves Christians and children of God have shared nothing but crumbs to those who need God the most. We must ask ourselves, have we treated them like dogs?

In the preceding chapters in Mark, just before Jesus encounters the Gentile woman, Jesus went about feeding, healing and preaching, ceaselessly. In fact, when he came to the region of Tyre where the woman came to him, the text says he was so tired he wanted no one to know that he was there. Is it hard to imagine Jesus being tired and weary and, for moment, want to forget that there were so many people in need? As churchworkers, don’t we sometimes feel overwhelmed by everything that needs your attention and action? Like Jesus, we often begin our ministries committed to changing lives and transforming communities. Like Jesus, we each have our shining moments when we truly understand our call and live it out. And like Jesus, we can also forget, for a moment or for a long time, what we set out to do at the very beginning of our ministries. Do we still remember for whom we felt compassion? Do we still feel the passion for people in our ministry? Are we still prepared for advocacy and action in places where we are needed?

Many of us have an image of Jesus preaching and teaching about loving neighbor and what the kingdom of God means. But in our text, Jesus learned from a woman. When she hears Jesus’ response, the Syrophoenician mother argues for the right and survival of her daughter – “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  Her statement is not a sign of submission but an assertion of her daughter’s equal right to Jesus’ healing. When I was a child, we loved and always had dogs. My mom told us about her own dog when she was still a child in Nueva Vizcaya. She said people would ask her what her dog’s name was and she would answer, “karuprupam.” ‘Karuprupam’ means ‘kamukha mo.’ And so if the name of the person she is talking with is Junilo, he would think the dog’s name is Junilo but it is really ‘karuprupam.’ I would like to think that this was what the Syrophoenician mother was saying. We may think and treat other people like dogs, as if they are only fit for our leftovers, but truly they are no different from us as they too are ‘children of God.’ Karuprupam.

Some Feminist theologians celebrate the Syrophoenician woman for causing Jesus to have a change of mind. Some even say that she taught Jesus a lesson. Whatever it might have been, Jesus example in the narrative teaches us that even Jesus had the humility to learn from others, especially from women. We have much to learn from women. Most of us have been raised by mothers and sisters; our churches are sustained by committed women; and we have witnessed the strength and resilience of mothers like Edith Burgos, Erlinda Cadapan, and Conepcion Empeno, whose children have been tortured and killed under the presidency of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. We are surrounded by women who will stop at nothing to defend life and dignity. When we learn from and with them, we bring into each other’s lives healing, transformation and liberation.

 What can we do for the people in Cagayan de Oro who continue to live in crowded refugee camps? What can do for IPs struggling against transnational mining companies for their ancestral lands? What will it take to heal the world? What can we do to eradicate poverty? What is our task for a future with hope? What is our discernment in these critical times? After the Syrophoenician woman asserted the right of her daughter for healing, Jesus parting words to her were – you may go. It is the same for us. Jesus does not require us to continue to hound him, seeking his healing and blessing, forever thanking him for his mercy and grace. Jesus tells us to go.  Go – where people are crying out for life. God is already there. Amen.

 

Lizette G. Tapia-Raquel
Union Theological Seminary, Philippines

 

    

 

 

 

 

 

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