Thursday in the Fifth Week of Ordinary Time
Gen 2:18ff. God forms woman who alone of all earth’s creatures stands equal to man; they are to be joined as one body.
Mark 4:24ff. By humble, persevering faith, a Syro-Phoenician woman induces Jesus to cure her daughter, despite his initial reluctance.
Generosity between the Sexes
Women hold the centre stage in today’s readings. In Genesis the first woman heals the loneliness of man, measures up to him in a way that no other creature could, and the two are united as equals, “in one flesh”. While the woman brings joy and stability into the life of the first man, pagan women are also held responsible, at least in part, for apostasy in Israel. Then in the gospel a pagan woman surprises Jesus with her faith and humble perseverance.
These texts invite our reflection about the relationship of the sexes, in family, friendship and community. Our differences as man and woman along with diversity in personality, talents and interests help us to complement each other and challenge one another to grow. Genesis clearly suggests that woman and man in isolation are each lacking important gifts and qualities. The union by which they complement one another enables the image of God, divine goodness, strength and fidelity, to be manifest. In this way marriage sets the pattern for all human friendship and community.
Many of the women in the Scriptures are in some sense models for both men and women, just as men provide examples for both women and men. What is scattered and fragmented must be reunited in Jesus, for as Paul says: “among you it is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28-29). Belonging to Jesus, then, in a radical way heals all fragmentation arising from gender or race.
Adam exclaimed, “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” If a spouse is to leave father and mother and cling to the other, then each has a divine mandate to put nothing before one’s love and loyalty for the other person. Jesus put it still more heroically and totally: There is no greater love than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13). In this context we understand Jesus’ other words: Whoever tries to preserve their life will lose it; whoever loses it will keep it (Luke 17:33). Not only do we refuse to put any other object before our spouse, friend or community member, but we do not even place ourselves in preference to them.
Love and friendship make many demands on our generosity. How difficult this can be is shown. Jesus is reluctant to divert attention away from his own chosen people, Israel, to attend to the pagan woman. There is no simple way to soften the harsh reply of Jesus, except perhaps that he would not repeat the mistakes of Solomon who was led astray by foreign women. The apparent rejection is healed by the woman’s humility, perseverance and love for her child. Not for selfish pleasure or personal gain, but for the sake of her daughter, does the woman turn aside Jesus’ harsh words by replying: “but even the dogs under the table eat the family’s leavings.” This answer overcomes his first objections, and Jesus heals the woman’s daughter – a splendid example of gentle perseverance rewarded.
First Reading: Genesis 2:18-25
Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.
Gospel: Mark 7:24-30
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” The he said to her, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.