(Also cf. Mt. 15:21-28)s
Today’s Gospel reading is the story of Jesus and a woman whose little daughter was afflicted with an unclean spirit. The woman was a Gentile of Syrophoenician origin. This story occurs in only two of the Gospels, the Gospel According to Mark, which we heard this morning, and that of Matthew.
I have been praying with these two versions of that story for several weeks, since I was asked to preach on this lesson.
There are several small differences between the two versions; differences in how those who recorded this event saw it. I think that these differences are of far less importance than the final result.
In both versions we are told that Jesus and his disciples had gone away to the seacoast in the district of Tyre and Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea, northwest of Galilee. Mark’s Gospel tells us that the first thing that Jesus did was to enter a house because he did not want anyone to know he was there. It looks to me like they had gone there for peace and quiet after a busy time of teaching.
During my lifetime I have lived in small towns and country places, as well as here in the city. I can understand how word that Jesus had come there must have spread quickly in that quiet seaside area. It is not surprising that the woman with a sick child would have learned soon that Jesus was staying there.
The significant point of the story came when Jesus told the woman, “Let the children be fed first.” (v. 27) She persisted in asking him to heal her child. She responded to his reluctance with wit and humor, saying, “But Sir, the little dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” (v.28) Jesus was convinced of her faith by this, and acceded to her need; and healed the child!
I have a strong feeling that it was from this occasion that Jesus broadened his horizons beyond the needs of the lost sheep of Israel (cf. Mt. 15:24) to include the Gentile world as well.
Can you see how Jesus recognized in that woman’s persistence a lesson in looking beyond the agenda he had brought with him? Isn’t this a lesson for us, also? Don’t we all need to look toward broader horizons? Don’t we also need a deeper understanding of persistence in prayer?
This is what I think we can learn from the story of the Syrophoenician Woman and her little daughter!