Pushing Back for Grace
If you’re in church this Sunday, you’ll hear one of the most interesting and puzzling passages of the Gospels, when a Syrophoenician woman has a verbal showdown with Jesus in Mark 7:24-37. The anonymous woman, an outcast twice over because she is a woman and a Gentile, begs Jesus to cast away a demon from her daughter. He refuses, telling her his mission is solely for the lost sheep of Israel. He says: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This is one of the rare episodes in the Gospels where we see that even Jesus might have been limited by the cultural blinders of his time. Dr. Sharon Ringe, professor emerita of New Testament at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., speculates that Jesus here is “caught with his compassion down.”
The Syrophoenician woman pushes back, believing that God’s grace is meant for all people. She tells Jesus: “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Something about her stubbornness changes Jesus’ heart, for he responds: “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” Her persistence pays off, and it changes the course of Jesus’ ministry.
Perhaps this woman can teach us that sometimes even we have too small an understanding of God’s grace? Our mission at Christ Church Cathedral is “to widen the circle of God’s embrace with heart and voice.” Are we listening to the anonymous Syrophoenician women in our midst, who are crying out, pushing us to widen the circle even more broadly? Even when their voices are uncomfortable, can we hear them inviting us into more compassion and more love? For if we listen, we too, like Jesus, may well change the course of our ministries.
—The Very Reverend Gray Lesesne, D. Min.