If you have been following the readings from week-to-week, you may have noticed that I have extended today through till verse 30 (now Mark 7:1-30). I believe that the story of the Syrophoenician Woman should not be read separately from this story about Elders and Tradition—this is because it helps to give us the cultural context of what is outlined in Mark 7:1-23.
Chapter 7 starts with a confrontation between the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law with Jesus and the disciples. We are told that they are concerned they were not following the traditions that had been passed down to them—this is a big issue in a community where purity laws and rituals are woven into what it means to live out your faith.
We are told of Jesus responding, with such irony, by reciting a passage from the Jewish ancestors to complain about the laws and traditions that had been given by these same Jewish ancestors. We read the prophetic message from Isaiah where Jesus concluded by saying, “You have a clever way of rejecting God’s law in order to uphold your own teaching.” (v.9)
Though the disciples were disobeying these purity laws, we are told these stories, including that of the Woman from Phoenicia, as they are examples of a cultural shift—something radically different to what has been known. The issues around clean and unclean food no longer strain the conversations of the church, but this does not mean we have stopped measuring God’s law by our own measuring stick. When the People of God say we’re concerned with justice and mercy—but we determine these through our own lens of tradition, culture, systemic oppression, or systematic benefit—we have a problem.
The Bible constantly teaches us about our relationship with God and each other, and when we forget about the relationship of our faith then the heart of what we believe has been forgotten.
Ps Kelly Skilton