The first of the views, that Jesus was just a man, appears to limit the possibilities of how God can act. It places human beings in an all knowing position. It is a view that says, “Jesus couldn’t be God’s son it’s scientifically impossible, it is historically unprovable.”
The second of these views seems to miss the point of the idea that God became one of us in Jesus; it turns Jesus into something for more than being human and so presents us with a Jesus that is difficult for us to relate to.
These are but two views, or two flavours if you will, of Jesus that occupies the shelves of the spiritual supermarket we call Christianity.
So what do we this problem, how do actually find the real Jesus, is it possible?
I think one of the things that can help us to know Jesus is to try to listen afresh to the stories in the scriptures, stories like the one that we heard today.
Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophonecian woman has often been identified as a problematic story.
Jesus calls the woman a dog, and even though, as some scholars point, out he uses the word puppy the insult is still there.
Why does he do this and why does he dismiss her request? Jesus’ response is based on the fact that she is a woman and not a Jew.
One of the explanations given for Jesus’ behaviour is that he knew how the woman was going to respond and that he was testing her, but for me this denies Jesus humanity, as if he were all knowing.
It could also run the risk of setting up a model for Jesus’ followers that the end justifies the means. That is to say we could begin to think it is OK to insult someone if we think it is going to get the right response.
Thinking about what Mark was trying to get across in his whole gospel we know that he is trying to help people believe his very first assertion in Mark 1:1 which announces his narrative with the words, “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”
Alongside this theme of revealing Jesus to be God’s son, there is also a theme of who is to be recognised as insiders and who is to be counted as outsiders.
One of the ironies of Mark’s telling of the gospel story is that despite Jesus telling the disciples, ‘To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God’ it is the outsiders, the gentiles and the outcastes who recognise Jesus’ identity whilst his disciples flounder in misunderstanding.
So how might these themes be a part of this particular story?
One of the things that I would want to suggest is that this story shows Jesus humanity and that he was growing in his own understanding of what he had been called to do.
If we take seriously the idea that Jesus is truly human then he cannot be all knowing but is on a journey of discovery in his own relationship with God through his life. Maybe his desire to find some anonymity in the region of Tyre, his initial rejection of the woman and his preference that the news about his healing of the deaf mute be kept private are all indicators of Jesus’ humanity.
Is it possible that through this interaction Jesus himself comprehends more clearly that the love of God and presence of the kingdom that he is proclaiming is for more than the just the Israelites? Here is a man learning what it means to follow God and entering into what had been for the Jews relatively unchartered waters – God’s will was that all humankind and the whole creation share in his love.
So the story may be saying something to us about Jesus’ own personal growth, that when God became human it really was a self emptying and he did need to grow and learn as other human beings.