“A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and bowed down at his feet. The woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. Jesus said, ‘Let the children be fed first. It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ She answered, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.'” – Mark 7:25-30
Mark refers to the woman as “syro-phoenician” meaning she was of mixed heritage, of mixed race. Perhaps she was estranged from both families and had no family support, leaving her vulnerable to an unplanned pregnancy. The boyfriend, knowing the difficulties of race relations, fled.
When her daughter began having problems, people said, “That’s what happens when you make the sort of decisions she made. Just another example of the breakdown of the family. What’s the world coming to? Tsk tsk.”
One day a Jewish miracle worker passes through. He is reported to have authority over demons. There are rumors he fed 5,000 people out of some kid’s lunch box with baskets of leftovers. “If he could do that,” the woman hopes, “surely there is grace to spare for my kid.”
She calls out to Jesus. And Jesus calls her a dog. Undeterred and feisty as any mother with a child in crisis, she says, “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” I think she also whispered,“checkmate” but that was not recorded.
For her faith and chutzpah, her daughter is healed.
And so was Jesus.
Gracious God, if Jesus was converted that dayto a larger vision of your commonwealth, to a wider view of who he had come to save, surely I can be converted and healed as well. Surely there is grace enough for me.
Matthew Laney is the Senior Minister of Asylum Hill Congregational Church, UCC, in Hartford, Connecticut.