Tyre: Where the Rubber Hits the Road

Friday, August 2, 2013 — Week of Proper 12, Year One

[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]

Today’s Readings for the Daily Office

(Book of Common Prayer, p. 976)

Psalms 69:1-23(24-30)31-38 (morning) // 73 (evening)

2 Samuel 5:1-12

Acts 17:1-15

Mark 7:24-37

Like a special conjunction of stars, today’s appointed readings complement one another in especially illuminating ways. Both our Hebrew Bible reading and the gospel happen to mention the region of Tyre. In our first reading, King Hiram of Tyre wisely prevents King David from invading and annexing Tyre to his expanding kingdom. But in the gospel, a woman in the region of Tyre actually wants to claim her place in the kingdom of God. Surprisingly, Jesus almost shuts her out.

Tyre is where the rubber hits the road. God’s people have often attempted to build a kingdom, and the border of Phoenicia (with Tyre as its capital) forces them to evaluate exactly what kind of kingdom they are proclaiming. Who belongs in that kingdom, and who will receive its benefits? In both the Hebrew Bible reading and the gospel reading, someone asks to belong, and someone has to give them an answer.

In our first reading, the Israelites of the northern kingdom approach David and ask to belong to the whole nation of Israel once again. They say, “Look, we are your bone and flesh.” They already belong based on their shared identity in God’s family, and they ask David to recognize them as his own. In this reading, the kingdom stops short of the border of Tyre, because King Hiram pacifies David with a gift of cedar wood.

In the gospel, it is a Syrophoenician woman in Tyre who asks to receive the kingdom’s benefits. While Jesus is visiting the region of Tyre, this woman approaches him and asks him to heal her daughter. At first, Jesus says that his mission is to people he considers to be members of God’s family: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The Syrophoenician woman answers, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

The woman’s words might have shocked and shamed Jesus into realizing what he had just implied: That she was no better than a dog who did not deserve to be fed. But she rightly points out that Jesus is treating her even more poorly than a dog, for dogs receive crumbs at the very least, and Jesus has not extended the borders of his vision of the kingdom to include her.

This is indeed where the rubber meets the road. Is our own vision of the kingdom wide enough to include new territory? What is our own region of Tyre that we have shut out by failing to recognize our common humanity, our own flesh and bone?

Even though King David’s kingdom counted fellow Israelites as its main members and viewed surrounding regions merely as territories to conquer, we can still learn something remarkable from his leadership: David relocates the seat of his government to Jerusalem. Jerusalem was more centrally located and therefore more neutral and accessible to all parts of his kingdom, which grew by reuniting Israel and Judah.

What an extraordinary image of the kingdom: ruled from a center that is accessible to everyone. In today’s gospel, Jesus rises to his place as that kingdom’s accessible center. Will we claim our place in his kingdom? And when others ask to join us, how will we respond?

Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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