Saturday: The Syrophoenician Woman
Today’s story from the Gospel of Mark tells of a turning point in Jesus’ ministry.
Perhaps it is comforting to see that Jesus, in his humanity, did not know exactly the
scope of his work from the very beginning. This fact gives us, as disciples, a model for being awake to the possibility for change and challenge in God’s call to us.
From there Jesus 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, but
a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about
him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of
Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He
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.” But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the
table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may
go—the demon has left your daughter.” So she went home, found the child lying
on the bed, and the demon gone (Mark 7:24-30).
Jesus has gone outside the area of his usual ministry, perhaps hoping for a chance to catch his breath a little, when this woman, a Gentile, approaches him for help.
• As in the story of the Good Samaritan, this story puts before us the question of
how far our neighborliness needs to extend.
• Jesus hadn’t considered that the scope of his work went beyond the Jewish
community, the people who knew God and obeyed God’s teaching.
• The interchange between Jesus and the woman can seem harsh, as Jesus
compares the Jews to the “children” of a household and Gentiles to “dogs.” The
woman does not allow the sting of Jesus’ initial response to deter her from her
goal. She picks up Jesus’ harsh words herself, and uses them to persist on her
• Far from being offended by the woman’s persistence, Jesus responds, “For
saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter….”
• Jesus does not preach to the woman, does not try to convert her, but instead
allows God’s healing power to move through him to her daughter. The story
ends in the woman’s home, with her daughter healed, while Jesus moves on
with his work.
Questions for Reflection
• One way to work with this story is to imagine what happens in the weeks after this
encounter. How do you imagine that the woman was changed? How was her
daughter changed? How was Jesus changed? How, perhaps, is your life different
on account of this story?
• In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, we considered our responsibilities
toward our nearest neighbors. In this story, we have been led to consider those
who are far off, or very different from us. What are the distinct challenges of these
different sorts of neighbors? Does it matter to you if people do not understand that
your care for them is part of your faithfulness to God?
Healing God, you have trusted us to be neighbors to all whom you love and care for.
Let us not be hindered by our own standards for judging who or what is deserving
of your care, but lead us gently and surely to widen our circles of love, respect, and
caring, that our joy may likewise expand and deepen. In the Name of Jesus we pray.