(9/5) Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 and Psalm 125 • Isaiah 35:4-7a and Psalm 146 • James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 • Mark 7:24-37
Today's Mark reading features two back-to-back healing stories. For most of history, it seems that people have gone to their religious leaders for healing. My guess is that for the human species, religion lessens anxiety, and less anxiety is good for both emotional and physical health. Not to take anything away from healers and their capacity to calm folks down! That's enough of a miracle. Too much attention to the miracles, though, and one can miss the thread of the story.
The story is that Jesus is in trouble. As it opens, Jesus has gone to Tyre – a Gentile region – to get away from the intense scrutiny his actions were receiving back at home. The temple leaders were concerned about upstart itinerant preachers; the Romans had spies everywhere. Jesus' popularity with the crowds, his ability to heal, his concern for the poor and the outsider: all of these things were getting attention. Herod – grandson of the Herod who had ordered the killing of all infant boys in Bethlehem when Jesus was a baby – was himself a cruel and unpredictable leader, capable of ordering a beheading as party entertainment.
So Jesus is in Tyre, hiding, and trying to catch a break. It seems he is also trying to think through what he had to get done to complete his life's work, for when a local person asks him to heal her daughter, he reflects back to her that this has nothing to do with his mission in life. His mission is over in Judah and focused on his people there. She pushes back, in a clever dialogue involving children, dogs and crumbs under the table. Whether he broadens his view of his mission or not is unrecorded, but he does heal her child.
Another healing happens in the next few verses when Jesus takes a person aside and heals him in secret. However, once again the word gets out, and people are talking more and more about what amazing things he can do. This hero worship is precisely the kind of publicity he does not wish for. A mission of bringing his people back to true religion is difficult enough without the authorities becoming concerned about him as a potential rabble rouser.
The amazing thing in this passage is not the healings. The truly amazing thing here is the capacity of Jesus to continue to focus on his own mission. The focus allowed him to see what was getting in the way: healing, for instance, and the overall attention his miracles were receiving. He could not change that – miracles followed him wherever he went, a little like the cloud of dust surrounding the Pig-Pen character from Charlie Brown. What he could do – what he did – was to avoid seeking the approval of others. Whether people loved or hated him, he continued on his path, bringing authentic stories like today's, crumbs and all.
Choosing to be less interested in pleasing or not pleasing others allows room for more mature motivations. A two-year old wanting his parents' praise is developmentally appropriate – as adults, we can watch and question what's driving us. Motivations may be grouped in two buckets – an underlying drive to belong, to connect with others and another drive to be one's own person. To the extent that both are attended to, a person walks with integrity, joy, gratitude, peace, and energy for her life, surrounded with her own little cloud of dust.
Morning: What is my mission or purpose in life? What is motivating me today?
Evening: When did I find energy to connect with others? When was I motivated to focus on my own goals?
Psalm 146:5-7a Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.