Lessons from the Syrophoenician Woman
Towards the end of Mark 7, Jesus exited Galilee and entered the region of Tyre, Gentile territory. He entered a house not wanting others to know he was there. For some reason, he needed privacy, a time away. From previous chapters, you know he needed a rest. He fed the 5000, calmed a storm, was confronted by the religious leaders, and healed many people in the towns they traveled through, but Jesus could not stay hidden. The Syrophoenician woman found him and was determined to have Jesus deliver her daughter from an unclean spirit.
As a person who needs time away from others after a busy season, I relate to Jesus and his desire to remain hidden. On the other hand, as a mom of two dear ones, I understand this mom’s heart. She desires for her daughter to be healed. Mark 7:26 tells us that this woman kept asking Jesus to heal her daughter. She was not going away until she had an answer. In Matthew’s version of the story (ch 15), she cried out for Jesus to have mercy on her and heal her daughter. Then Jesus does something we rarely see, he doesn’t answer her. He basically ignores her. The disciples fed up with her cries come to Jesus and ask him to send her away. Here is where the story takes an even stranger turn. Jesus responds to her request with these words, “ Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mark 7:27) Basically Jesus calls her a dog as he explains that his mission is to the Jews first and then the Gentiles. Many commentaries agree that the word used for dog here was used for little dogs that were often pets in Jewish households. Most people would have been offended, but the women does not take offense. She responds that even dogs receive crumbs from the children's table. For her, a crumb was enough. Jesus’ replies back to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done to you as you wish.” (Matthew 15:28) When the woman goes home, she finds her daughter fully healed.
This woman humbles me in many ways. Here are a few things from her story that challenged me.
1. Her focus was on who Jesus was not who she was.
This woman could have been defensive towards Jesus. He basically called her a dog even if it was a pet dog. (For more on the meaning of this interaction see here.) Somehow the woman understood what Jesus meant and was not offended. She focused on Jesus and what he could do.
We live in a world where people are offended easily. I admit it is something I struggle with. Being offended depends on my focus. If I am feeling insecure, I see everything through that lens. I am easily hurt by words that were not meant to hurt. But it I am secure in Christ, my focus is on him. It doesn’t matter what others say. I am better able to hear what the other person is saying. I am better able to see their hurt or concern. It makes for a better situation.
2. She took seriously her role as intercessor for her daughter.
The Syrophoenician woman was all in. It didn’t matter what the neighbors thought. She wanted Jesus to heal her daughter, and she was not going to be turned away easily. Her prayer was not only short and humble but full of faith. She relied on God’s mercy and preservered with her request. The other day, I heard intercessor defined as someone who makes another’s needs her own as she prays. The Syrophoenician woman was a true intercessor.
I know the power of prayer, but am easily distracted from it especially consistent time in prayer. For me, consistently praying with others helps me to stay more disciplined. These past two years, some women on my team gather every Friday morning before work to intercede for our children who are in the states while we are here. It is a blessed time as we lay our worries and concerns at the feet of Jesus and intercede together for jobs, making right choices, and good relationships for our children. We not only see answers to our prayers; we are becoming closer as friends. My hope is to transfer some of this consistency to my individual prayer time.
3. She trusted that a crumb was enough to meet her need.
Jesus said her daughter was healed. She believed it and went home to find out that it was so. Jesus met her need in his way, and it was more than enough. How often do I bring a need to Jesus, but I want him to meet that need in a certain way. When I was pregnant with our son, a sonogram showed that one of his kidneys was enlarged. I remember pleading with God to heal our little boy. I was sure my next sonogram would reveal that everything was okay with his kidney back to a normal size, but each time it was the same. I struggled with this. Did I not have enough faith? Was I not praying hard enough? Then God in his grace used a bible study fellowship teacher’s words to remind me the his ways are not my ways. She reminded me that God is more concerned about my character and who I was becoming in Him than he is about my external circumstances. After that, I still prayed for healing but my heart became more focused on what God was doing inside of me. I prayed that I would be a good mother to this son. I prayed that he would grow up to be a man after God’s own heart. I prayed for God’s hand on the doctors who later did the surgeries on his young body. It was a hard time, but God was faithful in his working both on the inside and the outside.
Can you relate to any of these lessons? Do your insecurities make it easier for you to take things personally? Is there someone or even a people group that God is calling you to intercede for on a regular basis? Do you trust God to meet your need in His way and His time whether it is for a job, health issue, or even relationship struggles? I would love to pray for you. Just leave note in the comments.