I always find it very fascinating which passages a pastor will choose to preach from, particularly on specified days such as Christmas, Easter, Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. Today, our pastor at Seaford Baptist–Dennis Hollandsworth–chose to look at the story of the Syrophoenician Woman, as recorded in Matthew.
The word Syrophoenician is a fun word to say.
But that aside, it’s a complex story.
Here is a Gentile woman, desperate for help for her daughter. She’ll do what it takes, to get to Jesus. She has no standing, no right to do so: she’s a woman. She’s a Gentile. But she is also determined. She is tenacious. And she is a mom. And she boldly approaches Jesus.
But I think what impresses me most, is that she is smart. When Jesus replies to her, he replies in a shocking manner. It sounds like an insult. Why does he respond like that?? I don’t know. I still find that hard to understand, I find his initial reaction to her hard to stomach. But there is a purpose, there must be a purpose, a reason why he takes this approach with her.
But what strikes me is her reaction. This woman is smart. She is smart. And she is tenacious. She doesn’t get offended. She doesn’t get hurt or angry. She doesn’t give up. She does argue back. Respectfully–but arguing nonetheless.
An interesting side note: In reading narratives where Jesus is pitted against Pharisees and rules, my inclination is to cheer Jesus on. In this narrative, my natural inclination is to cheer this woman on–against Jesus. I find myself wanting to say–yes, keep talking. Press forward.
I’m currently reading Timothy Keller’s The King’s Cross–his look at the book of Mark. In my reading, I just happened to come to the section about the Syrophoenician Woman just last night.
My favorite paragraph from Keller’s explanation of the story is this:
“Isn’t this amazing? She doesn’t take offense; she doesn’t stand on her rights. She says, “All right, I may not have a place at the table–but there’s more than enough on that table for everyone in the world, and I need mine now.” She is wrestling with Jesus in the mot respectful way and she will not take no for an answer. I love what this woman is doing.”
Respectfully Wrestling with Jesus. Yes. That’s it. Exactly.
She sees salvation in what Jesus is saying—she doesn’t argue against her unworthiness—where here in the west, our first response would be to argue for our rights, what we think is owed us. Instead she accepts that she is unworthy, but also accepts that there is enough grace for her, too.
And Jesus responds—“Such Great Faith!”
After a short night and a challenging morning with my crew, I actually missed most of the sermon. But I caught what Pastor Dennis said about this statement from Jesus–he asked the congregation what we thought it would be like, if Jesus were to say to us “You have great faith!”.
I honestly can’t even imagine it.