Traditional Theology

Jesus' initial response to the woman sounds like one that's been embraced since the dawn of human history: there are two kinds of people in the world; God’s favorites and everyone else.

The Scripture

Mark 7:21-37
as interpreted by Deborah

Then Jesus went to a house in the region of Tyre, trying to get a little peace and quiet. But it was impossible to keep his presence a secret.

As soon as she heard about him, a mother whose little girl was tormented by a demon rushed to see Jesus and threw herself at his feet. (You need to know that the woman was a gentile; a Syrophoenician.) She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

Jesus said, “First the little children must be fed, for it would be wrong to throw the children’s bread to the dogs.”

The woman nodded, “Yes, Lord, but the little dogs under the table eat the crumbs that the children drop.”

Jesus said, “Because you answered rightly, you may go home; the demon has left your daughter.”

And when she got home, she found the demon was gone, and the child resting on the bed.

Leaving Tyre, Jesus passed through Sidon, heading toward the Sea of Galilee, along the coast of Decapolis.

There they brought him a man who was deaf and mute, and begged the Lord to lay his hand on him.

Jesus took him aside, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into the man’s ears, and he spit, and then took hold of the man’s tongue. Looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed, “Ephphatha.” (which means, “Be opened.”) Immediately the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was freed, and his words could be understood perfectly.

Jesus insisted that no one tell a soul what had happened; but the more he told people to keep quiet, the more they talked about what he had done. They were completely amazed, and told everyone, “He has done wonders; even making the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

Photo of a flower

Dogs & Sinners by Deborah Beach Giordano

Mark, again

partial map of Jesus' travelsOnce again we are caught up in Mark’s rapid-pace Gospel — told with the immediacy and urgency of a war correspondent’s dispatch from the Front. Every second counts, and every action is important. Briefly, succinctly, he gives us the logistics — the exact regions through which Jesus traveled, and the precise words that the Lord used — in their original Aramaic.

It all happens so fast; one event follows upon the other, giving us little time to think, and no chance to analyze what occurred. There is no dawdling about, no waiting for signs from heaven or applause from bystanders. We are hurrying alongside the Lord, whose every waking moment is filled. He cannot have even a moment to himself, for wherever he goes he is met with urgent requests for healing. Wherever he travels there are the hungry, the sick, the dying, the deaf, the mad, the desperate.

So many needs, so little time

And every request is granted, every prayer is answered. Jesus never says “no,” although he appears to come close to it in his encounter with the Syrophoenician woman. Clearly tired after all he has done so far, in search of a place to get a little rest, he is confronted by a stranger who begs him to heal her daughter.

The woman comes to see Jesus, alone — no one seems to accompany her, and there is no mention of family or friends, only her child. This immediately raises questions about her character, for respectable ladies did not travel by themselves. Whatever her situation, at the very least she lacks a sense of how a “nice” woman ought to behave when she accosts Jesus and throws herself at his feet.

Who Does She Think She Is?

Syrophoenician woman and JesusMark gives us further details in a whispered aside: this brazen women isn’t even Jewish, but a gentile. Worse yet, [shudder] a Syrophoenician: a foreigner, possibly of mixed ancestry. And her daughter is possessed by a demon — a sure sign of corruption and sin.

The Lord has every right to turn this supplicant away. Tradition taught that the Messiah would come to the Hebrew people: the Elect leading the elect, as it were. A gentile Syrophoenician female doesn’t fit into that plan of salvation. She is the ultimate outsider. She has no business even talking to Jesus.

Dogs and Others

puppy chowJesus’ harsh response to the woman is not surprising. He’s repeating the message that has been preached over and over since the dawn of human history: there are two kinds of people in the world; God’s favorites and everyone else. Some folks are special: those whose care and feeding comes direct from heaven — and then there are the “dogs”: the second-class, subhuman creatures who don’t really count in The Grand Scheme.

These convenient categories make decisions easy. There are the Chosen and the Cast Aside. The blessed and the cursed. The good and the bad. The ones who deserve to be healed, blessed, and nurtured, and the ones who should be left to suffer and go hungry.

Us and Them

Chaplin as the Little TrampEasy-peasy. A simple answer to a complex question. Unless...

Unless it turns out that “they” are the chosen ones, and “we” are the ones on the outside looking in.

That notion stands the insiders/outsiders discussion on its ear. Suddenly the question becomes a lot more urgent and a lot less theoretical.

If there were no “guarantees” — if we had received no blessed assurance that our prayers are heard, if we did not believe that the Beloved is forgiving and merciful, if we did not know that Jesus loves us and advocates on our behalf — how readily we could fall into despair; how meaningless life might seem!

The True Messiah

This helps us to understand the courage and conviction of the Syrophoenician woman. She came to see Jesus because she dared to hope that he truly was what people claimed he was: Son of the Living God. For if this man truly was the Messiah: the herald and ruler of the kingdom of heaven, then he would be able to heal her child and — no matter who she was, what she had done, or where she was from — he would do so.

For the Eternal One is no respecter of human constructs: fences or walls, borders or boundaries, states or nations or ethnic groups. God ignores all limits because God has no limits. There is one God, one people, one earth, one heavenly kingdom.

The Right Answer

When Jesus seemed to be setting one category of people over others, and implying that there was only so much holy power, that only so many miracles could be done — that grace and goodness was in such short supply that it had to be rationed — the woman had an immediate response. She knew that there was enough. The power of God is limitless; the love of God is boundless, the mercy of God is abundant beyond our imagining.

a blessed conversationThere on a sunlit shore this unnamed woman proclaimed her belief in the extravagance of God; her faith in a luxurious abundance so full and rich that even crumbs from the divine table are sufficient to bring healing and renewed life. There is no shortage of Love, God’s strength will never fail, the Holy Desire to bless and redeem is everlasting. There is more than enough.

There is no need to struggle or squabble, no need to fight or quarrel over who is most dear to our Creator. It is pointless to try to set one group above any other in the Beloved’s eyes: all are precious in God’s sight.

Was her faithful proclamation rewarded with a nod, a smile, or a tender kiss? Here our reporter is silent. We do not know how Jesus reacted to the woman’s words, only that he acknowledged them as well-said, and then sent her home to a healthy child.

The Lord gave the right answer, as well. Through his wisdom and his actions we are assured that he truly is the Messiah, the Holy One of God.

Puppy Dog Theology

Nellie Giordano

Thanks to the testimony of the Syrophoenician woman, we know that not even little dogs are left out of God’s sight. All that lives is blessed, all creation is held in holy love and concern. There is no tail end — no last-on-the-list of Divine priorities (Mk 10:31). There is no need to push or shove; there is more than enough room in God’s heart for everyone.

No one family or race or creed outranks any other — or can lay claim to a greater share of divine grace or a fast-track into heaven. There are no “insiders”; only outsiders who have been invited to be share in the kin-dom of God. We are all mutts with imperfect pedigrees who have been fed from our loving Master’s table.

May we be as loyal to the Lord as our four-footed friends are to us.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah +

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

How are you loyal to the Lord Jesus?