Per Fidem Intrepidus means "Fearless Through Faith". My courage isn't my own, it comes from the Holy Spirit, it's my faith in God and my personal savior Christ Jesus that calms my fears and allows me to move forward in this fallen world. Personally I'm afraid of a lot of stuff, but having the faith that Jesus adopted me as his little, sin filled, brother keeps me going.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Crumbs From The Table

As I journey through the bible I often find things that surprise me. Thanks to my early religious education (and probably a few movies) I always pictured Jesus as a kindly young bearded man (with awesome hair) treating everyone around him with gentle loving kindness, the utmost respect, and deep humility. So when I found a reference that says that Jesus told a petitioner to go away I was a little shocked to say the least. I thought He was teaching, preaching, and casting out demons from anyone who dared approach but apparently not: 
21Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." 23But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." 24But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" 26And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." 28Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish."And her daughter was healed at once.(Matthew 15:21-28)
What's going on here? Did Jesus, our lord and savior, just tell a weeping woman to 'take a hike'? Apparently He did! But why? And what's a Syrophoenician anyhow?

The second question is easier to answer. The title of this scene in the NASB is called The Syrophoenician Woman but she's called a Canaanite in the narritive and this same scene is related in Mark 7:24-30 where the Canaanite woman is called a Syrophoenician woman. Is this some kind of skin rash that Matthew was too polite to point out? Nope, Canaanite and Syrophoenician mean the same thing, in the New Testament days the area of southern Turkey, Israel, and Syria were all part of the Roman province of Syria, and the southern part was referred to as Phoenician Syria. Canaanites in pre-exodus days lived in the Tyre and Sidon region which is part of Phoenician Syria so both words mean the same thing but to different people.

The difference between usage is dependent upon the target audience of the author. If I'm writing about life in the northern prairies and I use the term Nodak, a native of the area knows what I'm talking about because they probably are one. But if my target audience is in southern Florida I'm going to have to use the word North Dakotan to get the same idea across. This idea applies here too, as Matthew's target audience is primarily Jews and Jews call people from the Tyre and Sidon area Canaanites because of their long history in the area. Mark's target audience is Greeks and Romans and they call people in that area Syrophoenicians because that's what their maps read. Either way, calling this woman either a Canaanite or a Syrophoenician means one thing to both target audiences: She's a gentile, and that's important to know if you want to understand the rest of the narrative.

However this leads us into another question: Why was Jesus in Canaanite territory? Simple, Jesus had just embarrassed a bunch of Pharisees and quickly deciding that discretion was the better part of valor he withdrew from Israel to regroup and plan his next mission. If you read Mark's narrative you'll see this was a covert withdrawal:
Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice. - Mark 7:24
As we read we find that there's no hiding for the Son of God, a Syrophoenician woman realized who He was and immediately she began begging him to heal her daughter. She was begging and crying and pleading but in Matthew 15:23 Jesus refused to even speak to her! What's up with that? She raised such a ruckus that Jesus' disciples begged him to toss her out and finally He speaks.
But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Matthew 15:24
However He wasn't talking to the woman, He was talking to his disciples, probably to remind them that He had a whole lot of work to do (save Israel) and not a lot of time to do it, but still He proceeded to question the woman. Jesus had a way of testing people, like when a ruler asked him "Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" And Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:18-19) or better yet when Blind Bartimaeus begged Jesus to have mercy on him, Jesus didn't immediately spring to his aid, He actually made Bartimaeus come to Him to show how much faith He had. (Mark10:46-52). Like poor blind Bartimaeus, Jesus was going to test the faith of the Syrophoenician woman.

"It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." He said to her, and to me it looks like He threw her an insult too, but the original word means 'little dogs' so He wasn't trying to stab her in the heart with his response. But she promptly responded "Yes, Lord; but even the [little]dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Don't you just know that His heart melted for that woman at that very moment. "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." He answered

How it must have hurt Him that the people He was sent to save kept turning their back on him, and here this poor weeping woman who by the standard of the time should have despised him because He was a Jew was pleading and begging him on her knees to show a little mercy to her demon possessed daughter. I'll bet He even smiled a little at her wonderful, marvelous answer "even the dogs feed on the crumbs that fall from their masters table".

So what happened here is that Jesus went into Gentile territory and tested a gentile woman who it turned out had greater faith than the people He was sent to save. The entire subtext is that He goes far afield and when begged for mercy His response is "You know that I'm the Jewish messiah, don't you?" and her unspoken response was "You're the son of God, who cares if you're Jewish?" and in this one little scene, which is so easily misunderstood, Jesus boldly proclaimed to his disciples and to the world that he's come for all of us.

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