Matthew 15:21-28 – the account of the Syro-Phoenician woman interacting with Jesus
In my mother tongue we have a proverb – “a child is its mother”. I just wish I could translate it better to communicate the depth of this saying. Bottom line the child belongs to the mother in life and in death, in good times and in bad times, through thick and thin; a mother would debase herself, do anything so long as her child benefits as a result.
This woman in the passage is clearly an outsider, syro-phoenician or cananaite in some Bible translations; she is a gentile. As if she does not already know how much of an outsider she is, Jesus makes it his personal business to rub it in. But before we even break down that downward conversation, I notice that Jesus is the first intruder if I may say so. He is the one in her town, the district of Tyre and Sidon. So really, He did bring himself into her space for her to then intrude into His space as the Messiah to the Jews.
Well, the woman is on a mission. Her daughter is possessed by a demon and she needs it gone. She must have definitely heard the fame of Jesus and his previous success in such matters, otherwise she couldn’t have been following Him around and shouting herself hoarse. Jesus it would seem has no plan of actually acknowledging her very existence leave alone dignifying her with a response. It is the disciples who annoyed by her shouting and following prompt him to respond; and respond he does. He makes it very clear to her that she is outside His exclusive bracket of ministry, that is she is not a Jew. That was all the woman needed; acknowledge my existence, my request. She gets into a kneeling position, clearly undeterred and again pleads for help.
Let’s take it a notch higher shall we, Jesus answers by likening helping her to throwing children’s food to the dogs. Ok, breathe in and out. Did Jesus just call this desperate woman a dog? If it were any other person (myself included), I bet you they would have risen up, dusted themselves and maybe even spat on Jesus and walked away. Really, you claim to be the Christ the Son of God, I come to you and you call me a dog, unworthy of your help least of all your attention? Not this madam! She was a woman on a mission, a mother with a demon possessed daughter convinced beyond any shadow of doubt that this man Jesus was able to heal her daughter. She was not taking no for an answer even if the no was encapsulated in insults.
The woman is already kneeling and begging for help, then she is likened to a dog. She takes it gracefully and goes even lower, lets Jesus know that even dogs eat crumbs from under the table. Jesus is taken aback, unrelenting and focused; she came for healing, she was not leaving without it. And healing she got, Jesus says a word and her daughter we are told is healed immediately. Yep!
What if she had taken offense at being ignored by Jesus, being hushed by the disciples, being likened to a dog? Her daughter would not have been healed. I love her focus, Jesus called it great faith; I came for one thing and one thing only, my daughters healing. And I have no intention whatsoever of leaving without it. You can throw all the obstacles at me, but I remain focused.