Mark: The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

Read: Mark 7:24-30

In this passage, Mark tells us that Jesus has relocated to the vicinity of Tyre, the bustling metropolis of His time, about 30 miles from Capernaum — a significant distance to walk, to find some rest and perhaps focus on teaching His disciples. For perspective, our daughter and husband live about 21 miles from us in Easley, SC. In our modern world, it takes about 30 minutes to drive from our place to theirs. Google maps suggests this would take us between 7 and 8 hours to walk to her house. A full day’s journey.

Territories of Tyre and Sidon, NIV Study Bible, p. 1670

Jesus led his disciples far away, but His fame has followed them. Here in this Gentile area,

He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. Mark 7:24

Mark’s account of this story uses the term “Syrophoenician” to describe the woman who approaches Jesus. Matthew’s account refers to the Old Testament label of “Canaanite” (see: Matthew 15:21-28). The point is that she is not part of the Jewish family and herein lies the tension.

The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. Mark 7:26

Initially, Jesus’ response troubled me, in my attempt to be politically correct, He calls the woman a dog:

“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” Mark 7:27-29

The woman is not deterred and counters with a beautiful notion that even His crumbs are good enough and completely sufficient. Her faith has proven enough for her little daughter. Once again, Mark chooses to highlight those who were considered lower than the least, a woman and a even worse, a daughter of a woman that is not part of any Jewish tribe.

The term dogs gets my attention and it must have shocked the Jewish leaders of the day as well. How could Jesus interact with one of those people?

I’m offended because it’s completely unacceptable to refer to a group of people as dogs. Apparently, in those days, this was not so uncommon, yet it is certainly not an endearing term. But I think that IS the point. The Jews of the day were indeed the chosen people of God, but they have closed the doors to the dogs of the world. Unless you followed their ways, their laws and rules, you could not be one of the chosen people.

In this bold, short narrative, an outsider, a woman nonetheless, comes to Jesus to beg for her little girl and He makes a point of letting everyone know that though His first objective is to the chosen children of Israel, He demonstrates the desire to adopt everyone into the family, even those society has labeled as dogs.

While we might be put off by the term, I’m completely convinced that we do the same today. We have labeled people dogs of this day, those who have aligned themselves with satanic cults, religions that are far from Christian, or even the homeless, vagrants of society.

I pray that this story would shock me, that it would be cold water splashed in my pious face anytime I consider someone outside the Christian faith as somehow less worthy than myself. Lord, Your gospel is good news for everyone. Help us to share with the dogs of today!

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