Sundays on Mark (20) : the Syrophoenician woman

Continuing our simple Sunday reflections on Mark’s gospel

This week Mark 7:24-37 Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman

This is a significant story. It follows Jesus’ radical challenge to ritual defilement and continues that theme. Here is Jesus deliberately going into enemy turf, the pagan Gentile region of Tyre. The response he receives there stands in dramatic contrast with that of the Pharisees and scribes.

He goes in secret, presumably on ‘retreat’. The foreign woman has heard of the Jewish miracle worker and protrates herself before him in respect and desperation for her daughter.

Jesus’ reply seems to amount to a blunt uncompassionate refusal: Israel are the children, Gentiles the dogs, and elect Israel’s blessing is not to be shared. Some have tried to argue around this interpretation, but it seems hard to dodge to me. Her reply appears to understand well Jesus’ apparent exclusive reply as she appeals respectfully to him as ‘Lord’ for blessing and mercy to ‘overflow’ beyond Israel, and thereby to her daughter.

It seems Jesus’ enigmatic statement was  a sort of ‘test’  – which she passes with flying colours. Her trust, humilty and appeal for mercy are rewarded. Her daughter is healed and at peace.

Here is faith modelled. And what a counter-cultural offensive model. A woman. A pagan Gentile. This is no peripheral or accidential account as the supplementary story of the healings in the Greek Decapolis attest.

The actions of Jesus the Jewish Messiah foreshadow Peter and Cornelius, and the mission of Paul, apostle to the Gentiles. Here is the Messiah bring hope, healing and forgiveness for the whole world: Jews and Gentiles; men and women.

PRAYER: Almighty God, we give thanks that your blessing is generously poured out for all. There is no-one excluded from the invitation to enter your kingdom. May each one of us recognise our need of your forgiveness and grace and respond with wholehearted faith and trust in your Son.  Amen.

The Faith of a Syrophoenician Woman

24Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25In 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. 26The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

27“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.”

28“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

29Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

30She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

31Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man.

33After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. 34He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!” ). 35At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

36Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

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