Grace to you!
Today’s reflection focuses on one of the most misunderstood interactions of Jesus. It is the story of the woman whom the Gospel of Mark, written for a Greek audience, called the Syrophoenician woman (Mk 7:24-30). The Gospel of Matthew, targeted for the Jewish audience, calls the woman “the Canaanite Woman” (Mtt 15:21-28).
The woman’s daughter was sick and dying. She pleads with Jesus to heal her daughter. First, Jesus seems to ignore her. The disciples of Jesus don’t want anything to do with her either. Worse, it seems, Jesus used an idiom which appears to compare her with dogs. Read the full story in Mark 7:24-30 or Matthew 15:21-28.
The woman calls Jesus, “Son of David” acknowledging him as the Messiah – a rare profession of faith from a so-called gentile.
The English translation of Jesus’ response is shocking at face value: “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to dogs.” The woman’s reply ignores the seemingly shocking statement, indicating it may not read as it reads in English: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps” (Matthew 15:26-27).
Many criticize Jesus’ response. Some accuse Jesus of being a bigot, a misogynist or simply a hater.
For me, they miss the point. Not only are such reactions rash and misleading, they also miss the whole point of the use of idioms and metaphors in language.
Checking some biblical Greek lexicons, I observed that the word used by Jesus was a common noun for little dogs or pets – κυνάρια (kunaria) as distinguished from κύνες (Kunes) as usually used for dogs or street dogs.
Similarly, it was an idiom and wasn’t used in a derogatory way. The woman, coming from a similar cultural milieu, understood the meaning; and hence, responded in kind. Biblical language should be understood/interpreted in its own right and context.
Nevertheless, of more interest to me today is the persistence, humility, and perseverance, as well as unequaled faith of this woman. As the Gospel of Matthew documents it, “not even in Israel”, Jesus said, “could it be found.” Certainly, many believers today do not have the level of faith of the Syrophoenician woman.
For those who have it and want it, faith matures…. Hers matured in perseverance. Faith thrives when we know God’s “inside scoop” story – the story of Revelation. It grows when we pay attention to God’s signals whispered to us as in idioms, parables, metaphors and unfamiliar events, which only those familiar with God’s ways and “inside scoop” language, can understand.
Observe the Church’s liturgy, for instance, and see how the mysteries of faith unveil before your very eyes. Powerful. Gripping. It is an excellent example of the inside scoop of heavenly language, nurturing the uncommon faith.
The Syrophoenician woman is, for us, a true heroine of undaunted faith. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to pray for such faith – the faith that connects with God’s logic; the faith that knows the story behind the story.
I pray our faith matures like that. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
[Thursday Week 5 B: 1 Kgs 11:4-13; Mk 7:24-30]
Fr. Maurice Emelu, Ph.D.
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.