Gospel Reflection for Thursday – 5th Week of Ordinary Time (9 February)

The astute Syro-Phoenician woman

Our Gospels return after the fierce storm which caused extensive damage to Fr Paul’s office in Port Macquarie.

Today Fr Paul reads from the Gospel of Mark (7: 24-30) in which a pagan woman, by birth a Syro-Phoenician, begs Jesus to cast the devil out of her daughter.

Fr Paul notes that the Gospel we hear today begins an important section of Mark’s Gospel. Mark is writing for a largely gentile audience so he, therefore, explains the Jewish customs when Jesus is dealing with the gentiles.

At a superficial level, when reading this Gospel, it may seem that Jesus is downright rude to the Syro-Phoenician woman: he implies that she is a ‘dog’, this horrible slur was, in fact, a word commonly used by the Jews for the gentiles.

But Jesus, who is familiar with the oriental world, he is simply provoking her; it is like the bargaining which goes on in the market – a game enjoyed by both sides. The woman shoots back a smart response, and Jesus grants her request. It is not unlike the scene of Jesus and the Samaritan woman teasing each other, and it is a valuable reminder to us of Jesus’ humour and of his frank and open relationships with women.

For Mark, the incident is also an important opening of Jesus’ mission to gentiles.

Fr Paul notes today’s Gospel lesson – we need to reach out, engage with, and provoke others to respond.