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There’s a story in Mark’s gospel about how Jesus tries to get away from the crowd, only to be found by an unnamed woman. Jesus had just finished arguing with the religious leaders about what makes a person clean or unclean, a discussion prompted by their righteous anger at the disciples for not washing their hands before eating. He tells them it’s not the outside but the inside that matters. The Syroephonician woman enters the story as one who breaks the silence imposed by those in power. The woman is unnamed because she is an outsider—she is a woman, she is a gentile, and her daughter is demon possessed. The world of the religious leaders refused to make room for her. She has no power, no voice, and no one willing to take up her cause. So, she takes matters into her own hands. According to Mark’s gospel, “She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter”—a request Jesus declined. “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 will not take no for an answer. She talks back, refusing to go away, she demands to be heard. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

This story is about voices silenced by the religious and political establishment. It’s about a woman, pushed to desperation, raising her voice in defiance. In speaking out, she moves Jesus to action, not only with the healing of her daughter, but in the way she pushes Jesus’ ministry into new territory. Walter Breuggemann summarizes it this way, “Silence and tacit consensus always, without fail, protect privilege. That is why the privileged are characteristically silencers. Conversely, contesting speech characteristically exposes the ideological force of the silence and privilege and invites us to a fresh take on the reality of God’s world.” (Interrupting Silence: God’s Command to Speak Out)

The news yesterday morning began with President Trump’s mocking of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, a woman who broke the silence many remain trapped in. The president of the United States, a man with power and privilege, once again used his power to try to silence her. This isn’t the first time—his war against immigrants and refugees has tried to silence the groans of the outsider, the poor, and those in need. While I’ve come to expect this from President Trump, what saddens me is how many in the Christian community are willing to turn a myopic eye. It saddens me that the pro-life movement is willing to sacrifice so much for the chance to overturn a law. Life is more than biology; it is also dignity, health, and the opportunity to live free from the threat of sexual assault. The Christian responsibility to love and care for our neighbor means giving voice to those who are not heard, and it means standing up to those who try to silence people on the margins. It’s time for those who claim to be pro-life to speak up, to say “enough!”, and stand with those who have experienced abuse and oppression. It’s time to take our example from the Syrophoenician woman and refuse to be quiet—to refuse to back down from those who wield power and privilege. It’s time to raise our voices for freedom and for justice. This isn’t partisan politics—it’s the gospel.

Jason Lief

Jason teaches Practical Theology at Northwestern College in Orange City, Iowa.

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