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The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith

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Mk 7:24-30
24[Jesus] went off to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. 25Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. 26The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” 28She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” 29Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” 30When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.

EVEN THE DOGS… EAT THE CHILDREN’S SCRAPS: Jesus travels through the regions outside of Galilee, the northern part of the “holy land.”  His reputation, meanwhile, has spread as far as Tyre and Sidon. His presence is made known to a Syrophoenician woman who begs him to drive the demon out of her daughter. She falls at the feet of Jesus like a client seeking a favor from a patron.

In the patronage system of the time, Jesus replies that the favor of the God of Israel should go first to the children of the family, that is, to Israel. Adding to her disappointment and distress, Jesus calls her kind “dogs,” a strong insult in the Mediterranean world, since dogs were scavengers, not domestic pets. The term used for dogs here is kunaria, “puppies,” probably because the favor sought of Jesus is for a child, but the term is nonetheless insulting.

The woman’s reply indicates not just her understanding of her people’s standing before the God of Israel but also her unusual trust in Jesus as God’s broker. Like Jacob who wrestles with a mysterious person by Jabbok River and receives a blessing (Gn 32:25-26), the distraught mother “wrestles” with Jesus and is rewarded with the healing of her child.