The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith
From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ But she answered him, ‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus Cures a Deaf Man
Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, ‘Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’ And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. They were astounded beyond measure, saying, ‘He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.
Well you cannot escape the developments regarding migrants or asylum seekers or illegal immigrants?
When Migrants were crossing the Mediterranean Sea, Katie Hopkins (who believes she has a right to be offensive) referred to these people as Cockroaches. The words “Swarm” and illegal were being used, to try and incite fear and loathing.
The tragic photo of Aylan Kurdi on that Turkish beach, brought home the reality that we are talking about human beings. It was then that politicians suddenly found a voice in support of these migrants, that we were being shamed by the welcome that they received in Germany, where people opened their homes and footballers gave their wages away.
In the UK, references were being made to when the UK welcomed, Hugenouts, Jewish Children, Ugandan Asians, Vietnamese Boat People. A recollection that we have a heritage of welcoming the outsider.
At the time of Jesus, there were many groups of people considered as outsiders. And Jesus is in their turf. What we witness is the brutal reality of how these outsiders were considered and a change in heart. So let us take a closer look
First there is this woman whose daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit. This woman came from a group of people who were considered not just outsiders, but enemies and those who contaminated God’s people. She was a Syrian! When Jesus makes the reference to dogs, I believe that he was using a common phrase to describe these people.
What Jesus encountered was a woman who would not give up for the sake of her child, she would not argue with Jesus calling her a dog! Instead using that description to show her faith
‘Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’
Jesus was amazed and so her daughter was restored. In a place where he did not expect faith, he found faith.
The other account is of the deaf man who had a speech impediment. Again Jesus is in outsider territory. Mark is building on the encounter Jesus had with the Syrian woman.
This man is deaf and cannot speak properly. For the Jew the outsider is deaf to the word of God and is unable to respond to God, because they are not Jewish. They do not belong.
But Jesus takes this man aside and speaks
Ephphatha’, that is, ‘Be opened.’
Place your hand in front of your mouth and say that Aramaic word Ephphatha. Can you feel your breath saying that word. The man did not hear the word he felt it!
So often we assume that people understand what we are saying, but sometimes they don’t. But they know how they feel when they meet you. The smile, the gesture, the welcome all make a difference to someone who does not understand
This man is healed he can hear and speak. The Outsider can now belong!
This is the point of these two encounters. The Outsider can now belong.
So what could God be saying to us today?
Be aware of how you prejudices can make people less than human. I do not know if Jesus was prejudiced against Syrians, but he spoke about them in a prejudiced way. It was listening to this woman, that Jesus encountered a surprising faith and the woman’s daughter was restored.
Prejudice, fear, history dissolved and healing came. Be aware of how you prejudices can make people less than human.
The second thing is that people often feel before they understand.
“You’ll never get a second chance to make a first impression!”
So what impression do you leave?
We started with migrants so let us end with them and two ways in which people have applied some of these principles.
In Germany, Football fans displayed banners with the words “Refugees Welcome!”. They were telling the world, that these outsiders can belong. They went passed the usual arguments and extended welcome.
The second is the way that normal people in the UK are collecting tents, clothes, medicines, sanitary items for women and then travelling to Calais to give them to those migrants who are not welcomed. They have replaced the impression left, by fences, dogs and police with an impression of care and generosity.
Healing is not just about illness, it is about putting things right. Of taking a risk of including the outsider and enabling them to belong