One of my favourite memories are of the dinner parties my parents had when I was very little. My brother and I would eat with the adults, the same meal at the same table at the same time, but smaller portions for our tinier tummies. We would start with Grace, and when we had permission to leave the table, we would slide down out of our seats and crawl underneath the table, between thick trunk like legs, I would love the pretty shoes of the women, enjoy the smells of their perfume or soap but best was the special treats smuggled down to us by emerging hands from above the table top as we crawled past, a strawberry or a chocolate, a bit of a biscuit or cake. We had quite a feast before we left the special world under the table. We did not find the family dog in our crawl through this wonderful leg trunk world. We had a dog, but he lived outside, where he was fed the family scraps, just like the pet in the story. (The Greek word used in this passage suggests a family pet).
Too big now to crawl under the table, just writing about it takes me there now.
Whenever I read or hear Mark 7:24-30, I am there again.
By looking at this story through the focus of the child, I also bring my childhood persona. What a picture of Intergenerational gathering, adults, children and the family pet all gathering together around the one table that this passage paints. It is not a picture of equality, of equal distribution, but rather one of everyone being present getting their fill. No-one is left out or forgotten. A beautiful reminder that at God’s table everyone is feed. In our ministry shouldn’t we do likewise, the Intergenerational Movement feel it is, this is a great passage to remind us that we don’t have to serve everyone the same amount but they do all get to be fed at God’s table.
But the Gospel reading for Sunday does not stop there it heads into a very adult story of healing? Or does it! Every parent can hear themselves in the verse 36, trying to settle an overexcited child, we will tell them, not very convincingly of course to settle down, don’t be so load, bottle up your excitement. This is how I see this request by Jesus to “not tell anyone”, because for me who could contain their excitement, a life changing miracle, the ability for someone to hear and to talk well. How after being inarticulate or being one to witness such a miracle could you stay quiet. Big brother disciplining a younger child for over the top excitement that might just upset a parent!
Unfortunately, the words used in Vs.36, can have a sinister aspect, and at the start of Child Safety Week, I feel remiss not to point it out, one of the forms of coercive control is to tell someone not to tell. Any child who has been subject to abuse with the extra threat of do not tell anyone, must surely quake at this reading and others like it when Jesus implores his followers not to tell. Maybe it is a normal request, we might ask ourselves? But why then does it feel wrong, might our emotions counter? The confusion heightens the abuse.
When we preach these passages, it is important to remember that these words may trigger an unwanted memory for someone in the congregation. How are you looking after your congregation? How are you imparting these passages? Are you encouraging the wrong use of these words or supplying a healthier reason for them? What pastoral tools do you have in place so that those that are vulnerable are held, and supported by safe people and safe structures in place?
When we look at a passage by putting the child at the centre, even those passages that appear to be absent of a children’s voice, the lens of exegesis can throw up issues that other forms of analysis do not.