We don’t believe in demons these days—they are so first-century. Nor do we place much stake in contemporary miracles. Modern science and engineering have explained away ancient puzzles and given us even more wonders that serve, amaze, and sometimes confound us.
That contemporary viewpoint complicates our reading of the seventh chapter of Mark, which bring us the story of Jesus exorcising a demon from a young girl.
Jesus is approached by a Gentile woman whose daughter is possessed by “an unclean spirit.” The woman begs Jesus to heal her child, and Jesus responds with a curious saying: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus’ words seem nonresponsive, but the woman answers in kind: “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus then tells her to go to her daughter, who is no longer possessed of the demon.
Scholars tell us that the story is part of a first-century dialogue between Jewish followers of Jesus and the Gentiles (“dogs under the table”) who were being attracted to Christianity. According to Mark’s narrative, Jesus first tells the woman that he has brought his message primarily for the “children,” the Jewish people. When she responds that even the Gentiles (“dogs”) can benefit from his message, he relents and casts out the demon.
Today we long for the simplicity of demons and the convenience of miracles. We want to live in a magical world with a deity who can utter a few mysterious words or deliver a healing touch and make problems disappear. But do we really want divine intervention that fades our cares and fixes our fears? Do we expect God to make magic for us? More importantly, what does God expect of us?
O Thou Most Able, have patience with our wants. Amen.
It is sometimes an uncomfortable subject for many, but God does have ethical standards. The author of Proverbs declares that those who act unjustly, particularly if they oppress the poor, will provoke God’s judgment. The psalmist repeats the refrain that God blesses the righteous but is not pleased with those who choose a consistent lifestyle of rebellion against God. James challenges us practically on this point. Do we judge people by their wealth or status? This is not from God. True faith shows no partiality and prompts action. Jesus models this in Mark when he heals two Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles generally remained separate (an ancient form of racism), but Jesus did not discriminate based on their ethnicity. He cared only about their hearts.
Read Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23. How has God shown you that there is no difference between persons who are rich and persons who are poor? How does this affect your actions?
Read Psalm 125. When have you seen righteousness in someone the community (or the church) has labeled “wicked”?
Read James 2:1-17. How do your works support your faith? How does your faith in God move you to action on behalf of others?
Read Mark 7:24-37. God calls us to love all our neighbors. How can you be a good neighbor to those your community has excluded?
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