The Syro-Phoenician Woman

Another of my “meditations” on a story from the gospels. Jesus is so often portrayed as humourless and forbidding, but clearly (to me) that was not so. Nor, however, was he “just a jolly fellow”. I hope this take on the story helps to illuminate how I see him, at least.

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Syro-Phoenician Woman and Jesus

Syro-Phoenician Woman and Jesus

Why is it that in a man the ability to respond quickly with a witty answer is admired but in a woman it is frowned upon? “It’s just the way the world is,” was my father’s insightful answer.  My mother didn’t exactly answer, she just despaired over my poor marriage prospects if I didn’t learn to curb my tongue: “What man would want to be married to such a woman?”

Well, I’ve never been able to curb my tongue, but I did find a husband, and a good one at that, even if he does have a lot to put up with.  My only regret is that I was only able to give him one child, a daughter.  She is, however, a wonderful child and the apple of his eye, although even at seven it is clear that she has her mother’s tongue.

So you can imagine that when she got sick our world stopped.  Day after day she lay in a fever, tossing and turning, babbling nonsense.  Our village healer couldn’t help and my husband sent for the best doctor in nearby Tyre, but he couldn’t help either.  He just told us that the spirit behind the sickness was a strong one and that no-one would be able to help her.  We should prepare for the worst.

But how could I do that? We were both at our wits end and my husband was already mourning her, yet I couldn’t give up! There had to be a way to help her, something we hadn’t tried, anything.

And then I heard about the visiting preacher from Galilee.  It was supposed to be a secret visit—I think he was trying to avoid the Judean authorities—but word spread fast anyway, including the rumour that he was also a healer.  My husband was sceptical.  “A renegade Judean healer from a nowhere place like  Galilee? What will he be able to do that the best Syrian physicians could not?” But in the end he let me go to him, after all, what did we have to lose?

I caught up with this preacher about a mile outside of the town where he was going.  He was walking with two or three men just ahead of a small group of twenty or so men and women.  I waited by the side of the path until they came close then I called out “Have mercy on me, Son of David!” But he didn’t seem to hear.  So I tried again, “Have mercy on me, my daughter is seriously in the power of an unclean spirit!” Still no response, he just walked right on past me.  But I was desperate, after all this was my only daughter, so I started to follow him, still crying out my plea.

He continued to ignore me, but not his followers.  They started to try to get me to stop, but I wasn’t about to be deterred.  I kept following and calling despite their efforts to block me.  Finally some of them went to the teacher and tried to get him to tell me to stop.  At last he looked at me.  I stood quietly as he appraised me, then he simply said “I was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” and he continued walking.

What did that mean? I didn’t think that he had been “sent” to help me (and who, exactly, had “sent” him?), but he was here and I was in need—surely he could do something! So I continued to follow him and when he entered a house I went in too.  I went right up to him and threw myself at his feet.  “Lord, help!” was all I could cry.

“Let the children be fed first,”  he said, not unkindly.  I began to hope; maybe he would help me later.  But then he added “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs”. It should have been a crushing sentence, but it seemed almost like a challenge, a test of how serious I was.  And was there just a hint of a smile on his lips, a twinkle in his eye?

Well, being me, I didn’t think, I just opened my mouth and shot back “True enough, yet even the little dogs eat the breadcrumbs that fall from the table!”

Suddenly the room was silent and still.  I knew that silence well, it often came right after I had put my feet in my mouth, right before I would get blasted for being forward, or disrespectful, or not knowing my place.  Suddenly abashed, I waited for his angry put-down.  And so I was shocked when he burst out laughing! Not only I, but everyone else seemed taken aback too.

“Wonderful!” he said, “What an insightful response.” He reached down and helped me to stand up, then walked me to the door.  ”Go home now,” he said to me, “It is as you desire, your daughter is well.”

Part of me didn’t want to go, to leave the presence of this man.  I wanted to know more about him and to hear his message.  But if my daughter really was well…The mother in me took over and I ran most of the way home.  There she was, sitting up and eating for the first time in a long time, yet looking none the worse for her experience.  My husband was amazed: “The fever just vanished a couple of hours ago! One minute she was thrashing and babbling, the next she was sitting up and saying she was very hungry!”  A couple of hours, I thought—right around the time the preacher had told me she was well.

I told my husband all that had happened.  “So, for once, your impulsive tongue won the day,” he said.  “Now, I suppose, there will be no stopping you.”

He’s probably right about that.  But I tell you, I hope I can get to know that preacher better.  He’s different—not only from my own Greek people, but from the other Judeans I’ve known too.  There’s something gentle about him, yet there is strength there too.  He has power and knowledge but it hasn’t made him proud or elitist.  His followers honour him (rightly so) but he acts like he is just one of us, an ordinary man.  I’m sure we’ll be hearing a lot more about him soon.

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2 Responses to “The Syro-Phoenician Woman”

  1. Marilyn Says:

    Oh well done – I love the way you framed this! Thanks for a great read. I’ve always loved the story and you did it great justice.

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