Thursday in the Eleventh Week of Ordinary Time

Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30

The Faith and Humility of a Pagan

Jesus leaves Galilee and heads northwest to the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon.  These were great seafaring and commercial cities on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea – the ancient Phoenicians.  I often think of these cities being among those which lamented the overthrow of “Babylon” in the Book of Revelation (19:11-19).  Jesus goes there not wanting anyone to know his whereabouts, perhaps to rest, but we don’t know.  But he has officially left the land where Jews live and is now squarely in the midst of pagan territory; that is, non-Jews, gentiles, idolaters, people who were not of the covenant God made with Abraham.

It is here that an interesting event occurs.  Jesus could not be hidden even in a thoroughly pagan land.  A “Canaanite” or “Syrophoenician” woman comes begging him to heal her daughter.  She says, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.”  “Son of David” is a Messianic title which indicates this pagan woman knows something of the true faith, and, furthermore, correctly applies the title to Jesus.  Then we are confronted with several things that happen which bother us because we see Jesus behaving in a way that seems out of character.  First, he doesn’t even acknowledge her.  This doesn’t keep her from pursuing him; she is determined to have her daughter healed by Jesus.  The situation apparently becomes embarrassing as the disciples urge Jesus to send her away.  Jesus tells them that he was “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” seemingly indicating that he will do nothing for her.  When he does reply to her, he sounds downright harsh: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”  This statement affirms what he had just said to the disciples about being sent only to Israel.  But then she answers (seemingly without skipping a beat): “Yes, Lord: yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  Jesus then commends her faith and pronounces her daughter healed, which the woman discovered when she arrived home.

What we must understand is that Jesus was testing her faith.  He healed other pagans (the centurion’s servant), so that wasn’t the problem.  But for some reason or other, Jesus thought it best to test this woman’s faith and thereby show God’s people the humility that is required of them, which is here expressed better by a pagan than themselves.  It is a shame to God’s people that unbelievers can and do often best them at manifesting godly qualities.  May God’s people be humble enough to learn and do likewise.

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