Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is one of our toughest passages in scripture -Mark 7:24-37. What is so difficult is how harsh Jesus sounds, even downright rude. He refuses a gentile woman pleading for help and then likens her to a dog, an unkind euphemism, for sure, in Jesus’ time. “Let the children (of Israel) be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus draws the line of where and how he can give help.
Where do you draw your lines? We all have them. We cannot do everything. We must draw a line somewhere. And like Jesus, we may even lose our temper when others try to cross that line.
Nevertheless, the woman persists, and this faith of hers shifts something in Jesus. The line he had drawn disappears; the limits he had placed on himself vanish. If you listen carefully, you can almost hear the huge wheel of history turning as Jesus comes to a new understanding of who he is and what he’s been called to do. He is no longer the Messiah called only to the children of Israel; he is now the redeemer of the whole world – Jews and Gentiles alike.
Jesus learns, through this woman’s persistent and courageous faith, that God’s purpose for him is bigger than he could have imagined, that there is enough of him to go around, and in that moment, there is no going back to the limits he observed a moment ago.
Reminds me of Oliver Wendell Holmes’ wise words: “A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.”
Isn’t that the way it goes? Over and over, God’s call to us means pushing back old boundaries and limits, embracing seeming “others”, giving up the notion that there is not enough of us to go around. We may resist, we may even lose our tempers, but the call of God is insistent, as persistent as the woman who would not leave Jesus alone.
Come hear more about lines and persistence this good Sunday at church.
The Rev. Laura F. Gettys, Associate Rector