Did we really hear Jesus say what he said to the woman? He sounded mean and angry. Maybe if we have a better understanding of the text and the culture his words won't seem as harsh. Wwwwwrrrroong! I tried that, but it didn't work. Jesus' words were anything but kind. As a matter of fact, they were outright rude!
Jesus is exhausted after so much ministry. He is attempting to escape from the demands of the crowds. It didn't work when he went off to a Jewish area, so he gets away to a Gentile area and it didn't work here either.
This incident between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman was a turning point in Jesus' ministry. It was the beginning of Jesus' ministry to the Gentiles. The story is told in the framework of traditional understanding of salvation history, but in such a way that the explosive newness of God's act in Christ cannot wait. The gospel does not always wait for theology to catch up with it.
How does this apply to us individually? We are the faith descendants of this woman who was the consummate outsider in every way. In the waters of baptism, all distinctions have been washed away. These waters surprise us with mercy in unexpected places. The baptismal waters open our eyes, unstop our ears and loose our tongues to see, hear and speak to the poor, the weak and the outcast. The Holy Spirit fills us with faith--an active faith that shows limitless grace and mercy.
Who are the outsiders, the dogs that we fear in our community? What people will snatch away the blessings reserved for the chosen, take up too much of God's mercy, take up too much of our time or simply are not properly housebroken? Is it the homeless? We have shelters so they are taken care of. Is it teenagers or children? We love to have them at church as long as they are quiet or are tucked away in Sunday School. How do we feel about the mentally ill, the poor, the rich? We have agencies that take care of the mentally ill and the poor. And what about the rich? What do they need? They're able to take care of themselves, aren't they?
It is difficult for us in our day to appreciate the intensity of the struggles of the early church as it opened its doors to non-Jews. We see some of this in Paul's letter to the Galatians, the letter to the Romans and in the book of Acts. It is only difficult to understand until we look at our own church and churches in our area and begin to wrestle with barriers, that may be invisible and unspoken, that continue to separate people of various races, nationalities and economic means. Originally, we may have been a church of Swedes, but now we have welcomed others, some of whom weren't even raised Lutheran!
As worshippers today, we are like the Syrophoenician woman and like her we can enter into the community of faith, have our demons overcome by Christ, and eat the crumbs which have become a banquet from the table. With the Syrophoenician woman, we pray for everyone in need of healing.
Like our Lord, we may be reluctant healers and helpers. As Jesus ministered to outsiders, God will use us to do so as well. We may not appreciate those he brings our way. They may be sick, poor, uneducated or healthy, rich and well-educated. Those God brings us may be feisty and gutsy, firmly believing God wants them to journey with us and wants to bless them through our ministry here.
Are we ready for the task?