Jesus went to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the childrenand throw it to the dogs.” She replied and said to him,“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
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Why would Jesus say such seemingly nasty words to this gentile woman who begs him to cure her daughter? However we look at it, the words seem so unkind that we have to wonder if Jesus actually spoke them. What we do know—according to bible scholars—is that the Gospel writer was trying to make a very important point by telling this rather unusual story.
The Jews of Jesus’ time had a very negative view of those who weren’t Jews. Samaritans and Gentiles were lumped together and often regarded as “dogs”. Only Jews were acceptable to God, only Jews were clean and worthy. Other human beings were simply that—“dogs”.
By putting these words into Jesus’ mouth, Mark—the author of the gospel—wanted to acknowledge the fact that as Jew, Jesus belonged to a race who had a negative view of others.
And yet, Jesus went beyond this negative view and in fact praised the woman’s faith and granted her request. This action of Jesus is the real point of the gospel, not the seemingly harsh words he used at first.
Recall that in yesterday’s gospel, Jesus judged all foods clean and acceptable. Today he takes that teaching one step further and says no person can ever be regarded as unacceptable to God. We are all brothers and sisters, sons and daughters of but one Father. In Christ, we are all the same, no one is a stranger, no one is to be refused help, even if at times, we don’t like one another, and sometimes even call each other unkind names.