We’re reading at Mass today the story of the Syrophoenician woman who asks Jesus to cure her daughter. Mark 7, 24-30
My mother (God rest her) used to sneak food under the table regularly to her beloved cocker spaniel, Buffy. Once when I visited home after becoming a priest I said–in a losing attempt to keep Buffy’s weight down– “Mom, you shouldn’t feed that dog scraps from the table.”
She replied, “You don’t live her. He does. Besides, I’m not feeding him scraps from the table. He’s eating the same food we eat.”
I could never understand all the logic of her answer, but I gave us trying to stop her. I remember her every time this gospel is read. She put me in my place.
Maybe that’s what the Syrophoenician woman did to Jesus when she met him on his excursion north into gentile territory near Tyre.
Father John Donohue, SJ, offers an intriguing commentary on Jesus and this woman in Mark’s gospel. (The Gospel of Mark, John Donohue, SJ and Daniel Harrington, SJ (Sacra Pagina), Collegeville, Minnesota 2002. ) Their meeting takes place following the feeding of the 5,000 in Jewish territory (Mark 6, 30-44) and Jesus’ announcement to the Pharisees and the scribes from Jerusalem that “all food is clean.” As a sign that the gentiles too would receive the Bread of Life from his hands, Jesus journeys into gentile territory to feed another 4,000. (Mark 8,1-10)
Now, you would expect him to welcome any gentile he met near Tyre, but the woman who meets Jesus alone in a house is harshly rejected when she asks him to heal her daughter. “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.”
The woman doesn’t take no for an answer. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps, Lord.”
Matthew’s gospel, written after Mark, says the woman’s daughter was healed because of her faith. Not so, Father Donohue says. According to Mark, it was because she got the best of her argument with Jesus, the only one who does that in the gospels. “It’s not right to ignore us,” the woman says to him. Jesus heard the truth from her and accepted it.