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Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Day 292: Peter’s momentous confession

Time for answers. Who is this man?
The Syro-Phoenician woman
Matthew 15:21-28, Mark 7:24-30
Jesus heals many
Matthew 15:29-31, Mark 7:31-37
Jesus feeds the four thousand
Matthew 15:32-38, Mark 7:31-37
The demand for a sign
Matthew 15:29, 16:1-14, Mark 8:10-12
The yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees
Matthew 16:5-12, Mark 8:13-21
Jesus heals a blind man
Mark 8:22-26
Peter’s declaration
Matthew 16:13-20

What are we to make of Jesus’ insulting words to a Gentile woman in distress? He refuses to help her, saying “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Jews called Gentiles “dogs.” Nehemiah and Ezra would have nodded in approval. Harsh but fair. Israel must be kept pure. But the woman is persistent and witty, and Jesus is forced to smile, despite himself, and heals her daughter. He’s had no problem is dealing with Gentiles before - there was the centurion’s servant who he healed, while commending the Roman solder for his faith. I’m sure Matthew and Mark record this story to demonstrate that Jesus has a different attitude to the Gentiles than many, but I still don’t get why he’s so rude. Maybe it’s my 21st century post-modern tolerance that’s offended.
Then another puzzle. Why do Matthew and Mark waste precious words telling a story that’s a carbon copy of the feeding of the 5,000? And why are the disciples so dumb that they panic about feeding the crowd and don’t remember the last time they were in this situation? The only answer seems to be Jesus’ symbolic use of teh numbers: 12 baskets represent the 12 tribes of Israel, 7 baskets represent the Gentile nations. Jesus feeds Gentiles and Jews alike, Jesus is saviour of all.
This leads us in to the key moment in the way that Mark in particular structures his gospel. He asks the disciples who people think he really is, and Peter nails it. You’re the one. There is no other.

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