Wednesday, 21 March 2012

28. The Syrophoenician woman - inventing our liturgy

Mothers and daughters - sometimes a tricky one...

This mother was desperate. And desperate mothers will do most things to get healing for their children. 

Her daughter is demon possessed (my modern mind's thinking 'how on earth did that happen? Doesn't she mean severe epilepsy or something?)

Anyway, she's got nowhere else to go so without probably realising it, she does a perfect prayer in her desperation:

'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me' (Matthew 15:22) (Basically, she, along with blind Bartimaeus, invents The Jesus Prayer).

Me, I couldn't resist this plea, but we read in one short sentence: 'Jesus did not answer a word.' The disciples have to urge him: 'Lord, send her away for she keeps crying out after us.' So this woman is repeatedly calling out, begging, but Jesus appears reticent. 

It gets worse. Jesus says that his mission is only to the 'lost sheep of Israel.' She is a non Jew. The woman persists, kneeling before him, getting personal: 'Lord, help me!'

At this point Jesus is, shall we say, enigmatic, to say the least (rude, if we're being uncharitable). 'It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs.' The cultural/religious set up was that the Jews 'owned' the Messiah, although this was going to change radically after the resurrection and Pentecost. Will this un named foreign woman force the hand of Messiah?

She comes right back: 'but even the dogs eat crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' And in so doing, beautifully prefigures Anglican Eucharistic liturgy - 'We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs from under your table...' - and that cool U2 song: 'I would believe if I was able, but I'm waiting on the crumbs from your table'*

Her faith is rewarded. Her daughter is instantly healed. I just love Jesus' words: 'Woman, you have great faith!' 

He applauds her and so do we.

*From How to dismantle an atomic bomb


  1. Was talking with Esta about this one the other day. No idea how it came up. She'd remembered the story but wanted to make sure she'd got the facts right. When I confirmed that Jesus more or less called her a dog she did that 'no way' face that only children can pull off and said 'that wasn't very nice'. mmm understatement of the century!

  2. Exactly. Though some people think the word dogs is better rendered puppies or in other words, pets, and this lessens the force. Pets are not odious, just not the main focus in the family...