Hello! It’s Kathy Collard Miller from the Southern Californian desert in the Palm Springs area.
From Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30, we learn about the Syrophoenician woman who truly represents a prayer warrior. Her request is dire for her and her daughter. What’s amazing is she is a Gentile. In this account, Jesus goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon, on the Mediterranean coast. This is the only time Scripture indicates Jesus left the land of Israel. Just as he had to go through Samaria to meet the needy woman at the well, so he needs to leave his country to meet this needy woman. How gracious of him!
In Mark’s gospel account, this woman is identified as a Greek, born in Syrian Phoencia. The cities of Sidon and Tyre are in that area, which is northwest of Galilee.
The apostle Matthew, when he writes his gospel, describes her as a Canaanite, which is true. But by using that word instead of something general like “Gentile,” he is emphasizing the significance of what Jesus does for her. She isn’t just a Gentile, but comes from a long history of her people, the Canaanites, being despised by Jews.
The Canaanites of Jesus’ day are descendants of the Canaanites in Joshua’s day—the same people God had commanded to be wiped out. But because of the disobedience of the Israelite invading army, some survived. Survivors, like this Gentile woman, are despised because they represent the Jewish race’s history of disobedience. Plus, Canaanites are considered “unclean.” There are many reasons this woman had no right or invitation to engage Rabbi Jesus. However, her desperation and her faith compelled her. We can only imagine how she originally heard about him.
Here is a woman who boldly and bluntly gives Jesus her request. She doesn’t even ask for something specific to be done. She just states her situation. This is as much prayer as the silent or spoken prayer request. She just approaches God and trusts in his goodness. At first, her faith is not appreciated. Jesus completely ignores her.
This needy woman overcomes a huge obstacle to approaching Jesus. We need to remember she could have feared violence. She could have wondered if they would push her away physically. At the least, she must expect verbal abuse. She is not only a Gentile—she is female, and Jewish men don’t even give respect to Jewish women.
We don’t know how loud the disciples talk when they address Jesus, saying he should send her away. Does she hear them? If so, their comments must increase her fears. There is no support for her at all.
It’s admirable that the disciples don’t take any action without consulting him. But they have the boldness to tell Jesus what to do! In comparison, the woman has more trust in Jesus as she makes her request. She doesn’t tell him what to do! She rests in believing he knows best.
Maybe this is not only a lesson in trust for the woman, but a teaching moment for his followers. Would they learn to give respect to everyone as their master did?
When Jesus uses the word “dog,” he is referring to the Jewish practice of calling Gentiles “dogs,” which is demeaning because dogs were known as unclean animals. Unlike our pets, dogs were far from favored. They roam the streets eating anything they could find, including food no Jew would touch, much less eat.
Jews believed a Gentile isn’t entitled to receive God’s blessing or be redeemed by the Messiah. Jesus knows he will shortly be blessing her, so he wants everyone to know though they regard her as unworthy, he loves her and is wooing her into his kingdom. What a lesson for his disciples, who later will be called to reach out to everyone with the gospel—including Gentiles. They never would have believed their master would call them to do something so seemingly outrageously wrong.
To what degree this woman understands what’s going on we don’t know, but she is willing to be considered a “dog” in order to have her daughter healed—she doesn’t refute that fact. She’ll do anything to help her daughter, and she knows Jesus is her only hope.
We can learn from her that praying because of a great need is welcomed by our wonderfully loving God. Sometimes it may seem that God resists our entreaties but He may be stretching our faith and dependence upon Him. He is listening and will respond. Trust Him!