Monday, April 23, 2012

A case of racial insensitivity?


Whenever I read of Jesus' encounter with the Syrophonecian woman in Matthew 15: 21-28, I often wince.

Here's a woman whose daughter was severely oppressed by a demon. She could have gone to Eshmun, a pagan god of healing, whose temple was just 3 miles northeast of Sidon, but she heard of Jesus and goes to him instead.

She is described not just as a Gentile, but as a “Canaanite” which means a non-Jewish pagan person living in that region.

Almost all of Jesus’ ministry took place within the traditional borders of Israel in areas dominated by Jews. But this time, maybe to get away from the “maddening crowds,” Jesus traveled to the seacoast regions of Tyre and Sidon. These regions are pagan to the core. This is where he meets this troubled mother seeking help.

I often wince at this story because Jesus gave her two excuses why he couldn’t heal her and then, I am equally troubled by the disciple’s lack of compassion and hospitality.

When she heard that Jesus was in her neighborhood, she came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David. She had total respect for Jesus. But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”(Matthew 15:23)

Can’t she take a hint? Jesus didn’t want to talk to her and the disciples were ready to kick her to the curb.

Excuse #1
Jesus:  “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel.” (Matthew 15:24)

Troubled Mother’s response: Persistence
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”(Matthew 15:25)

Excuse #2
Jesus: It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matthew 15:26)
He didn’t just say that! Jesus called her a dog? Why would he refer to her as a dog? This is so unlike the Jesus we know.

Trouble Mother’s response: Knowledge of Abraham’s Covenant
 “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” (Matthew 15:27)
In other words, she knew the promises of God to bless all the families of the earth through Abraham. She was not Jewish but she was walking by the same faith of Father Abraham.

This is the reason why Jesus said: “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:28)

Was this a cat and mouse game? Was Jesus being insensitive to this woman, her race, her plight? I don’t think so. I have some reasons why I am saying no, but I want to hear from you before I suggest my answers.