When Jesus left that place, he went to the border of the Tyrian country. There he entered a house, and did not want anyone to know he was there, but he could not remain hidden. A woman, whose small daughter had an evil spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet. Now this woman was a pagan, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter.
Jesus told her,
Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies.
But she replied,
Sir, even the puppies under the table eat the crumbs from the children’s bread.
Then Jesus said to her,
You may go your way; because of such a response, the demon has gone out of your daughter.
And when the woman went home, she found her child lying in bed, and the demon gone.
We are presented with a disturbing image of Jesus as seemingly cruel and haughty in his dismissive attitude toward the pagan woman who was begging for his help in behalf of her possessed daughter. This is a rather incongruent image of him as compassionate towards the suffering and the possessed, and merciful towards sinners and outcasts. The Syrophoenician, being a woman and a pagan, was therefore an outcast. Although Jesus is presented as someone who seemed to have a narrow understanding of his own mission—only to the Jews—the audacity of the woman’s faith compelled him to broaden the scope of his mission, making it more inclusive and expansive. Perhaps the story is meant to force us to look more intently into our own faith and attitude: Do we truly believe in Jesus? Is our faith challenging us to change our attitudes towards others? We know that showing bias on the basis of someone’s religion or gender or social standing is against common morality. Perhaps this story does not offend us enough if our actions continue to communicate an “us and them” attitude. If Jesus in his humanity was open to change, are we willing to follow his example?
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