She was a womanHe was a Jew
She was a Gentile
Galileans and people from Tyre didn’t like one another.
There was just no reason that these two should have been in the same room, but there they are, in Mark 7, Jesus and the unnamed Syrophonecian woman stand face to face. Neither one will behave well, but by the time they part company a little girl will have been delivered and Jesus’s ministry will have been redefined to include everyone.
It all started with Jesus leaving The Galilee to find some peace and quiet in Tyre. He had gone looking for peace and quiet before, but people followed him. Maybe that is why he ventured so far afield this time. Surely the Gentiles wouldn’t bother him and he could get some rest.
The Syrophonecian mother has left her home too. She is looking for Jesus. The odd thing about her is that she behaved like a man, just like Jarius in chapter 5 who was also seeking a remedy for his daughter. Jarius was an important man, a Jew, and Jesus healed his daughter without question. The same actions from the Syrophonecian woman, though, got a very different reaction. Jesus told her that ‘the children,’ or the sons of David, should be fed first, that their food ought not to be given to dogs like her daughter.
It is a shocking thing to say. The Syrophoneican mother has a quick answer, though. She points out that even the dogs enjoy the scraps that the children may drop under the table. The thing is that when Jesus talked about ‘the children’ he was talking about biological children, sons of David. the Syrophonecian woman was talking about all the children in a household. It may have included nieces, nephews, or slaves, not just biological children. With this play on words she is telling Jesus that God’s new order could include all kinds of children, not just the biological sons of David. Her clever argument convinced Jesus and he healed her daughter.
As different as they both are, there is one thing that both Jesus and the Syrophonecian woman have in common: They both went out from, or left, their respective places, and then they went back. This is a theme that you sometimes see. Sometimes it is clear, like when people go on a vision quest, or they take a long journey to ‘find themselves.’ Sometimes it is just another thread in the story. The thing these stories have in common is that when the hero/protagonist returns, the place they started from is different.
Jesus went out to get some rest, to find a quiet place. Jesus may not have fully understood the universality of his mission when he first expanded it to Gentiles, but by the time he got back to The Galilee everything had changed.
The Syrophonecian mother also went out. She went out to find Jesus and get deliverance for her daughter. When she turned and went back to her own home, though, the only assurance she had was Jesus’s word. Jesus did not go with her, like he did with Jarius. It must have been a long walk, but when she arrived everything had changed for her too.
These types of journeys are not limited to ancient people. We take these kinds of trips all the time, though they are often unrecognized. One of the most well-known types of “going out” is when people leave church for a period of years and then they come back to find that it’s not as they remembered at all. Maybe they even wonder why they left. Others may “go out” for a specific mission, or to achieve some credential, or just to get away like Jesus did. Yet, somehow, upon returning we may find that things are different.
It may be very subtle, but maybe you too can sense that you are being guided back home.
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai, China
Image: Bazzi Rahib, Ilyas Basim Khuri. The Canaanite Woman asks for healing for her daughter, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, Tenn. Original source: Wikimedia.