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Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Syrophenician Woman

A recent opinion post on Associated Baptist Press made quite a splash. The author of the opinion clearly ditched the view of Jesus as sinless Son of God for Jesus the racist who was gradually learning better. That is part of the background of this post.

A collated reading of Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30
Then Jesus arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid; For a certain woman of Canaan [the woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation], whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came out of the same coasts and came and fell at his feet: and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But Jesus answered and said unto her: Let the children first be filled. It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she said, Yes. Truth, Lord: yet the dogs under their masters' table eat of the children's crumbs which fall from the table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.

The above is a collated or combined reading of Matthew and Mark from the King James Bible. I hope no one is troubled by it. The intent is to not to create a new version, but just to get the full description of the historical accounts while saving a little space.

Many people find this story problematic when they first encounter it. To call this woman a dog and refuse to help her? Where else is one so rebuked by Christ for coming to Him? For some it is only problematic to their understanding, for they believe God is sovereign and what He does is right regardless of whether they understand it. For some it is problematic to their faith, for they presuppose certain things are right and God's actions must fit into this concept.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

Notes on the text
a certain woman of Canaan, the woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation. Some critics have complained about the tri-fold description, while themselves using such descriptions for others. The three descriptors may be nationality (Syro-Phenician, as opposed to Lybo-Phenician perhaps), religion (Greek, heathen, of a different religion) and "race" (Canaan; or just that she resided in the regions called Canaan).
would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. Here speaks the language of accommodation; the language of God as man; anthropomorphism, the perception of human qualities in divine beings. This is how it appeared from all human recognition and understanding.
a woman of Canaan...came out of the same coasts. If Jesus went into the land if Tyre and Sidon, this appears to be the only time He went into Gentile territory. In my opinion, it is more consistent with the text and the "limit" of His mission that He only went very near to the border of that land, but was still in the land of Israel. The woman came out of the coasts/borders of Tyre and Sidon and came to Jesus. As Jesus needed to go through Samaria, so He deliberately placed Himself in this woman's vicinity.
his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away. At first Jesus answered not a word (cf. John 8:6). Her continual crying brought the disciples distress. Whether they wished her sent away full or empty it is not clear, but sent away nevertheless! She crieth after us. She bothers us. She annoys us. She brings us too much attention.
I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This first address is to the disciples rather than the woman. They were involved in this limited sending (cf. Matt. 10:5) so should be aware of it. Hidden from them was what Simeon saw in the babe in the Temple (cf. Luke 2:3). Jesus' answer silenced the disciples, but not the woman. We ought always to pray, and not to faint.
Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. Strong in faith, nothing doubting. Instead of being perplexed with doubts, by faith throw yourself at Jesus feet for mercy, "Lord, help me." So will I go in unto the king, and if I perish, I perish (but I will perish there; cf. Esther 4:16).
It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. To be more offended than the woman is to not have a proper view of the helper, to not have an importunate need, and to be more set on fault-finding than truth-finding. If a 21st century reader is more offended than the "offended party", then he lacks the great faith that resided in that party. He was "Lord" when she asked for help and still "Lord" after He seemingly refused it. Jesus' answer was devastating, but not derogatory; trying but yet the truth. Those who deserve nothing will appreciate anything. "Behind a frowning providence, He hides a smiling face."
And she said, Yes. Truth, Lord. The humble acknowledgement of the importunate. Complain on, O complainer. Deny on, O disbeliever; but this woman says "TRUTH!"
the dogs under their masters' table eat of the children's crumbs. (These dogs were household pets, not wild scavengers; pets that were near the children under the master's table.) Something in what Jesus said and how He said it dropped a crumb of hope for the helpless woman. Under the Master's table a glimmering faith picked up the crumb and cherished it. I shall not be sent away empty for there is enough in the Father's house and to spare (cf. Luke 15:17).
O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. His purposes will ripen fast, Unfolding every hour. Does the text not reveal why He came to the borders of Tyre and Sidon. The disciples understood a get-away. But the woman who heard He was there got what she wanted.
And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. The bud may have a bitter taste, But sweet will be the flower. The healing was immediate.
And when she was come to her house, she found. The immediate healing of the daughter was first viewed by the mother on her arrival, though she doubted it not.

Instead of complaining & condemning, hawing & hemming, explaining away the Lordship of Christ, realize God moves in mysterious ways; His ways are not our ways. The Syrophenician woman caught a crumb many theologians have missed.

Jesus commended the woman's faith. Jesus cured the woman's daughter. Surely she could not have hoped for more.


God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
And rides upon the storm.

Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never failing skill
He treasures up His bright designs
And works His sovereign will.

Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy and shall break
In blessings on your head.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense,
But trust Him for His grace;
Behind a frowning providence
He hides a smiling face.

His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.

Blind unbelief is sure to err
And scan His work in vain;
God is His own interpreter,
And He will make it plain.

2 comments:

jntskip said...

I thought about addressing that, but didn't really have the time.
Thanks for doing so.

R. L. Vaughn said...

If you get time, I'd be interested in reading some of your comments.