Challenging a Canaanite Woman

canaanite-womans-plea

Bible Reference: Mark 7:24-30

Heart of the Story: A Canaanite woman convinced Jesus to heal her daughter.

Back Story: In the New Testament, Jesus left Galilee and the 10 cities area (Decapolis). He went northwest to the Gentile area of Tyre and Sidon. He stayed in a private home and didn’t want anyone to know he was there. Jesus’s presence could not be kept a secret. A local woman learned Jesus was there.

Story Line: A local woman (Syrophoenician or Canaanite) learned Jesus was there. She came to the house and fell at Jesus’s feet.  She begged Jesus to heal her daughter (Mark 7:24-30) who was possessed by a demon. Initially, Jesus refused to heal the daughter, saying that it was not right to take children’s bread and toss it to dogs.

With her next words, the Canaanite woman created a masterful word picture: The woman’s rebuttal was, “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (Mark 7:28, NIV). Can you see children sitting at a kitchen table eating a meal? Being children, they drop food on the floor. Opportunistic dogs under the table snap up all dropped food.

Jesus told the woman that because of her reply, her daughter is healed. The woman went home and found the demon gone from her daughter.

Pondering Relationships: Several relationships are important in this story. First, the Canaanite woman came to Jesus and asked him to heal her daughter; but did not bring the daughter with her. This woman’s faith was great enough that she believed that Jesus could remove a demon from her daughter from a distance away. She was convinced that Jesus had this kind of power.

Jesus was a Jew. The woman was a Canaanite and maybe even worse than a Canaanite, a Syrophoenician. From the time Israel entered the Promised Land, there was enmity between Jews and the people of Tyre and Sidon. BTW – Jezebel was from Tyre. I believe it was the tribe of Asher that was to conquer the area of Tyre and Sidon; but they failed to do so.

What did Jesus mean that it was not right to take children’s bread and toss it to dogs? Doesn’t that sound harsh? It is so unlike the Jesus we think that we know from the Bible and from Church sermons and classes. Perhaps, Jesus was doing several things. First and foremost, Jesus may have wanted the woman to articulate the extent of her faith. He may have been challenging her to think through her belief in a Jewish rabbi. In all probability, Canaanites disliked Jews just as Jews disliked them. Think about the hostility of Palestinians toward Jews today.

Second, Jesus demonstrated that he was not only sent to the Jews but also to the Gentiles. He was God of all, not just one nation. Certainly, from the time of St. Paul onward more Gentiles believed in Christ than did Jews. Third, by healing the Canaanite woman’s daughter, Jesus asked his disciples and those with him to set aside prejudices about gender and about nationality.

Reflection:  As Christians we must set aside prejudices against races, genders, etc. We are called to pray that all people will understand the love of Christ.

Copyright: January 6, 2017; Carolyn A. Roth

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