1 Kings 11:4-13
The miracles in the gospel of Mark serve as parables. They bring to light what Jesus is about. In today’s miracle where we do not see the daughter who is cured, are fascinated with the repartee between Jesus and a pagan woman, and where Matthew will alter the miracle/parable of Mark with explanations, we are at the center of a beautiful revelation.
Jesus begins a journey into the territory of the Gentiles. He has fed five thousand, and just finished a great argument with the Pharisees over the observance of meal rituals.
"You disregard God’s commandments and cling to what is human tradition" (7:8). Soon to follow is another multiplication of bread and fish, this time feeding four thousand.
In the midst of meals and talking about them Jesus tries to get away and be ‘unnoticed’. Without the disciples present a Canaanite woman comes to Jesus. Is she rich or poor? The grammar of Mark suggests that she may be a woman of means. All the more then is her humility revealed as she crouches at the feet of Jesus putting aside any pride. If she is poor then we knew she is still rich with the love of her daughter that drives her to come before Jesus. We have to like this woman, and could Our Lord not admire and love anyone who comes so humbly motivated by love?
In this section of the gospel Mark takes us to the ‘house’, a symbolic place in which Our Lord gathers his disciples to hear his word, a place at times of miraculous healing. It is a place that speaks to the gathering of Mark’s community. In our miracle it seems that for Jesus as well as for the community a miracle/parable is about to explode. All the more so when we see that in the midst of the multiplication stories Jesus will say to his disciples, "Do you still not understand?"(8:21).
Our pagan woman first tells Our Lord that the barriers of food are broken, repeating what Jesus has argued with the Pharisees. Whatever the barriers, they cannot stand between him and her, between healing power to do good and her loving request for her daughter.
She tells Jesus more. Little children give the scraps to their pets. We think the conversation between the woman and Jesus thorny, but isn’t this a gentle example? Behind her words is such gentleness and love. Our Lord’s solitude was interrupted by a privileged grace, a woman who could be prophet. As he begins his journey among the pagans Jesus hears from her lips that we are all the children of God, and as those children we all are loved. Jesus must have thanked the Father.
We all look for days of solitude and hate intrusions, but doesn’t the surprise of God’s gifts come often at inconvenient times? But Mark’s gospel is best seen through bifocals: part for remembering Jesus, part for focusing on the community (his and ours today). And as we are surrounded with ‘meal thoughts’ we think of the Eucharist. We may gather with differences comparable to the pagan woman or Pharisees and Jesus. True, love was present with one but absent in the other; and differences would seem far greater between Jesus and the woman than with his fellow Jews. At the table of the Eucharist we gather as saints and sinners, ideally humble as the Canaanite woman but sometimes like Pharisees. But at that table we too meet Love. May the Eucharist be the cause of unity even as we gather in our diversity.
Fr. William Murphy, CP is pastor of St. Joseph’s Monastery parish in Baltimore, Maryland.