Sun, Sep 09, 2018

A dog's breakfast?


In a recent radio interview...

the former Victorian Liberal premier--

Ted Baillieu--

was scathing about his party's treatment of women.

In terms of women's representation in parliament...

Australia has fallen from fifteenth place in the world...

in nineteen ninety nine...

to fiftieth place this year.

And all of that decline, in Australia, has been on the conservative side of politics.

But Baillieu's comments were particularly prompted by the recent federal leadership fiasco.

Despite being, arguably, the most publicly popular member of the government--

and the one most likely to save seats at the next federal election--

Julie Bishop was dismissively brushed aside.

At the same time...

a number of female MPs have decried the significant "bullying and intimidation" and "bad behaviour"... 

that they experienced from colleagues--

of a sort that would never be allowed in the private sector.

One Liberal MP, Julia Banks, has announced that she will not recontest her seat because of it...

and I quote:

"The scourge of cultural and gender bias, bullying and intimidation continues against women in politics...Women have suffered in silence for too long".


At the same time that all of that was happening...

reports surfaced of sexual misconduct within the Victorian Greens party.

The former leader of the Victorian Greens--

Greg Barber--

reached an out of court settlement with a former staff member...

who alleged she had been the subject of sexual discrimination and bullying. 

A number of other women have also lodged complaints against Barber...

who, it is alleged, referred to women in the work place as:

"fat, hairy lesbians"...

"hairy-legged feminists"...

and a few other things that I can't repeat here.

Add to that the appalling episode seemingly only a short time ago...

when the Greens' Senator... 

Sarah Hanson-Young... 

was more or less accused by Senator David Leyonhjelm

of being a slut...

on the floor of the Senate.

And, unless you have been living on a deserted island somewhere...

you would know that... 

this year...

there have been huge revelations about sexual harassment coming out of Hollywood...

which has given risen to what's known as the "Metoo" movement--

with women loudly and unequivocally declaring "enough":

enough with the unequal treatment;

enough with the objectification;

enough with the sexual harassment and violence;

enough with the belittling language and name calling.


All of which makes this morning's reading from Mark's Gospel somewhat uncomfortable.

Approached by a woman begging for help, the author has Jesus respond--

seemingly in a caustic way--

"Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs".

As one commentator noted, his response here is--

or it ought to be--

shocking and offensive to the modern reader.

This story--

this response--

confronts us with what appears to be a xenophobic and misogynist Jesus.

Of course, there have been plenty of attempts to mollify that impression down the ages.

Some have noted that, in the Greek, the term used for 'dog' is a diminutive--

suggesting, perhaps, that Jesus was being playful.

But, in antiquity, the use of a diminutive was actually more demeaning.

Some have noted that Jesus is simply employing a metaphor...

and not directly insulting the woman--

as if that makes it any better.

Some have suggested that Jesus was simply testing the woman's faith--

that his comment was a provocative attempt to elicit a deeper response;

a sort of first-century Gestalt therapy.

And while that could be said of Matthew's adaptation of this story...

not so, here, with Mark's.

We need to hear the story in its offensiveness.

He suggests that helping her would be like taking the children's food and throwing it to dogs--

not to the household pets;

what's implied, here, are stray mongrels.

Furthermore, it's important to know that the term, 'dog', was not just a general term of abuse in antiquity...

it was one that Hebrews frequently hurled at Gentiles;

and it was especially used for women...

as a means of implying their inferior rationality.

The author places what is a traditional and proverbial saying on the lips of Jesus...

but that doesn't make it any better.

It was xenophobic.

It was misogynist.

Of course, what we see here is culturally conditioned.

Xenophobia and misogyny were rife in the ancient world.

In one sense, it ought not be surprising.

And yet, as scholars have long noted, women, generally, fare well in Mark's Gospel--

certainly better than the male disciples do.

Generally, in Mark's Gospel, Jesus doesn't come across as misogynist--

by first century Palestinian standards.

Also, in Mark's Gospel, Jesus isn't averse to helping foreigners.

After all, not long before this story was the story of the Gerasene demoniac...

where Jesus healed and liberated a stressed and repressed man...

a foreign man.


So maybe, in this case, it was the fact that she was a foreign woman.

And perhaps we can expand on that even further.

This woman has intruded--

not just into a house that was not her own... 

but into male space.

That, in itself, bespeaks a certain shamelessness.

So does daring to speak to a strange man in public.

Add to that the fact that she comes on her own...

rather than a male relative coming on her behalf--

which implies that she doesn't have any.

Within the sociocultural context of the first century...

all of that suggests that the woman is a prostitute.

And, of course, within the worldview of the first century...

her daughter's condition further added to her shame.

This woman, then, was about as 'other' for Jesus as the author could have portrayed.

Jesus' response to her was, in fact, in keeping with cultural expectations.

But that doesn't make it any better.


Perhaps, the author is suggesting, it was a case of compassion fatigue;

or that she was just too "other"--

that she stretched even his boundaries.

So, perhaps, he's portraying Jesus as just being human.

And yet, through this encounter, he grows into a deeper, richer, fuller understanding...

of the nature of God...

and of God's relationship with humankind.


But what if the author is not just making a statement about Jesus' humanity?

If we take seriously the notion of incarnation--

even if we understand it in a symbolic or sacramental sense--

then what does this encounter say about God?


Perhaps, as process theology contends, through God's engagement with humankind...

God is as much shaped and changed by us...

as we are by God.

God is not impassive or immutable.

Rather, the metaphor of the incarnation presents us with a God who enters fully into the human experience.

And a fundamental part of the human experience is growth.

Part of that growth...


involves how we relate to others.

In particular, it is through our encounter and engagement with 'the other'--

with those who are different and those who make us uncomfortable--

that we cease to see and treat them as 'other'.

And, perhaps, it is only through that process--

through acknowledging our cultural conditioning...

and the biases and prejudices that come with it...

and growing beyond them--

perhaps it is only in doing that...

that we actually realise the image of God in which we are made.

Powered by: truthengaged