It’s just speculation, but you have to wonder whether the disciples of Jesus thought he was heading in the wrong direction.
That’s when Jesus decided to head west and a little north to the region of Tyre.
Not that the disciples took exception to why Jesus was changing venues. They all needed a break.
Earlier Jesus had sent his team out in pairs to spread his message of repentance, to receive his authority to cast out the demons and unclean spirits, to share his power to cure the sick.
When they all came back together to report on what “they had done and taught,” Jesus suggested that they all retreat to a deserted place and get some rest – since it was reported that they had been so busy carrying out his mission that they hardly had time to eat.
But that retreat wasn’t to be.
The crowds figured out where Jesus and the disciples were going and got there ahead of them.
Jesus didn’t turn the crowds away but had compassion on them, gathering them together, teaching them, and feeding them all with just five loaves and two fish.
Even when, afterward, they took a boat across the sea and moored the boat on the shore, the people recognized who they were and, wherever they went, brought the lame and sick to Jesus for healing.
So, yes, the disciples couldn’t agree more when Jesus insisted that they get away from it all.
But west and north? To Tyre? To – for all practical purposes – foreign territory? To a place where non-Jews and other unclean folks lived?
I’m speculating that they said something like: “No way!”
From the biblical text (see Mark 7:24) it would appear that Jesus went west and north to Tyre alone for his needed break. And it is abundantly clear that he made significant efforts to avoid being noticed by anyone: “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.”
But Jesus himself must have had second thoughts about the direction he had taken when a foreign woman (a Syrophoenician by birth) foiled the security provisions, snuck her way into the house and found Jesus.
He was not amused.
Even though she conveyed how desperate she was to have her demon-filled daughter made clean, Jesus this time showed no compassion.
Little did he know that this stubborn, this insistent, this driven mom would change the direction of his life, his ministry, his mission.
Jesus told the mother just what he had told all the others up to that point: that his life, his ministry, his mission was focused on redeeming his own: the Jews who had strayed from the one true faith.
Gentiles, foreigners, those who, by definition and essence, were unclean could not receive his attention.
In fact, he got downright nasty about it, especially after she would not relent in her appeals on behalf of her troubled daughter.
Likening non-Jews to dogs, he told the mom: “Let the children (Jews) be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27).
She replied in a way that changed Jesus’ direction. She said, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
That did it. That made Jesus change direction.
He told her: You may go now, since now your dog of a daughter is demon-free.
Now the dogs everywhere would hear the message of repentance, be released from the bondage of the demons, be restored to health, be included in God’s redemption of the world.
According to the polls, a wide majority of the American public thinks the nation and its economy are headed in the wrong direction, which has to include members of both parties and so-called independents.
Surveys taken during August show that only 28 percent to 35 percent of likely voters think the country is moving in the right direction, while somewhere between 61 percent and 69 percent think it is going in the wrong direction.
(This includes the ABC-Washington Post, the Associated Press, the NBC-Wall Street Journal, the Real Clear Politics and the Rasmussen polls.)
Most often, these figures are seen as a gauge of the public’s judgment about the president’s policies – whether the public approves of what the president is doing to lead the country and its economy.
I tend to think that’s mistaken, or only partially the case, since the Congress and the Federal Reserve Board have as much to say about public policies, including the economy, as the president.
In fact, the current Congress has been a major obstacle to adopting the president’s policies, and the Fed has been slow to implement policies that would stimulate job growth, despite that being one of its explicit mandates.
But maybe that’s not the lesson that could be gained from the story about the dispute between Jesus and his disciples concerning the direction he was taking – or even about the second thoughts that Jesus was having about that directional decision.
Maybe like Jesus and the disciples, the voice U.S. voters need to hear is from a foreign mom who wants the best for her child. It is a voice of the “dogs” from the rest of the world who want the best for their daughters and sons, too.
Maybe it’s a message that we in this country will only nourish ourselves and our children if we stop serving mainly ourselves and start nourishing all the families of the earth.
It’s a story about whether we are heading in the right direction.
And it’s a story about how even the Anointed of God – the Messiah – can change directions.
So can we.
Larry Greenfield is executive minister for the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago. He also serves as editor and theologian-in-residence for The Common Good Network.
Larry Greenfield retired on Dec. 31, 2018 as the executive director of the Parliament of the World’s Religions. He served previously as executive minister of the American Baptist Churches of Metro Chicago, a regional judicatory of the American Baptist Churches U.S.A, and the theologian-in-residence for the Community Renewal Society.