Summary: Jesus’ ministry to the Syrophoenician woman demonstrates how we are to minister to all who God brings into our lives, regardless of their background
Last week, we were reminded that every Christ follower is a minister and that most of our ministry takes place within our ordinary, day-to-day lives – in our homes, neighborhoods, workplaces and in the community. So we’ve begun a process to examine how Jesus ministered in very similar circumstances to see what we can learn from His example that will enable us to be more effective as we serve others.
Last week, we began with the example of the rich young ruler and discovered that Jesus loved people so much that He always told them the truth. Today, we’ll be able to glean several more very practical things we can do to be more effective ministers for Jesus from the account of a Syrophoenician woman. Both Mark and Matthew include that event in their gospel accounts and each of those accounts provide us with some important details so we’ll begin this morning by reading both accounts. Let’s start with Mark’s account:
And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Mark 7:24-30 (ESV)
And now let’s go ahead and turn to Matthew’s account of this same event in Matthew 15:
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Matthew 15:21-28 (ESV)
As I prepared the message this week and looked at how some other people have approached these passages, it seems that nearly everyone focuses on the woman here. In fact, this seems to be a really popular passage to use for a Mother’s Day sermon. And there is certainly much we can learn from this woman, so we’ll take a few moments briefly at the end of the message to do that. But since our focus is on how to become better ministers we’ll spend most of our time looking at how Jesus dealt with this woman and use His example to help us develop four important ministry principles:
Jesus ministered to all regardless of their background
There was really no reason for Jesus to withdraw to the region of Tyre and Sidon except for the express purpose of ministering to this woman and at the same time teaching His disciples a valuable lesson.
Tyre and Sidon were located northwest of Capernaum in present day Lebanon. This land had originally been settled by the Canaanites and God had instructed the Israelites to drive from the land when they entered into the Promised Land. We know from the Biblical accounts, though, that the Israelites had failed to do so. This whole region was known by its Greek name of Phoenicia. Later when this area was annexed into the Roman province of Syria it became known as Syro-Phoenicia. Thus, the woman who has an encounter with Jesus there is identified as a Canaanite by Matthew and a Syro-Phoenician by Mark.
The response of the disciples to the request of this Gentile woman really isn’t all that surprising. Earlier Jesus had sent those disciples out to minister in His name and He had given them specific instructions not to go to the Gentiles, but only to the “lost sheep of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). So when this woman comes to Jesus to seek his help with her daughter, the disciples urge Jesus to send her on her way.