Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Faith in Mark's Gospel

2006 is 'Year B': that means Mark's Gospel is read on Sundays in Catholic churches. After a six-week digression into John's gospel, chapter 6 (because Mark's is actually too brief to fill out the year), we have returned to Mark, chapter 7.

Unfortunately, the lectionary skips the disquieting story of the Syrophoenician woman. In preparing my homily for Sunday, I noticed that she is praised for 'saying', after the Twelve are criticized for a lack of faith [4: 40; perhaps 6: 6] and understanding [4: 13, 6: 52, 7: 18]. This led me to ask, "Who, in Jesus' view, are the type of persons who have faith. At this point in the Gospel, He has acknowledged persons three times for their faith: 1) the men lowering the paralytic through the roof [2: 5]; 2) the woman with a hemmorhage who touched His garment [5: 34]; and 3) the Syrophoenician woman. In this last case, I am stretching a bit: Matthew has Jesus praise her faith, but Jesus praises her 'saying' (logon--word or understanding).

In all three cases, persons were willing to go out on a limb and do something extraordinary under trying circumstances. In contrast, we have the twelve losing their cool in a storm, failing to grasp the implication of the signs Jesus is working and so on. It has become a commonplace in Markan studies to point out the disciples' lack of faith and understanding, but what intrigues me is that faith, in Mark's gospel, is simply not separable from works of some kind. Faith suggests modes of action to desperate persons that don't occur to those who lack this trust in God. It also suggests perseverance in the face of apparently poor odds and against contrary social expectations. How do we measure up in faith on this model?

Peace to you in Jesus Christ!

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