Tuesday, 22 March 2016

The Syrophoenician Woman and Jesus

But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 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. (Mark 7:25-27)

The text records a woman who approached Jesus to ask for a miracle on behalf of her daughter. Now, if Jesus indeed “went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil”(Acts 10:38), isn’t it startling, the response He gave to the woman? “She begged him”…yet, we see Jesus responding in a seemingly derogatory manner. But was He being offensive?

There are two perspectives to approach this incident.

Firstly, in Mark 7:24, Jesus had entered a hideout, away from the crowd, probably to rest with His disciples from the rigours of public ministry. We get a hint about this when we look back one Chapter: “And he said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat (Mark 6:31).

Unfortunately, Jesus and His disciples didn’t get the needed rest. The Bible says the people run ahead of them to their destination. When Jesus and His team got to their desired resting place, a crowd was waiting for them. So instead of resting, Jesus “…began to teach them many things”(Mark 6:34). After attending to the crowd and other ministry needs, Jesus sought another opportunity to rest: “And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.  And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.(Mark 7:24).  It is on this background the woman enters the narrative: “But immediately…”
If you can envisage the frustration of Jesus and His team, you can empathise with them. After losing their first opportunity for rest, they were on the verge of been deprived this also. His statement to the woman could therefore be viewed as He saying; “let me attend first to myself and my disciples, then I will attend to you later. It is not right to give time I have set aside for myself and my disciples and attend to you."

It appears Jesus was apathetic to the woman and her possessed daughter.
But looking at the text from the second perspective, one fact of the gospel emerges; by faith, sinners can come to God through Christ for salvation. Salvation is for whoever will put their trust in Christ: “For God so loved the world , that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16).

Now, there was a time in God’s redemptive history when non-Jews were outside of the covenant family of God. To the Jews, anyone apart from a Jew was a “nonentity”. David called Goliath an “uncircumcised philistine” in 1Samuel 17:26. In John 4:22, Jesus, talking to a Samaritan woman, made a statement worth noting here: “…salvation is of the Jews”. Jesus’ earthly ministry was first confined to the Jews. But in the scheme of God’s redemptive plan, salvation will be extended to other persons outside of what Paul calls “commonwealth of Israel” (Ephesians 2:12).

We see clearly, the Bible was specific in telling us who this woman was. She was a Greek, a non-Jew, one separated from the covenant family of God. She didn't qualify to receive anything from Christ. But Jesus’ strong words didn't put her off. She didn't get offended, rather, in faith, she answered “…Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs”(v28). That caught Jesus’ attention. “And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter” (v29). Jesus praised the woman’s faith and granted her request.

The message is simple for today’s Bible reader; the door of salvation is opened for anyone who will believe and approach Christ in faith. When Christ died, “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Matthew 27:51) signifying an open access to God for people from “all tribes and languages” (Revelation 7:9).

In Christ, there is neither Jew, Greek, Roman or Gentile….
But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us”(Ephesians 2:13-14).