Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ ‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
The woman was desperate. Her little daughter was possessed by a demon. No wonder she rushed to find Jesus when he showed up in town, looking for the man she’d heard could perform miracles. Isn’t that what any parent would do? Earlier in Mark’s Gospel, another parent did just that: Jairus, the Jewish synagogue ruler, who also had a little daughter in grave danger.
This, though, was an unnamed Gentile woman. She wasn’t on the priority list. She wasn’t one of the lost sheep of Israel to whom Jesus had first been sent. But she found him, and she was persistent. You might describe their conversation as robust. It was certainly a boundary-breaking exchange. In the New Testament, the term ‘dogs’ was derogatory. The term Jesus used here means ‘little dogs’. Though this softened his response slightly, his challenge stood: the Messiah’s mission begins with Israel.
She was equal to the challenge, though, and quick to spot the opportunity. She took Jesus’ words and respectfully reorientated them towards her request. Jesus’ resources were sufficient for both Jew and Gentile, she asserted. And he granted her desire – with a smile, I imagine.
So, who needed to learn what in this episode?
‘Lord’, she’d called him. Did she need to discover who Jesus was? Did she need to learn to persist in prayer? Or to press through obstacles? Or grow her faith that Jesus had the power to transform lives? Did she need to develop the conviction that an outsider could receive from Jesus like an insider?
Probably not. But the disciples did.
There’s something to learn from the way that Mark tells the story of Jesus. From the disciples’ perspective, it’s a story of unexpected twists and turns, one of gradual revelation of a boundary-breaking, revolutionary King. The way that we grow as disciples can be a bit like that, too. Discipleship isn’t a programme we enrol in. It’s a life we immerse ourselves in, shaped by the way of Jesus himself. And that can be confusing and demanding, as well as exhilarating, and more.
Jesus encouraged the Jew, Jairus, to have faith, and he commended the Gentile woman for demonstrating hers. The disciples wondered at both. What would Jesus encourage you towards or commend you for in your everyday life, right now? What boundaries need to be broken? What welcome can you offer?
Senior Mission Associate, LICC
How are you learning to live the way of Jesus on your frontline this week? Join the conversation in the comments below.