Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician woman
Mark 7: 24-30
24 And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid.
25 For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.
29 And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
30 And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.
Compare Matthew 15: 21-28
Jesus’ Exorcism of a Gentile Child
Jesus’ fame is spreading beyond the Jewish population and on to outsiders — even beyond the borders of Galilee. Tyre and Sidon were located to the north of Galilee (in what was then the Roman province of Syria) and were two of the most important cities of ancient Phoenicia. This was not a Jewish area, so why did Jesus travel here?
Perhaps he was attempting to find some private, anonymous time away from home but even there he couldn’t be kept secret. This story involves a Greek (thus a Gentile rather than a Jew), a woman from Syro-Phoenicia, who hoped Jesus would exorcise her daughter.
Jesus’ reaction here is odd and not entirely consistent with how Christians have traditionally portrayed him. Instead of immediately showing compassion and mercy towards her predicament, his first inclination is to send her away. Why? Because she isn’t Jewish — Jesus even likens non-Jews to dogs who should not be fed before his “children” (Jews) have had their fill.
It is interesting that Jesus’ miraculous healing is done at a distance. When he heals Jews, he does so personally and by touching; when he heals Gentiles, he does it at a distance and without touching. This suggests an early tradition whereby Jews were given direct access to Jesus while he was alive, but Gentiles are given access to the risen Jesus who helps and heals without physical presence.
Christian apologists defended Jesus’ actions by pointing out, first, that Jesus allowed for the possibility of Gentiles being helped eventually once the Jews had their fill, and second, that he did in the end help her because she made a good argument. Excuse me, but what sort of defense is that? Jesus’ attitude here is still haughty, treating the woman as unworthy of his attentions. Such Christians are, then, saying that it’s OK and consistent with their theology for God to consider certain people unworthy of grace, compassion, and assistance.
Here we have a woman begging at Jesus’ feet for a small favor — for Jesus to do something that he appears to have done dozens if not hundreds of times. It would be fair to assume that Jesus loses nothing personally from driving unclean spirits out of a person, so what would motivate his refusal to act? Does he simply not want any Gentiles to have their lot in life improved? Does he not want any Gentiles to be made aware of his presence and consequently be saved?
There isn’t even the issue of his needing the time and not wanting to make a trip to help the girl — when he does consent, he is able to help from from a distance. Arguably, he could instantly heal any person of whatever ailed them no matter where they were in relation to him. Does he do that? No. He only helps those who come to him and beg for it personally — sometimes he helps willingly, sometimes he only does so reluctantly.
Overall, it’s not a very positive picture of the Almighty God we are getting here. What we are seeing is a person who picks and chooses which people he helps based upon what their nationality or religion is. When combined with his “inability” to help people from his home area because of their unbelief, we find that Jesus doesn’t always behave in an unreservedly compassionate and helpful manner — even when he does finally deign to leave some crumbs and scraps for the otherwise “unworthy” among us.[ENDS]
The foregoing is not my work. It comes from an Atheism web site, atheism.about.com. I post it here, though, despite being a Christian myself, because I believe it raises some interesting issues.
The ‘atheistic’ author’s apparent belief that he is competent to take his Creator to task, over what he perceives to be unfairness in the scheme of things, is rather touchingly amusing. He says “It would be fair to assume that Jesus loses nothing personally from driving unclean spirits out of a person, so what would motivate his refusal to act?” But would it be fair to assume this? Elsewhere in the New Testament (Mark 5: 27-28 and Luke 8: 43-44) it is written that Jesus felt “virtue” (dunamis) go out of him when a woman secretly touched the hem of the robe he was wearing. We do not know what the psychic or spiritual cost of healing someone was to the Healer, we can only speculate. It might well have been considerable. Equally we, the created (through evolution, but created none the less) are in no position to second guess the merit of the design or ultimate purpose of our Creator (Romans 9: 14-24).
Particularly noteworthy also is that Jesus, in his human nature, as distinct from his divine nature, in common with the vast majority of the Jewish race, both then and now, was evidently a nationalist. The most likely reason for Jesus visiting the borders of Tyre and Sidon is not to ‘get away from it all’ but because there was a sizeable Jewish community in both cities.
One might also point out that foremost amongst the unjust persecutors of Jesus and his disciples was the Jewish priesthood, the Establishment of its day. In some ways little has changed in two thousand years. The truth is still anathema to the ecclesiastical powers that be.
“But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
Here we see Jesus initially reluctant to heal the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter, because she is not Jewish.
As was his right, Jesus was here discriminating on the grounds of race.
Dr Andrew Emerson
Previously published on Dr Emerson’s blog, New Leadership, at www.draemerson.blogspot.com.