Jesus 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.
Here we see Jesus away from his own country and culture; he is in the land of the Phoenicians, an ancient and gifted people whose greatest contributions to civilisation were writing, and navigation by the stars; their industries (textiles, dyes, metalwork, glassmaking, etc.) were famous in the ancient world. Phoenician sailors had travelled throughout the Mediterranean and even into the Atlantic; other nations competed to employ Phoenician ships and crews in their navies. They were an outward-looking people. The Jews on the other hand were not an ocean-going people, nor at that time particularly outward-looking. They hugged the coast in their small boats and even misnamed their lakes as ‘seas’. They referred to people of other nations and cities as “foreign dogs.”
When Jesus arrived in this foreign place he seemed reclusive; “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there.” When a woman asked him to heal her daughter he said it was “not right to take the children’s bread (i.e., his service to his own people) and give it to “foreign dogs.” He used the diminutive, “pups,” possibly with humour (if the adults are dogs, the daughter must be a pup). He did heal the daughter, and dismissed the mother, “You may go your way.” He did this healing at a distance, as in the case of another foreigner (Mt 8:5-13).
What does all this mean? Don’t we always expect Jesus to do the noblest, bravest, most loving thing? Don’t we expect him to leap over all boundaries of race and even religion? Yes, that's the trouble: we expect him always to match our idea of him. Let’s ponder this one and refuse any easy answers; we will meet the text another time.
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