“O woman, great is your faith!” (Matthew 15:21-28). This New Testament use of faith is a double tradition known as ‘The Syrophoenician Woman’ (Mark 7:27-30) This woman whose daughter was severely ‘demon-possessed’, even as a foreigner, had gotten the word of Jesus’ power to heal. So little information is given about the details of this faith encounter that even less has been said about it by commentators across the ages.
Many have given emphasis to the fact that this woman is a Canaanite and a gentile. Clearly it is a problem for Jesus as well as the disciples, specifically as Matthew’s account says Jesus’ first response to her was to ignore her cry for mercy— “not a word did he answer”. It is the disciples who speak on it suggesting that Jesus “send her away”. When Jesus does speak, he clarifies his mission to the disciples by saying “I was not sent, except to the Lost Sheep of Israel.”
The events of Saturday, February 22, 2020 were the perfect combination for moving from Black History Month into International Women’s Month. I began the day at the “Women of Color Breakfast” and Meharry’s Cal Turner Center. The emphasis on the American Heart Association’s ‘Go Red For Women’ provided an invaluable experience in Black Women’s Heart Health. Then on to an afternoon on “The State of Black Women”; a partner sponsored event by Autumn Prather through her vision of “M.A.D.E./The Mother & Daughter Experience”; hosted by Sharon Barker of “Family & Children’s Services”; with a ‘Health & History Presentation by Ingrid L. Cockhren of “ACE/All Children Excell, Nashville —with emphasis on ACEs ‘Adverse Childhood Experiences’. Not in a long time had I experienced ‘women in dialogue’ on such a prosperous, fruitful and community building level.
Again, an intrusion in The Mission of Jesus. Now by a woman whose confidence in his ability to help her in the healing of her daughter knows no shame. Having already addressed him with the messianic title— “O Lord, Son of David”, she presses on through this very unusual mood for Jesus (yet typical for the disciples). This woman goes up to Jesus and ‘throws herself prostrate before him’ (the word is ‘prosekunei/worshipped’) with her continued cry for mercy.
What all Jesus saw in this woman who ‘was not of the house of Israel’ can only be left to the ‘mind’s eye’ as many a great preacher has told. Whatever he saw, he said to her “it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs!”
With so many children in my very northern city childhood home, I am mindful even today of my mama’s rule on dogs lain down on an occasion when one of my brothers brought home a dog he had found: “if it cannot walk in on two feet, it has no place in my house!” With so many mouths to feed there was no food to throw to the dogs.
But this woman, again an interruption in the mission of Jesus, ‘took heart’ in responding to Jesus by saying, “Yes Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
I get this woman’s confidence, I get her humility, her trust, her reverence, her perseverance, compassion, determination, her ‘hutzpah’— an unmitigated boldness that gave her to respond to Jesus the way she did. Whatever Jesus saw in her he said, “O woman, great is your faith!”
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