I’m continuing to ponder Jesus’ interaction with the Syrophoenician woman. Here I’m thinking through a thought, rather than presenting any sort of hypothesis: is the reader of Mark really expected to believe that Jesus wasn’t intending to heal the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter?

I ask this because there are many readings of the passage in which the woman is said to change Jesus’ mind.

Let me unpack my ponderances…

  • It’s clear that there are significant historical animosities between the Jews and the repatriated northern kingdom (2 Kings 17), but the woman is not requesting anything that would contravene Jewish law or sensibilities, is she? The reader of Mark knows that Jesus can heal at a distance, and that he is happy to heal unclean demon-possessed people in Gentile territory (Mark 5). Wouldn’t the reader expect the same thing to happen here?
  • The reader of Mark has already come across numerous points at which the ministry of Jesus seems to echo the ministry of Elijah/Elisha, but on a more massive scale: the ministry of John the Baptist; being attended by animals in the wilderness; healing a man with leprosy; multiplying loaves; etc. We have been told explicitly that some people think Jesus is Elijah (6:15). Now we see that Jesus enters the territory where Elijah healed a woman’s child – a fact elsewhere explicitly acknowledged by Jesus (Luke 4). Aren’t we being set up to expect that Jesus will heal the child?
  • The reader of Mark has also already seen that Jesus does not categorise ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ in the way that the Pharisees do (Mark 7). And, as mentioned, we have already seen that Jesus is not put off by the (extreme) uncleanness of an unclean Gentile (Mark 5).
  • Further, the reader of Mark has already become familiar with the pattern of seeing a hurdle placed in front of those who come to Jesus pleading for help, which gives them an opportunity to express bold faith (e.g. the full house; the need for the bleeding woman to go public; the death of Jairus’ daughter). So isn’t it natural for the reader of Mark to suppose that the same thing is happening here, when Jesus offers his initial response?

These things are pushing me to think that the Syrophoenician mother is not changing Jesus’ mind. So what, then, is the point of including this episode in Mark’s Gospel? I think it functions to underline the motif of Jesus as bread for the world. But I’m still thinking that through…



I remember a few years ago I watched the movie The Machinist, starring Christian Bale. I thought it explored some interesting issues, and I later went online to see what people were saying about it. I encountered one online forum in which someone suggested that he had found a mistake in the film: the clock appeared to be showing exactly the same time at different times of day in the film. Now, the observation was correct, but the assertion that it was a mistake betrayed the fact that this person had missed what the film was trying to do with that motif: the viewer was supposed to be provoked by this apparent problem to look deeper into what was happening within the movie.

I think the same thing can happen with the Bible. I’m currently thinking about Mark’s interaction with the Syrophoenician woman, and pondering why Mark includes this episode. Here are some of the numerous questions I’m currently thinking about:

  • Why did Jesus go to Tyre in the first place? To get a break? But he already knew there were people in this region who were interested in him (3:6-12) To reach the Gentiles? But he had already done this decisively in the Decapolis (5:1). Because of an impulse to follow the ministries of Elijah/Elisha? If so, why? To escape Herod Antipas?
  • Why does Jesus initially rebuff the woman? Because he is not convinced that it is time to go to the ‘unclean’ Gentiles? But he has already intentionally gone to the uncleanest unclean Gentile imaginable – a bleeding, grave-dwelling, pig-lover in the Decapolis! And he willingly cleansed him. Is it because he can’t imagine opening his healing ministry to the child of a Canaanite woman? But this would not have been a shocking thing for a Jew: Elijah had done exactly this in exactly the same area – a fact which Jesus elsewhere explicitly approves at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:25-26). Is it in order to engender a response that he wishes to hear? If so, why?
  • Why mention that when Jesus leaves Tyre, he goes to the Sea of Galilee via Sidon? This is clearly the complete wrong direction.

I have a few hunches about some of these questions, but I’m still thinking them through. I had a browse online to see what other people are saying, and I found some similar comments to those I found about The Machinist: ‘Aha! Mark has made a mistake! He thinks Sidon is on the way to the Sea of Galilee!’ But as a master storyteller, couldn’t it be that Mark is doing something similar to the director of that movie? Perhaps he’s provoking the reader, causing us to ask, ‘What, why go to this classic Gentile duo of Tyre and Sidon??’ It might be that by paying attention to apparent anomalies like these that we will attune ourselves to what Mark wants us to see in Jesus’ ministry.

I’ve just joined the liberal arts faculty at a university in Indonesia. This includes various elements, such as philosophy, civics, critical thinking, religious studies, language, and others. All students at this university must take liberal arts units.

Today we had a presentation by the dean for the roughly 50 lecturers in the faculty. It was interesting to see how he understood the department from a Christian perspective (given that it’s a Christian university)…

He pointed out that liberal arts has always – since its beginnings in ancient Greece and Rome – been about the flourishing of human being in social context. In particular, it has aimed to provide well rounded education for free (i.e. ‘liberal’) people, such that they become good citizens.

In a Christian setting, there is the opportunity to think beyond just creating good citizens of this or that country (although this remains part of the vision). There is an opportunity to help students become good citizens of the kingdom of God. In particular, the dean suggested, this will involve giving them a vision of gracious covenant and shalom. This will impact curriculum, pedagogy, and institutional structure.

This doesn’t mean that lecturers are pastors, or that the department should attempt to be like a church; it is simply an attempt to imagine what liberal arts could be like if God is considered to be present & true.


Well I’ve been absent on the blog for some time. I’ve just moved to Indonesia, and here are my initial thoughts:

  • Wonderful people
  • Amazingly cheap food – I just bought a delicious lunch for the equivalent of $1.70 Australian!
  • Very green
  • Great place to be


Well I’ve just drawn a random winner for the $100 book prize. I used http://www.miniwebtool.com/random-name-picker/ (just once – no cheating!), and here is what it came up with…

Screenshot 2016-03-30 10.51.13

So Kaye is the winner!

And now here are my own interpretative comments on the poem. In a subsequent post I’ll offer some hermeneutical reflections on what all this illustrates about interpretation. And then I’ll go back to my blogging hiatus!

Interpretative comments

In writing this poem, I didn’t have the end in view at the beginning. I had a sense of what I wanted to explore, but the meaning of the poem came about as I wrote, rather than having an initially clear message that I wanted to dress up in opaque flowery poetic clothes.

I wanted to use a simple rhyming meter, at first because I wanted this to be the sort of very simple poem that anybody could write, but then I came to like the idea of juxtaposing an ambiguously serious subject with a jovial, almost infantile, rhyme. A few of the commenters picked up on this.

One element that became stable during the brief reception history of this poem (i.e. among the commenters) was that it was, at some level, about chickens. This is a solid observation. What you might not know is that we have three pet chickens who live in a nice coop with their own enclosed backyard. But sometimes chickens go broody – that is, they sit in their nesting box 24 hours a day, and refuse to eat or drink. If left in this situation, they will die. (This is particularly true of Silky Chickens, our breed.) The only way I have discovered to shake them out of this broody state is to ensure that they have no opportunity to return to their nesting box, or to create a makeshift nest. So when our chickens go broody, we put them in a rather harsh-looking secondary  coop, made up of bare bars and chicken wire. It’s nowhere near as nice as their regular coop, but after a few days in this cheerless environment, they get shaken out of their death-wish broodiness, and can return to their proper home. We call the harsh coop ‘detention.’ While they are in detention, they are willing to eat and drink… but they act psycho – especially Mandy, who darts around the place, wishing she could go back to her nest.

But there is more to the poem than this. A number of commenters recognised that the language of the poem seemed intentionally evocative of human incarceration – whether prisoners or refugees in detention. There was a clear recognition that the tone of the poem is not happy. Words such as ‘detention,’ ‘bars,’ ‘harsh,’ ‘forbidding,’ seem to go beyond what is required in speaking about chickens. Also, a number of commenters noted that the final line, ‘a little paradigm,’ seems to demand that  the situation with the chickens and the dove be seen as a picture of some bigger reality. These are good insights. That final line is admittedly inelegant, but it attempts to force the reader to go bigger than the chicken/dove scene. If I were to try a second draft of the poem, I would perhaps attempt a more subtle way of doing this than ‘a little paradigm.’

So what ‘bigger reality’ is hinted at here? Given that it’s a poem, there is room for interpretation. Those who pointed to refugees in detention are on the same track as I was in penning the poem, though I have to say that my own sense of how the chicken/dove situation was paradigmatic was hazy as I wrote. I was certainly aware of the ‘peace’ connotations of the dove, and this explains why I referred to it as a ‘dove’ rather than a ‘pigeon.’ In reality I don’t know if those birds that frequently try to share our chickens’ food are doves or pigeons… or even if there’s any difference. But I had a sense – and this has become further clarified as I’ve read others’ comments – that there was something crazy about these death-wish chickens being annoyed that a harbinger of peace would want to share their space by coming into detention. And there might be some similar craziness about Australians (or others) being annoyed that refugees flee here to seek to share our plenty. I’d be more than happy for readers to run further with this in their own readings of the poem – indeed, that was my hope in penning my hazy thoughts.


This is an exercise in hermeneutics. I’ve had an ongoing interest in hermeneutics, which seeks to explore how interpretation and understanding take place. The key value of hermeneutics is listening to the other. I’m curious to explore this further, and I invite your input by offering comments on the poem below that I’ve just written.

So, how do you win a book worth up to $100 of your choice? Well first, let me limit that a bit: it has to be in one of the following fields: history, philosophy, hermeneutics, theology, religious studies, biblical studies. That’s a LOT to choose from! You can be based anywhere in the world for this, so long as Amazon delivers there.

Well, what you need to do is twofold:

  1. Offer an interpretative comment of at least 80 words in the comments below. This could be as basic as saying that you don’t understand the poem at all, and pointing out the bits that you find confusing, or why you find them confusing. Or it could be a fully fledged commentary. Your comment could also take the form of questions – ‘What does this bit mean?’/’Could it be referring to such and such?’ I’m NOT hoping for a ‘right’ answer here, so no interpretative comment will be thought of as silly. I’m just interested to see how people interpret it, and what reasons they give for their interpretations/lack of understanding.
  2. Draw attention to this post, either by Twitter, Facebook, or a blog.

If we get at least a dozen such comments, then – after a couple of weeks – I’ll choose one of the commenters at random, and you’ll win yourself any book from the above categories. I’ll have it posted out to you, brand spanking new, by Amazon.

Without further ado, here’s the short poem:

Feeding Time

I went to see the girls,
But they were in detention.
I guess I should have known,
But Bec had failed to mention.

I went and peered through bars,
And saw their stubborn faces.
These girls are hard to shake
With harsh, forbidding places.

I offered them some scraps,
Which they accepted gladly.
Then Mandy did her laps,
While others stood there sadly.

A dove came in to share –
This happens all the time –
They scared the thing away;
A little paradigm.

Since October 2015, I’ve been working for Berlitz International, frequently in the AMP building in the picture above (the smaller one in between the two biggest ones). Berlitz is a language-teaching organisation. I’ve been doing one-to-one personal English tutoring, especially for executives from the mining industry. It has been quite enjoyable getting to know a range of people from different cultures, and developing my language skills.

I’m also enrolled in a full time postgraduate course in Professional Education, at the University of Western Australia. This covers issues such as ‘global perspectives in education,’ ‘technology and pedagogy,’ and the like.

Of course, I’m still interested in biblical studies, and I continue to engage in research. But it seems appropriate at this time for this blog to have an extended hiatus. I’ll still be on Twitter, and if anyone would like to be in touch, you can contact me at mattrmalcolm [at] gmail.com. Oh… and those who owe me book reviews are not let off the hook! 😉