The third-culture woman at the feet of Jesus
By Mariam Tadros, Co-Leader of the Fragile States Unit for Tearfund.
I’ve gone back to this story of the Syro-Phoenician woman time and time again. Something in her tugs at my heart every single time. This woman, most likely of Greek heritage (a Gentile), born in Syrian Phoenicia, finds herself in Tyre pleading for the healing hand of Jesus.
There is such conviction, dignity and determination in her request. She hits her first stumbling block with the disciples who have their own prejudices, whether because she was a woman or because she was a Gentile, or because she wouldn’t let up on them. In their dismissal of her, they tell Jesus to send her away. What Jesus does in the next verse is so deeply uncomfortable it’s hard to watch – he tells her he’s only there for the people of Israel. And yet as onlookers into the story, we know that's not true. Why is he calling out this woman?
The more I’ve read this story, the more I see Jesus saying out loud the words on the hearts of his disciples and others whose vision of God’s people has been so narrowed. But she perseveres. When I look upon her, my sense is that she has a deep knowing of who she is and that she belongs, and that Jesus’ healing is for her daughter too. Even when Jesus compares her to dogs eating scraps under the table, she rises to his challenge and points out that those dogs still get to eat – even if just crumbs.
It's a jarring exchange; a foreign woman being demeaned by the men around her who come from the mainstream religion and culture. Yet in her knowledge of her inherent worth and equality, she stays in the discomfort. Jesus names the prejudice in the room and yet lets her faith win over. In front of those that wanted her dismissed, he relents to her request because she speaks her truth and he heals her daughter because of her desire.
God of the marginalized, the minorities and the multiple identities, hear the prayer of faith that calls out to you. Grant justice through your eyes to those society tries to close the door on.
May the faith of the Syro-Phoenician woman give us courage to break through doors of power and resistance, and come to your feet.