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Mark 7:24-30 (NRSV)
The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “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.” So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
If you are a regular at Holy Communion services, you are probably familiar with a version of the prayer of humble access which goes like this:
We do not presume to come to this your table, O merciful Lord,
trusting in our own righteousness,
but in your abundant and great mercies.
We are not worthy so much as to gather up
the crumbs under your table;
but you are the same Lord
whose character is always to have mercy.
Grant us, therefore, gracious Lord,
so to eat the flesh of your dear Son Jesus Christ,
and to drink his blood,
that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body,
and our souls washed through his most precious blood,
and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us. Amen.
In the story, it is the Syrophoenician woman who refers to crumbs under the table, but it is the dogs who eat them. It is something of a political incident, for here is Jesus in a decidedly Gentile town trying to lay low. The woman is desperate; she fears so much for her daughter. Jesus wants to hide away but he cannot escape being noticed. The woman is a Gentile and Jews often thought of Gentiles as ‘dogs’. Gentiles were not exactly complimentary about Jews! Jesus seems to have got rather uptight about being pestered; he knows that his vocation is not to spread the gospel to the Gentiles, but as a Jew himself to tell the Jewish people that their deliverance was at hand. There would be time enough for the Gentiles in due course. Hence this rather barbed comment to the woman.
Some would say the woman rebukes Jesus for his restricted viewpoint, but in fact she accepts the insult and turns it to her advantage in order to secure the healing of her child.
It will not be long before the dogs under the table would cease to be dogs; at the time of writing Mark would have had an eye on Gentiles already sharing in the kingdom promised to Israel.
Today we know Jesus as our saviour – at the point of the crucifixion the King of the Jews became the saviour of the world!
So, we pray,
The Collect (alternative)
give us reverence
for all creation and
respect for every person,
that we may mirror your likeness
in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.