Summary: This is a sermon I used for Mother’s Day about the Syrian Phoencian woman and her incredible encounter with Jesus
Pride and Prejudice
5/11/08 (Mother’s Day)
Intro: 41/41 cent stamps.
I went into the post office on Friday to mail off some fundraising letters. I needed 41 stamps. So, I asked the cashier for 41 stamps. She thought I had asked if they had 41 cent stamps, which of course, is the price of a 1st class stamp. Well, an amusing exchange followed, because neither of us knew the other was confused. I said, “I need 41 stamps.” She said, “Yes, we have 41 stamps.” I said, “Can I have 41 stamps?” She said, “Yes, we have 41 stamps, how many do you need?” I answered, “41.” She pulls out two sheets of stamps and says, “They come in sheets of twenty.” To which I replied, “Can I have 41 exactly?” She is about to ask me how many again, when I finally figured out what was happening. So, I interrupted and with my best smile said, “I need 41…41 cent stamps!” Success!
We have these glitches in communication and sometimes the stakes are far more serious. Sometimes when Jesus speaks in the Bible, we get the communication all mixed up. He’s supposed to be the nicest guy in the world! So, we have a hard time with the moments in scripture where Jesus calls the Pharisees “brood of vipers” and other such insults. Well, we tell ourselves, “They had it coming!” But our nice guy image of Jesus falls completely apart when we read a story of a desperate mother coming to Jesus for help on behalf of her demon possessed daughter and Jesus turns her away by calling her a dog!
Yeah, we don’t really like to spend much time on that story. But just like me and the lady at the post office we need to stop and make sure we are hearing right. There is a message for every desperate mother out there who has a child in danger and wonders where to turn. There is a message for every one of us who believes we know what it means to seek Jesus in faith. A woman Jesus calls a dog shows us we might not know as much as we think we do. Let’s read.
Trouble in the Text: The Phoenician woman’s race limits her from the grace of Jesus.
Jesus has just finished an intense discussion about what makes a man clean. The Pharisees sought cleanliness in their purity laws through the washing of hands before eating. Jesus tells them it isn’t what goes into the body that makes a man unclean, but rather what comes from his heart. As if to prove he wasn’t afraid to live the point out, he goes from that discussion directly into Gentile territory. And if that wasn’t bad enough, he goes into a Gentile home! This was supposed to automatically make a Jew unclean. Jesus has no regard for their manmade purity laws that bring barriers between people.
Yet Jesus’ action is also very practical. He needs a break and knows that he will not be followed into a Gentile home. So, he is trying to keep his presence in the vicinity of Tyre a secret. Yet the people of Tyre already knew about Jesus. Earlier in Mark there are people that come from Tyre to meet him. Jesus simply cannot go unnoticed no matter how hard he tries. A woman, whose Gentile identity is emphasized seeks Jesus out and throws herself at his feet on behalf of her demon-possessed daughter.
The term “Syrian Phoenicia” describes a people that were considered wealthy and those that looked down their noses at their Galilean poor neighbors. You would expect this woman to come to Jesus with an air of superiority and demand he drop what he is doing and come over to her house and heal her daughter. Our first surprise in this story is that isn’t what she does at all. She prostrates herself in front of Jesus and begs for him to cast a demon out of her daughter.
Now that sounds like a reasonable request from any mother. Demon possession was rough on a child, usually involving violent actions and convulsions. We don’t know how this child came to be possessed, but we take the story as it is. We know Jesus has power over demons and we expect he is going to be eager to help this desperate mother. That’s what a nice guy like Jesus does! That’s where we come to our next surprise!
Not only does Jesus decline to help her, he implies she is a dog! Read v. 27. Now there are a lot of things we wish Jesus wouldn’t have said, and most of them for selfish reasons. Yet on this one we are just downright embarrassed. If we were sitting in the room, we would probably whisper under hushed voices; “Did he say what I think he said?”