And from there Jesus arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden.25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. – Mark 7:24-30
You may remember Jezebel; the 9th century BC queen who incited her husband King Ahab to abandon the worship of Yahweh and encourage worship of the deities Baal and Asherah instead. Jezebel persecuted the prophets of Yahweh, and fabricated evidence of blasphemy against an innocent landowner who refused to sell his property to King Ahab, causing the landowner to be put to death. She made Elijah’s life miserable. She also happened to be from Sidon.
I have had a few Jezebels in my life – though thankfully none as notorious as Elijah’s nemesis. When my Jezebels come calling, I know I’m in for trouble. She offers sarcastic comments. She criticizes ruthlessly. She is hurtful and unkind. And she does all this with an attitude of superiority and self-righteousness. She definitely has made her mark in my heart and she decidedly does not enjoy “most favored person” status in my interpersonal relationship policy.
Thankfully Jesus’ interaction with this woman who comes from this same area near Sidon in Syrophoenicia is much more satisfying than Elijah’s encounter with her more notorious sister from another century. Nor did she treat Jesus so shamefully as Jezebel treated Elijah (cf. 1 Kings 19:1-3). Although people from that area of the world were considered to be the bitterest of the Jews’ enemies in Jesus’ day, the encounter recorded here points us to a better way of interacting with people of countercultural or ethnically diverse origin.
Grace and truth meet desperation and temerity. The woman brings all her brashness, intruding presumption, and petulant neediness to the Son of God. Jesus for his part counters with non-anxious truth and a gracious willingness to enter into a real conversation. Nothing contrived here! This is the real stuff of real relationships. Only Jesus doesn’t need forgiveness like any other two people do. Jesus offers the forgiveness we all need.
My problem is that I’m not as anxious to bring my Jezebel to Jesus. Bonhoeffer in Life Together, says that the only way any of us can relate to one another is through the cross of Jesus. That’s because we are all sinners and we bring our own sin and self-centered desires into any relationship. That makes me wonder… am I someone else’s Jezebel? Probably. I’m thankful that Jesus is willing to take me on when I come demanding his attention. Just as he honored the Syrophoenician woman’s request in behalf of her daughter, he will honor all who realize we have no first right of privilege before him. Frankly, furthermore, his crumbs are far better than the finest of fare the world has to offer.