Posts Tagged ‘Syrophoenician woman’

Since last January, in an on again off again kind of way, we have looked at some stories from the Gospel of Mark. And the focus has been on Mark because it has wonderful, lively versions of many of the stories about Jesus.

I want us to pick this series up today and look at the story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:24-30. This is an interesting story and I believe it has some things to teach us about our Christian lives. Let’s first look at –

The Story

v. 24 – “And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.”

Jesus leaves where he has been in Galilee and goes into new territory somewhere around the cities of Tyre and Sidon. This would have been the southern part of the Roman province of Syria or what we call today Lebanon.

v. 24 – “And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.”

It looks like Jesus is trying to hide out so he can rest. He’s been involved in heavy ministry for a time now, and he knows the value of rest. Earlier he had told his disciples in 6:31 – “Come away by yourselves . . . and rest a while.”

So perhaps he thought that in this Gentile area he could take a break. He wouldn’t be known here. There wouldn’t be mobs of people clamoring after him here.

But, it says, “he could not be hidden.”

v. 25 – “But immediately a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet.”

Jesus was found out!

Some from this area had received ministry when they went into Galilee and so perhaps they spread word of Jesus and what he could do, including casting out demons (Mark 3:8;11).

In any case, this unnamed woman finds Jesus and falls down at his feet. She has obviously heard of him.

Her daughter is demon possessed. We aren’t given any more details about how this manifested itself, physically or mentally, the focus of the story isn’t really the daughter – it’s on the mother and Jesus.

v. 26 – “Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth.”

According to the way things were at this time, she had three strikes against her:

1.  she was a woman, and social contact with a man could be seen as scandalous

2.  she was a Gentile, not a Jew; not a part of God’s people, and

3.  she was a Syrophoenician, who were bitter rivals and enemies of the Jews.

But none of these obstacles stopped her.

v. 26 – “And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.”

“She begged” can also be translated as “She kept begging.” According to Matthew’s version it was so persistent and thus annoying that the disciples ended up begging Jesus to send her away – Matthew 15:23. This is quite the scene with everybody begging Jesus. Not very restful!

Jesus responds to the woman with a parable.

v. 27 – “And he said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’”

Jesus is drawing on common sense experience. Everyone knows that the children are fed first, and then the dogs are fed.

The application is that Jesus is focused on the Jews – God’s chosen ones who have awaited the promises and blessings of God. He can’t take his focus away from them. Ministry to the Gentiles will come later.

Now, this parable has been taken in the wrong way and it has upset some people. But Jesus is not saying that Gentiles are dogs. There is little or no evidence that this was a common way that Jews spoke of Gentiles (Mark Nanos – Paul’s Reversal, 2008). And besides, Jesus uses the word for “dog” that means pets or puppies.

The point is not a difference in kind – Jews are children and Gentiles are dogs. The point is a difference in timing – first the Jews, then others. This is made clear by the word “first,” a chronological marker.

This is what Paul meant, when he said in Romans 1:16 that he preaches the gospel “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.”

[Jesus has ministered to Gentiles already. But this is the only recorded story of Jesus helping someone outside of the boundaries of traditional Israel. Perhaps this is why he raises this issue.]

[If there is a connection of this story with the previous discussion of purity and a general Gentile theme just after this – it is to make the point that focused ministry to Gentiles will come after Jesus’ ministry to the Jews. Not that there are no longer Jewish concerns with Mosaic purity teaching.]

vs. 28 – “But she answered him, ‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”

First, notice that she addresses him as “Lord.” This is the only time someone does this in Mark’s gospel and it shows her understanding of who Jesus is.

And then she shows her intelligence and wit. She gets his parable, which the disciples usually do not. And then she goes on to make her own point. Even though the dogs eat later, sometimes the children drop crumbs and thus the dogs eat at the same time as the children.

So based on Jesus’ own parable – it should be alright for her not to have to wait, but to receive some bread even now.

This woman reframed the discussion is such a way that allowed Jesus’ concerns to be acknowledged, but also allowed her to receive her request. She isn’t asking for Jesus to neglect Israel, or to take anything away from them. She is just saying, “Since you’re already here in Gentile territory, why not a crumb?”

v. 29 – “And he said to her, ‘For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.’”

Her statement shows her humility. She accepted her place as not yet one of the elect; and not yet the focus of Jesus’ ministry.

And her statement demonstrates her bold and persistent faith. She did not allow Jesus’ apparent “no” to stop her. But continued to make the case for her daughter.

In response to this humility and faith, Jesus healed her daughter, and that from a distance. (Perhaps having to do with concern about purity with entering a Gentile home – Guelich).

And the woman, in faith, accepted this without confirmation.

v. 30 says, “And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.”


1. Be open to opportunities to help others. This wasn’t Jesus’ timing to minister to her. He was trying to get away from people and crowds, so he could rest.

What does he do when he is found out? He allowed his privacy to be invaded; he gave up some of his time of rest.

And we need to be open to this as well. You have one thing scheduled, and it’s a good thing. But someone comes along who needs help.

This is just like Tiffany shared today. She didn’t plan on ministering to the man in the hospital. She had other plans. But God gave her the opportunity.

And remember Kim. She needs people to sit with her as she is weak. Are you scheduled for the week so there’s not time?  This is an opportunity.

Also, this wasn’t Jesus’ focus to help her. God sent him to minister to the people of Israel (Matthew 15:24). She is not a part of Israel.

What does Jesus do? He raised the issue with her, but then he responded when he saw her humility and faith.

Things don’t always work according to our plans. In my church in Portland we worked at setting up a weekly meal for neighbors so that we could get to know them. We wanted all kinds of people to come. But it turned out that only the homeless came. We had not really planned on this; it wasn’t our focus. And I had no skills in this (although one of our workers did). But it opened up a season of ministry to this population in our area.

The same happened with immigrant Congolese Africans. We never sat down and said, “Hey, let’s begin this ministry.” It wasn’t our focus. But God gave it to us.

I challenge you this week – keep a look out for a Syrophoenician woman or man whom God might lead across your path. And take advantage of the opportunity, even if it is not your timing or focus.

2. Approach God like this woman did. When you pray, learn from her. She was successful. What do we learn?

She approached Jesus with humility:

  • she fell down at his feet
  • she accepted that she is not yet part of the elect and has no claim on him
  • she calls him “Lord,” an expression of submission.

She approached Jesus with bold, persistent faith:

  • she searched Jesus out while he was in hiding
  • she kept begging
  • she called him “Lord,” an expression of faith
  • after Jesus seemed to say no, she responded boldly
  • and she knew that for him, casting out a demon was only a crumb – a small thing for him to do.

This morning I want to give you and opportunity to approach God like her. I know that many of you are carrying burdens, concerns for yourself or others; that you are seeking after God’s will; that you want spiritual renewal in our congregation. I invite you to come to the front an offer up your prayers.

Perhaps coming to the front is embarrassing for you. See it as an expression of humility. Perhaps coming to the front seems quite bold. See it as an expression of faith.

William Higgins

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