Jesus has ventured out of Jewish territory and into the region of Tyre, perhaps to take a few hours’ rest. Jesus’ peace is broken as a Syrophoenician woman comes in. She is definitely not a Jew, but her humanity is laid bare. She is distraught about her daughter; we can relate to her pain, fear and helplessness. Her daughter is possessed. Whether it be seizures, mental illness or something more sinister, the mother seeks out Jesus, the foreign miracle worker, and begs him to intervene.
And what does Jesus do? Stretch out an arm and with a beatific smile assure the woman that her child has leapt off the bed and rushed out to do the dishes? No, Jesus insults her, “Should I give the children’s bread to the dogs?” (implying that the children are Israel, and Gentiles are like dogs). These are not the words of compassion and healing that we expect from Jesus. Jesus shocks me in his narrow-mindedness.
But the mother is not deterred. “Even the dogs under the table get to eat the crumbs” she replies. Perhaps this brings Jesus to his senses; he recognizes her wit, her audacity, her love for her child and maybe most of all, her common humanity. Her daughter is healed.
What do we make of this? Some have suggested that Jesus is offering the woman the opportunity to show her faith, her broad trust. That seems to let Jesus off the hook. There are times my jaw drops when I appreciate the unconditional love Jesus offers, but I also relate to a Jesus who can get angry, call out hypocrisy, knock down a few tables and scatter the temple coinage.
Although I wish Jesus had immediately reached out in love for the Syrophoenician woman, if I want my Christ to be fully human, it’s possible that I need to let him wrestle with what that means.
God, thank you for the gift of Scripture that guides us and inspires us, but does not give us all the answers. Help us to be gentle with those who carry great strain and sometimes fall short. Help us also to find a balance in our expectations for ourselves, and our need for reassurance when we struggle.