For September 9, 2018 (Proper 18, Year B)

Mark 7:24-30 (see below): This week’s Gospel lesson includes a story about a non-Jewish woman who seems to outwit Jesus and convince him that he can't limit his ministry to fellow Jews. It presents a rather unflattering snapshot of Jesus.

If you're wondering about that, here are two other stories to consider (they’re included below too):

Genesis 32:22-30: Jacob out-wrestles God and forces God to bless him. God names him "God-Wrestler" (that’s what “Israel” means) and concedes that Jacob won the wrestling match: “you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

Exodus 32:10-14: Moses chides an angry God into cooling off. God actually repents!

All of these stories challenge popular assumptions about Jesus and God—and about the kinds of stories you find in the Bible. People assume that Jesus never needed to be corrected, except it looks like he was this time. People assume the same about God.

Why doesn’t Jesus already know better?

How could God lose a wrestling match?

Why would God need to repent?

Why are there stories like this in the Bible?

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Mark 7:24-30: Jesus 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.” Then 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.

Genesis 32:22-30: The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel [Hebrew: God-wrestler], for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel [Hebrew: God’s face], saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

Exodus 32:9-14: The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.” But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’ ” And the Lord changed his mind [other translations say “repented”] about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.