In this story, Jesus travels northwest to Tyre on the Mediterranean Sea, outside the borders of Israel and thus Gentile territory. Tyre from Galilee (the last known place Jesus was at) was a distance of about 35 miles (about 56 kilomotres); not far in today’s terms. But Jesus travelled on foot, over rugged terrain. In Tyre he was confronted by a woman who was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. The designation, Syrophoenician, according to Mitzi Minor “was sometimes used to denote a woman from the seamier side of the city,” in other words, a prostitute (The Spirituality of Mark 1996, 48). The fact that no man came to speak for her would support this. She was a single mom trying to keep her child alive in a culture that was cruel to women, forcing many into prostitution as the only means of earning money. She was on the periphery of society, ignored by many yet Jesus listened to her.
Prepare to listen. Silent preparation before praying: Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name. (Psalm 86:11)
Read Mark 7:24-30
24From 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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He 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.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
One of the remarkable features in this story is that in Tyre (far from Jesus’ usual haunts) this woman not only knew about Jesus and his power to cast out demons, but also knew of his arrival in her district, despite Jesus’ intention for privacy. How did she know Jesus well enough to recognize him in her town? Mark doesn’t tell us. She ignored the social norms that made it impossible for a lone woman to speak to a man in public and dared to approach Jesus. In humility she ‘bowed down at his feet’ and begged healing for her daughter. Was Jesus offended? After all, she was an ‘unclean’ woman because she was a Gentile pagan and probably also a prostitute.
His response is certainly out of character. He seems reluctant to help this nameless woman, insinuating she was a dog (a term Jews often used when referring to Gentiles) who must wait for the children (that is, Jews) to be fed first. This only made the woman bolder. With a quick-thinking mind, she fights back: ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Jesus was impressed and sends her home with the assurance her daughter was healed. Ched Myers notes that Jesus grants her request “not because of her faith, but because of her argument.” Which, he maintains is remarkable because Jesus is usually the one to win verbal debates (Myers 2016, p. 204). She is the only person to be commended ‘for saying that,’ that is, for beating Jesus in an argument. But, she also had faith. She had no evidence that her daughter was healed yet she went home without another word, stepping out in faith that Jesus had indeed healed her child.
What were your immediate thoughts about Jesus’ initial response to this unnamed woman? Can you tell them to Jesus? Do you think she became a devout believer in Jesus after this?
Respond to Jesus in prayer
Sometimes, Lord Jesus, I don’t like the way you treat women. It brings back memories of the ways women have been treated in your church and society today. I know you came to bring in a new order and new ways of equality and justice for all, regardless of race, gender, creed. I long to see it more often, especially in your Church. Keep reforming us, Jesus. Amen.
Go and live obediently in the world where Jesus accepts our words.