Is Jesus being rude? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
When we read Mark, it’s a bit of a shock for audiences when they get to the story of the Syro-Phoenician woman. The Jesus we normally think we’ve seen in the Gospels seems very different at this point. Here comes a lady who is suffering and Jesus is not being willing to help her. What is going on?
Let’s start with who she is. First off, there’s no man mentioned in her life. Is she a widow? Has she come and left her husband at home? Is her husband in the Roman military somehow and away from home? My way of thinking is that this woman probably doesn’t have a man in her life to help support her. This isn’t to degrade women. This is to say what the attitude was of most people back then.
Second, in the lines of women in the world, this is a daughter that is being asked help for. If this was a son, the request might be more understandable. A son could provide for this woman and make sure she is taken care of. A daughter is just not as capable. This would be another strike.
The woman also initiates the conversation with Jesus. Jesus is pretty much minding His own business with His disciples when the woman comes up to Him. This means that she is approaching a group of men, which is very unfitting for a woman to do.
And finally, she is a foreigner. We are told where she is born and that she is Greek. In both cases, she would be outside of the covenant of Israel. This woman has nothing really that she can appeal to to get Jesus to help her.
But she’s going to try!
Jesus’s response at first seems hard on her. She is not a child? She is a dog? This does seem hard, but when we only have the text, we don’t know how things were said. There was something in the way that Jesus said it that indicated that the woman needed to keep trying. She wasn’t shut off entirely. She was not asked to be dismissed.
She also doesn’t deny the charges. Is she outside of the covenant people of Israel? Yep. Would she be considered a dog to them? Yep. None of this is being disputed. The woman is not interested in how she is perceived by Israel. She is just interested in getting help for her daughter.
Note about her response. By that response, she is the rare exception of a person who gets one up on Jesus in debate. She gets Him to change His position and she gets the help that she needs.
Jesus is not being mean or cruel to this woman. He’s really seeing how deep her faith is and this passage should give hope to many of us. When we come to Jesus originally for forgiveness and we are outside of the Kingdom, we have nothing in us that Jesus should honor our request to be included in the blessings of the covenant, but He does include us. The woman got what she wanted because she trusted Jesus and was willing to accept whatever He could give as a gift.
Perhaps we should do the same.