Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician Woman
The religious leaders of Jesus’ time set boundaries as lines to be guarded in order to protect the holiness of God’s people against things that defile.
Geographically, the Temple in Jerusalem is the holiest place. The holiest of all is the inner sanctuary of the Temple where God was supposed to dwell. With God’s presence there and proper worship in the Temple, it was thought to guarantee the prosperity of the nation.
The further away a place is from the Temple or Jerusalem, the less holy that place becomes. The Gentiles' places are thus considered unclean.
Besides geographical boundaries, there are also social boundaries. The priests and the Pharisees are considered the holiest because they serve at the Temple and other religious settings. Holiness declines among the Jews in general. The lepers, disabled people, tax collectors and the Gentiles are seen as unclean.
To be holy is to remain within the boundary. You avoid contact with sinners, lepers, menstruating women and corpses. You wash your hands before eating, refrain from unclean food, keep Gentiles away from the Temple, and so on.
For such contact would defile a person and in turn, defile the sanctuary when he comes to worship in the Temple. Consequently, God might withdraw from the sanctuary thereby removing the protection and the benefits that God’s presence would secure.
However, when Jesus came, everything changed!
Crossing the Boundaries to Bring About God’s rule –the Kingdom
When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, God crossed the boundary between heaven and earth by sending the Holy Spirit to descend upon Jesus. He was then driven by the Holy Spirit to cross the boundary into the wilderness, which was the devil's field. There, Jesus was tempted by Satan but he overcame the devil's temptations. Through Jesus, God bound Satan and plundered Satan’s house (Mark 1:12-13).
Then Jesus came into Galilee, began His ministry, proclaiming, “…the time is fulfilled, and the rule of God – the Kingdom, has arrived.” (Mark 1:14-15) All subsequent healings, exorcisms and miracles that took place through Jesus and His disciples were manifestation of the rule of God – the Kingdom.
The Holy Spirit came upon Jesus and He is called “the Holy One of God” (Mark 1:24). He proceeded to make an onslaught against the purity rules and boundaries. He saw them as oppressive and limiting. The boundaries that were meant to guard holiness had became barriers that excluded those who needed God’s help the most.
Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, continued to exercise power over that which was unclean. He exorcised unclean spirits, healed on the Sabbath, pardoned “sinners”, ate with tax collectors and called one of them, touched a leper, a hemorrhaging woman and even a corpse, His disciples ate bread with defiled hands and etc.
When Jesus touched the leper, instead of being rendered unclean by the contact, Jesus cleansed the leper. When Jesus was touched by the woman with a flow of blood, instead of being rendered impure, Jesus made the woman whole. When He touched the corpse, instead of being defiled, Jesus made it alive.
This was made possible because the power of the Holy Spirit spread wholeness and purity.
Jesus, in His inaugural address stated; “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because He has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.” (Luke 4:14-19)
Jesus and His disciples were crossing the boundaries not to attain their own personal freedom but to bring the life-giving power of the Kingdom to those who were outcasts, manifested in the spreading of purity, forgiveness and wholeness. They have thus far crossed the boundaries within Israel.
What about the geographical and social boundaries that separated Israel from the Gentiles?
Mark 7:24-30 recorded that Jesus went off to the territory of Tyre, today’s Lebanon, a wealthy Gentile city. He entered a house to rest and wanted no one to know, but He could not escape notice, for a woman came and fell at his feet.
She was Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth. She asked Jesus, “Please drive out the demon–the “unclean spirit” – from my daughter!”
Jesus answered her, “Let first the children be satisfied for it is not good to take the bread for the children and throw it to the little dogs.” (v. 27)
Jesus meant it is not time yet for the Gentiles to benefit from the Kingdom. He has a special calling with a very short time. He is the Messiah sent to find the lost sheep of the house of Israel, the children of God, and then He would die on the cross to defeat Satan to redeem sinners.
Nonetheless, Jesus’ word, “let first the children be satisfied” leaves the door of salvation open to the Gentiles.
How did the Gentile woman respond? Or rather, how would you respond in such a situation? Will you feel very hurt? Infuriated? Will you curse Jesus? Or leave for alternative sources for help? Will you now only come for worship services and stop serving? Will you backslide?
Don’t over-react so fast. See how the woman answered, “Lord, even the pups down under the table eat some of the little crumbs of the children” (v. 28).
The woman did not oppose to what Jesus said. Rather, she developed a scenario of Jesus’ allegory so that she and her daughter could have a place in it.
Jesus told her, "Because of this word - you go back! The demon has left your daughter. “
The woman went home and found the child lying on the bed, and the demon had departed (v.30).
Jesus has healed the daughter of the Syro-Phoenician woman! He has finally agreed that the Gentiles could be benefited from the Kingdom, even now!
The aftermath of meeting with the Syro-Phoenician woman, Jesus went to another Gentile territory, Decapolis, where He healed a deaf and mute man. He subsequently fed 4,000 Gentiles in a desert in a Gentile territory, where He “took bread”. The Gentiles “ate” and were “satisfied”.
Each one of us is a disciple of Jesus Christ. That means we are also to cross boundaries whether they are drawn from unclean food, tradition, religion, race, language, nationality, gender, social status, income group and etc. Let no one be hindered from benefiting from the Kingdom!
Have you been quite a while complacently living within your comfort zone? Probably you think you could confine God’s presence in your home, your office or your community to guarantee you power, prosperity and blessing.
You can’t contain God’s presence within that boundary! He is already on the move, and He is asking you now, “Are you coming with me?”
Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos incarnated, crossed the boundary between heaven and earth, overriding the dividing line between the clean and the unclean, and entered into the domain of the “Ruler of this World”.
He ministered on earth, calling forth an eschatological prophetic community with Him, together spreading God’s rule by crossing the boundaries.
At His death, God ripped apart the curtain of the sanctuary and broke out from the confines of the sanctuary (Mark 15:38). God’s presence had left the Temple and became available anywhere on earth to grant blessings and to pardon sins.
After the resurrection of Jesus, He commanded this prophetic community to spread the holy power of the Kingdom outward, from Israel to the ends of the earth and thereby crushing Satan’s oppression, bringing about deliverances, releasing healings, peace, joy, happiness and constituting wholesome lives.
Today let's go out, young and old, or let our various resources be channeled out to cross the boundaries in doing God’s works. Let’s pray for the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit to fall upon us now.
We will not only preach the gospel of Christ’s salvation, but also deliver all the goodness of the Kingdom to people over the other side of the boundaries: the destitute, the orphans, the disabled, the street wanderers, foreign workers, refugees, strangers, people in remote areas, prisoners, war victims, natural disaster victims, and etc.
By this, we mean what we pray, in the Lord’s Prayer, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”(Matthew 6:10)
Do you now realize how important your position is in God’s great salvation plan?
You and I are part of this eschatological prophetic community of Christ. Every move we make, every dollar we give towards spreading the benefits of the Kingdom beyond the boundaries, Satan’s domain will shrink and his oppression will be crushed.
Where ever the Kingdom prevails, there will be deliverances, healings, peace, joy, happiness and wholesome lives.