“For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, and a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.” Mark 7:25-26
I remember being in the company of a young woman who was asked why she stopped going to a certain church. Her answer had nothing to do with doctrine, morality, or even administration. No, she explained, it was just that the pastor said something from the pulpit that offended her. I thought to myself, “Dear girl, you wouldn’t have followed Jesus Christ very long.” (Maybe she should have read Psalm 119:165.) Someone who is quick to take offense is always a poor risk for a friend, and an unlikely prospect for a disciple. “Blessed is he,” said our Lord, “whosoever shall not be offended in me” (Matt. 11:6).
The woman in our story probably wouldn’t have been blamed had she taken offense at what Jesus said to her, but neither would she have received the petition she asked of Him, either. She came at a time when the Lord was hoping to have some time alone, or at least just with the disciples, but verse twenty-four says “[H]e could not be hid.” And this Gentile woman, driven by desperation, found Him. She had left a daughter at home who was uncontrollable because of an evil spirit that consumed her. When she saw Jesus, she cried, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil” (Matt. 15:22). It’s obvious she knew exactly who He was: He was the Lord, and He was heir to King David’s throne.
It’s now that we see the first instance of what would seem to be rude and heartless behavior by Jesus. Matthew says, “[H]e answered her not a word” (15:23). But we will soon find out, He wasn’t trying to kill her faith; He was trying to kindle it. She evidently turned then to the disciples, imploring them to intercede for her, because they, in turn, said to Jesus, “Send her away; for she crieth after us.” Then follows a pathetic dialogue that defies all rules of common courtesy. When He does speak, his first words to her are, “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” To which she cries, piteously, “Lord, help me.” Then, to add insult to injury, it would seem, He adds, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and cast it to the dogs.”
Of all the mean things Jesus could have said to her, this surely was the meanest (or so it would appear). “I was sent to those of the nation of Israel (of which you are not), so why should I take spiritual bread that belongs to the Jews, and give it to Gentile dogs (of which you are).” I doubt Jesus’ words would fit the criterion of “political correctness” in today’s world! But in reality, Jesus was not only testing her faith, He was providing her a rebuttal, if she was wise enough to see it. And, God be praised, she was.
“Truth, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the masters’ table,” was the quick reply. Instead of leaving in a huff, she immediately picked up the idea of Jesus’ terminology and reasoned, “You don’t have to be one of the family to get bread, if you’re willing to take crumbs—and I am.” Her words were what got her what she wanted. Jesus said so in Mark 7:29), and faith gave her the courage to say them.
This Syrophenician was a woman resolved. She refused to let a rebuff and offensive language dishearten her from her holy purpose. She was a woman of reason. She was spiritually minded and quick-witted enough to challenge the God-Man, who said in the Old Testament, “Come now, let us reason together, saith the Lord” (Isa. 1:18). And, eventually, she was a woman rewarded. The Man who had seemingly done so much to discourage her, ended his conversation with these words of hope and cheer: “O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt” (Matt. 15:18).
It would seem to me, this woman can teach us all we need to know about faith...and O, how we need to know about faith! I know I need it more today than I ever have before.
Faith sees the invisible, believes the impossible
Receives the incredible, no matter what was;
Faith moves the unmovable, proves the un-provable;
For anyone willing to trust,
Believe and you’ll see what faith does.
Donna Brooks, Marty Funderburk, Scott Wilemon