c) Jesus Rewards the Persevering Faith of a Gentile Woman
“Jesus … went to the vicinity of the Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he told her, ‘For such reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” (Mark 7:24-30)
On this occasion when Jesus was again in Gentile territory, He wished to be left alone, probably so that He could spend more time teaching His disciples who later became His apostles. However, somehow a Greek woman, a Gentile (non-Jew) born in Syrian Phoenicia and probably an ancestor of the present people in Lebanon, heard about His presence and saw her opportunity to help her demon-possessed daughter.
Had she heard about the promise of a coming Messiah among the Children of Israel? Had she heard someone read about His coming and His works from the Writings of the Prophets of the Children of Israel? Yet, given the presence and authority of this Messiah, what chance did she have as a Gentile, a non-Jew, someone whom the Children of Israel might consider an alien, an outcast, perhaps even a dog! Her hopes might have turned into despair when He appeared to ignore her prostration and cry for help, or even His disciples’ request that He get rid of her (Matthew 15:23). Her despair might have intensified when Jesus did respond: “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Mark 7:27). Did Jesus really mean that she and all her people were dogs? Or was He simply repeating a common Jewish designation of the Gentiles?
“Yes, Lord,” she answered, accepting Jesus’ test, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Out of Jesus’ very refusal, she extracted an argument to secure His blessing for her. Jesus’ own words proved to be the stimulation not for her faith’s capitulation but for its victory! It was as if she had said: Even though I do not know you well and even though I recognise my lowliness and unworthiness, I know you well enough to trust you so that you cannot say “No!” Faith, this simple woman teaches us, is not for weaklings, for spectators, for the comfortable. It is to take personally Jesus’ promises seriously, to trust Him, to commit yourself to Him.
Indeed, the Holy Bible clearly indicates that God’s promised blessings through His Messiah are first for the Children of Israel and then for all others, for you and for me. It is incorrect to think that the ministry of Jesus the Messiah was only for the Children of Israel. The Syrophoenician woman is proof of this, as is the Gentile man whom Jesus cured from the legion of evil spirits. Even more, this is only to exemplify what so many prophets declared in their writings before the coming of the Messiah. Consider these examples:
“Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is above the people, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.” (Isaiah 60:1-3)
“The Lord will lay bare his holy arm in the sight of all the nations, and all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God.” (Isaiah 52:10)
“In the last days the mountain of the Lord’s temple will be established as chief among the mountains; it will be raised above the hills, and all nations will stream to it. …” (Isaiah 2:2; cf. 3,4)
Martin Luther, a great religious reformer, constantly pointed to this Syrophoenician lady as a wonderful example for him of great faith conquering over insuperable obstacles. Can this simple lady be an example of faith for you, too?
And may God help us to be careful how we label others, since God’s promises through Jesus and in Jesus are for all!