Summary: When Jesus meets the Syrophoenician woman He seems to act totally out of character. However there is a reason why He acts in this way … and it is a reason which gives us all hope.
People of God in the Lord Jesus Christ,
On many occasions in the Scriptures the actions of Jesus make perfect sense – but our text doesn’t seem to fit into that category does it. The way Jesus acts in this passage seems to be so out of character, doesn’t it.. In fact this is the only occasion when Jesus acts with delayed compassion towards someone who has come begging before Him on hands and knees for help.
Why does He act that way? Perhaps He is upset at her. He did not want anyone to know He was in the house – yet she has revealed His hiding place. We know that Jesus has had a difficult schedule up to this point. Maybe these are the actions of a man who is just overtired. It could well be her nationality is against her. She is Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She is a Gentile. Whatever the reason is, this doesn’t seem to be the actions of the Jesus we have come to know. So let’s have a closer look at our text to see what is going on.
Before we go to far let’s realise that it is not unusual for Jesus to want to “get away from it all”. There are other occasions in the Gospels when we are told that Jesus went to a quiet place to find solitude. He does it just before He picks His 12 disciples. The same was true at His transfiguration. And we well remember what happened in the garden of Gethsemane. On these occasions, and others when Jesus seeks solitude, it is because a significant decision needs to be made or because Jesus has just been through an unusually difficult time. The later is the case here. Jesus has just gone through an unusually difficult time because He is constantly being misunderstood.
The Pharisees – the leaders of the people – misunderstand Jesus. To them Jesus is public enemy number one. But they couldn’t just get rid of Him because He was very popular with the Jewish people. Force was not an option, so they would have to discredit His reputation … and this was proving to be a difficult task.
Mark 7:1 tells us that “The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus” … why? To question Him and test His orthodoxy. The fact that this is a special delegation of Pharisees from Jerusalem highlights the problems the leaders were facing. The local Pharisees in Gennesaret could not handle the situation and they have called in the `heavies’ from Jerusalem. Yet even they were silenced by Jesus. It was an act of humiliation for the Sanhedrin and another reason for misunderstanding to grow.
But the misunderstanding doesn’t stop there. It seems the general population doesn’t really know Jesus either. Sure He was their popular hero – but their dreams about His ministry were making it dangerous for Jesus. Mark 6:35-44 tells us about the miracle of feeding the 5000 an event which occurred just a little while before our text. John records the same event with some added information. John 6:14-15 says:
“After the people saw the miraculous sign that Jesus did, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world”. Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make Him king by force, withdrew again into the hills by Himself”.
The crowds wanted Jesus as king because of their view of the Messiah – the Messiah who in Jewish thinking is a powerful political leader and a crusher of the Roman scourge. Such is the extent of the misunderstanding of the crowd. He is not a “Saviour who will be lead like a lamb to the slaughter”. He is a “Saviour who will conquer in might”. It was a misunderstanding that could lead to the premature arrest of Jesus.
In some ways you can rationalise the misunderstanding of the Pharisees and the crowds – but that is not the end of the matter. Even the disciples don’t have a clue about who Jesus is and what He has come to do. They are constantly being chastised by Jesus. In Mark 4:40, after the calming of the storm Jesus said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”. Later, after the feeding of the 5000 Mark 6:52 tells us that they had not understood about the loaves; their hearts were hardened. Again in Mark 7:18 Jesus rebukes the disciples. When they ask Him about the meaning of a parable He says, “Are you so dull?”. Time and again the truth becomes clear, even though they were the closest to Jesus, the disciples did not really know what Jesus was on about.