Response to a Syrophoenician Woman (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30)

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2008-02-18 12:36.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

With his disciples, Jesus left Galilee and came to the region of Tyre and Sidon. Although he did not want it to become known that he was in the area, the news spread about his arrival and the house where he was staying. A woman who believed her daughter to be suffering because of an “unclean spirit” heard about Jesus and immediately came to him. Seeing Jesus and his disciples, she began crying out, “Take pity on me, Lord, Son of David. My daughter is badly demonized.” (Matthew 15:21, 22; Mark 7:24, 25)

This woman was not Jewish but Greek (either meaning of Greek or of Gentile descent). The reference to her Syrophoenician or Canaanite origin may be understood to denote that she was born in Phoenicia of Syria (the Roman province) or in the land also known as Canaan. (Matthew 15:22; Mark 7:26)

When Jesus did not respond to her pleas, the disciples asked him to send her away, as she persisted in calling out after them. He, however, did not dismiss her but said, “I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” She fell to her knees before him and prostrated herself at his feet, pleading for him to cast out the demon from her daughter. “Lord, help me,” she begged. (Matthew 15:23-25; Mark 7:25)

Jesus then told her that the children would have to be fed first and that it would not be right to take bread away from them and to toss it to little dogs. Whereas the Jews regarded non-Jewish peoples like unclean dogs, Jesus, in the biblical accounts, is not represented as using such harsh language. In this case, the Greek word for “dog” is kynárion (a little dog or one kept in the house) and not kyon (a fierce scavenger dog roaming the streets). Still, the words would have tested the genuineness of the woman’s faith—whether she really believed Jesus to be the “Son of David” or the Messiah who could bring relief to her daughter. With full trust that Jesus could cure her daughter, she used the opening his words provided as a basis for having her request granted. The woman replied, “Yes, Lord, but the little dogs also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.” (Matthew 15:26, 27; Mark 7:27) Or, according to Mark 7:28, these little dogs would be under the table of their owner and eat of the crumbs the children would drop.

Her reply gave evidence of an unqualified trust in Jesus’ ability to heal her daughter. Therefore, he acknowledged her great faith and added, “Let it happen to you as you desire.” He assured her that, because of having expressed herself as she did, her daughter had been freed from the demon that plagued her. When the woman returned to her home, she found her child lying on the bed and liberated from the demon. (Matthew 15:28; Mark 7:29, 30)

Note:

This non-Jewish woman’s faith contrasted sharply with the unbelief of many Jews. She persisted in appealing to Jesus for help, whereas many Jews, especially in Nazareth and the immediate vicinity, did not even come to him to be healed. (Compare Mark 6:1-6.)