24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon.[a] And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. (Mk. 7:24-30; also in Matt. 15:21-28 ESV)
Notwithstanding socio-cultural barriers the Syro-phoenician woman boldly asked Jesus to free her daughter from an evil spirit.
She was a Gentile whose ancestors were the traditional enemies of Israel. As a woman unaccompanied by a husband or male relative she was not supposed to approach and ask a favor from a man. As she cried out to Jesus the disciples wanted to send her away.
Jesus viewed His ministry as being to the Jews (Matt. 15:24). He tells her that it is not right to give the children’s bread to the dogs. The woman acknowledges her outsider status as a non-Jew but she remains unperturbed. She replies, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Jesus was pleased with the woman’s unwavering and persistent faith (Col. 4:2). He tells her (Matthew’s account), “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted”. And He delivered her daughter from the evil spirit. The woman was asking for bread crumbs, but she received the Bread of Life!
Jesus had other significant encounters with Gentiles. Wise men from the East braved the dangerous desert to worship the infant Jesus (Mt. 2:1-12). The Samaritan woman at the well whom Jesus confronted with the truth about her marriage became a messenger of the Gospel (Jn. 4:4-39). (Samaritans were half-Jew and half-Gentile and were despised by the Jews.) The Roman centurion who asked Jesus to heal his servant gave us the words of faith, “Just say the word, and my servant will be healed.” (Matt. 8:8-13).
Through Christ’s death and resurrection the human-made walls that separate human beings into “us” and “them” have been torn down and need not persist. St. Paul says in Galatians, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus…. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26,28). One glorious day “many will come from the east and the west and will take their places at the feast of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 8:11) Thanks be to God!
Our Father in heaven by Your grace and mercy You break down the walls that we build that separate us from our fellow human beings. You liberate us from self-centeredness and prejudices. We thank you. Amen.
Have you ever been treated as an “outsider” by some group or church? What did you do?
In what ways can you personally make a visitor to your group or church feel welcome?
Emmanuel N. ILAGAN