The Gospel According to the Enneagram Eight

I am an Eight. At my best, I stand up to bullies. At my worst, I become a bully.

I am strong. At my best I protect the weak and vulnerable. At my worst, I’m paranoid about my own vulnerability and weaknesses.

I am heroic. At my best, I seek justice, bringing down systems of oppression. At my worst, I push boundaries too far and destroy lives.

Being an Eight is intense and difficult to describe. It’s even more challenging to understand a female Eight, let alone find an example in Scripture. The Gospels are an interesting place to search for a person like me, but a passage came across the lectionary a few weeks ago that illuminated a woman who I would classify as a redeemed Eight.

In Mark 7, a Gentile woman approaches Jesus requesting healing of her demon-possessed daughter. Jesus gives a crass and, in my opinion, a typical “good ole boy” response.

From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “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 answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Yes, we can pick a part Jesus’ intent and soften the story. So, Jesus wasn’t ready to start ministering outside of the Jewish people, the chosen children of God, but there is no reason for him to be a butt about it.

Dog. Jesus calls this woman a “dog.” And not one of those cute, clean shih tzu dogs that gets fed three times a day and sleeps in their owner’s bed. No, Jesus calls this Gentile woman a no good, street-living, flee-ridden, downright dirty dog. Yes, the word choice might be worse today. As a woman—particularly, a dominate, power house of a woman—I’ve been called harsher dog names, if you know what I mean.

But Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is using a common, dehumanizing label as a tool to make his point. Yes, at first read of this story, we expect Jesus to be loving and kind, and save her daughter like Jesus has done over and over again when other folks came to him. Instead, Jesus uses a racist word, a term commonly used in that time to label the folks on the other side of the tracks. But just because society approves doesn’t mean it still isn’t wrong.

In Jesus’ world, this woman grew up on the wrong side of the city, was born with the wrong skin color, and according the laws of the day she had no right to engage a Jewish man in conversation. Jesus isn’t walking the west side streets to preach to the Gentiles. No, he’s there to keep a low profile as he meets up with his people, the Jews. Jesus just happens to be passing through that part of the city when this woman comes up to him.

She is desperate. She is tired. She is willing to risk her own life for the sake of protecting and saving her daughter. A healthy Eight will let go of the need to be in control and become self-surrendering for the sake of protecting the ones they love.

I imagine that morning, this woman wakes up and does what she does everyday. She cares for her sick and possessed little girl, she gets dressed for work, and she puts on a brave face even though her heart is breaking. But that morning she reads the gossip feeds of social media and discovers that a Jewish rabbi, the famous healer named Jesus, has been spotted in town.

So what does she do? She ties the laces of her old, worn-out Nikes and leaves her broken down home, saying to herself, “Today, I’ll stand for something, even if it means sacrificing everything.” She finds Jesus walking down a back alleyway. Mustering her courage, she walks up to him and kneels before him and his disciples. She begs, which goes against her natural instinct, but she needs his help for the sake of her daughter.

His reply doesn’t surprise her. She’s lived her entire life hearing words like this from a man like him. But this time she won’t deflect with sarcasm. She won’t pick a fight out of pride and she won’t let these words harden her heart. No, these crude words won’t break her spirit.

So what does she do? She stands up to the powers that be with wit and truth for sake of salvation. “Sir,” she says with strength and dignity, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

The entourage of Jesus’ followers stare in shock, mouths gaping open. Then Jesus redeems his own words. Words once used to harm, he now transforms into words of healing. He smiles at this magnanimous woman who has surprised even the Son of God.

Jesus says to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” The woman challenges Jesus to change and Jesus, of all people, accepts the challenge.

She is my hero. To kneel with strength, to voice truth from a deep place of pain, and to courageously act out of vulnerability is the ultimate power of a redeemed Eight.

Rev. Erica Whitaker is the Senior Pastor at Buechel Park Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. Erica earned a Master of Divinity degree from Baylor University George W. Truett Theological Seminary and, before moving to Kentucky, she served for two years as a Pastoral Resident at Wilshire Baptist Church. She has over ten years of ministry experience, including five units of clinical pastoral education from Methodist Health System in Dallas, TX.

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