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Transforming Victim Narratives: Mark 7:24-30

Posted: June 9, 2012 by Rob Voyle

Have you ever tried, unsuccessfully, to help someone with a victim narrative?

I know in my own church ministry and as a coach and therapist people with big victim narratives can be a real frustration. They continually report they feel like a "worm" and you tell them no you are not, you're a child of God, or something similar, but they never get it. Week after week they say their line, you say yours, and nothing changes. Actually your arguing against their position just keeps their position in balance. What you need to do is radically unbalance their position if you want to bring transformation and healing.

This week we have the story of the Syrophoenician or Canaanite woman whom Jesus calls a dog. I realize there are many ways to interpret this story, especially how Mark is using it in context to explore Jesus mission to the Gentiles and not just the Israelites.

Personally I read this story as a healer and I am fascinated by the strategy Jesus uses to bring transformation. The great healers in the mystical tradition often use "crazy wisdom" as Buddhists call it to bring about transformation. It is often bizarre, paradoxical, ambiguous, and may rely on the telling of parable or indirect communication rather than direct or literal statements. Jesus is one such healer, and this Sunday's Gospel is a good example.

The woman is an outcast and her daughter is possessed. This is a person who is likely to have a very powerful alienation narrative, much like those people with victim narratives that can drive us crazy. They will fall at your feet begging and wailing for help, maximizing their victim potential, because that's the way they have learned to be noticed and get help. And they will what they can get but never give up their victim consciousness because that is how they get help.

So Jesus has a dilemma. Simply healing the daughter would reinforce this pattern of behavior. Ignoring her would also reinforce the behavior and the beliefs that motivate such behavior.

So what does Jesus do? Rather than arguing against her alienation narrative he agrees with her narrative and even ratchets it up a few notches calls her dog and says it wouldn't be fair to give such dogs the real children's food. Now the woman's story is unbalanced. if she really believed it she would slide on down the slippery slope of alienation into the hell of despair. The only way she can achieve internal balance is to argue against her alienation narrative. She gets in Jesus' face and tells him: "you may call me a dog sir, but even the dogs are worthy to eat the crumbs from the master's table." In Matthew's version he says it is this faith - her fundamental belief that she is worthy of belonging at the table - that has facilitated her daughters healing.

As a coach I have used this paradoxical strategy with remarkable success. The next time you find yourself arguing against a person's victim narrative, stop and simply agree with it, maybe exaggerate it a bit and see what happens. I think you'll be surprised.

If you would like to learn more about Jesus' tender, fierce, and, mischievous way of compassion and how you can use it in your ministry I invite you to attend one of my Introduction to Appreciative Inquiry training programs where we look at the subject in considerable detail.

Rob Voyle

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About the Author

Rob Voyle

Rob Voyle

The Rev. Dr. Rob Voyle is a leader in the development and use of appreciative inquiry in church and coaching settings.

Rob's Approach to Training

  • Helpful: Training must provide practical, sustainable solutions for today's challenges.
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