That Daring Woman

9 September 2018 – Lectionary 23, Proper 18


Mark 7:24-37

The RCL gospel passage follows hard on the heels of last week’s reading, in which Jesus dispenses with categories of clean and unclean—there with food regulations, here with persons. To this is linked the passage about the deaf man. . . .

. . . Bonnie Bowman Thurston in her Preaching Mark (Minneapolis: Fortress, 2002) [writes] that Jesus was weary and seeking to avoid the crowds. . . Yet I think this blanket statement is stretching the point: “We see here, unvarnished, the contempt of the first-century Jew for the non-Jew and apparently utter disregard for the feelings of a distraught mother.” Yet Thurston goes on to qualify: “Beyond this it is fruitless to speculate about Jesus’ behavior. We cannot see the exchange, so we have no visual cues and, as F. F. Bruce notes, a “written record can preserve the spoken words; it cannot convey the tone of voice in which they were said.” (88) . . 

Thurston . . . contrasts the Jewish leaders (7:1–23) and the woman: “The Syrophoenician woman can be held up as more than a foil to the Jewish officials; she is a sterling example of faith (even though the word does not occur here). Her approach of faith is altruistic (it is on behalf of her daughter), persistent (it does not turn away at the first rebuff, cf. Luke 18:1–8, another ‘pushy woman’ account!), and inventive (she uses a negative response to her advantage). This ‘uppity woman’ is an example of faith; she exhibits the courage of those who have little to lose and can act on behalf of others for the sake of wholeness and liberation.” (89) –– Joseph McHugh

Isaiah 35:4-7a

Unlike most of Isaiah, chapters 1–39, this reading comes from a reflection on the later return from exile. When reading these verses, we should remember that we are still on the journey. We have one foot still in exile, the other somewhere along the journey to everlasting life. But God will provide for us all along the journey: ‘‘Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy’’ (vv 5–6a). This promise the Messiah fulfills in the second portion of the Gospel reading. Nor shall thirst in the desert be a problem: ‘‘For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water’’ (vv 6b–7a). –– Joseph McHugh

James 2:1-10 [11-13] 14-17

Hopefully we are getting past the use of slogans in the matter of justification. When Paul and his disciples speak of ‘‘works,’’ they mean works of the Jewish law such as circumcision and dietary regulations. By ‘‘works,’’ James means works of mercy, matters of justice and concern for the poor. The Jewish law has been superseded by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Works of mercy, on the other hand, naturally flow from our dedication to God. –– Joseph McHugh


Joseph McHugh is a freelance writer on scripture and other religious topics.

Homily Service 42, no. 4 (2009): 3-14.

David Turnbloom