Did Jesus get it wrong?

That’s the question that preachers often wrestle with when this story comes up. The story of the Syro-Phoenician woman, which should be called the story of the mother; because it is not for herself that this woman challenges and begs and draws out Jesus, but for her child.

Jesus has gone to hide away. We hear in Matthew’s gospel the quote from the prophet which evokes so eloquently the cost to Jesus of his compassion: he is loaded up and weighed down with our burdens; his knees are buckled by the people’s infirmities; he is sick and tired from our diseases. He has gone to hide away for a little while. He needs to recover, recuperate, renew.

Then this woman shows up, demanding care for her daughter. She is not one of his regular patients, not one of his own people. She is a random stranger wandered in off the street, with no prior relationship to Jesus, preying on his sympathy, seeking his sorrow by bowing before him.

Jesus said, “No. I’m off. I’ve spent all day taking care of impatient patients; I’ve spent all I have taking care of the people who were given into my care. I have nothing left. I need time, I need time off, I need space and rest and refreshment. Otherwise I will have nothing to give to them tomorrow.”

And the woman said, “I will take your dregs. I will take your throwaway cures. I will take your nothing left, because it is all that I have to live on, to offer to my daughter in the way of life.”

And he sighed deeply, looked at the ground, shook his head. “Whatever.”

She waited.

“Go!” looking at her. “You win, it’s done, now go. I’m done.”

And she left, fearful and excited and hopeful, and found her daughter at home and in her right mind, made well. And Jesus went to bed, hoping to God she wouldn’t tell the whole town.

And the next day, he went back, and lo, he had garnered just enough rest, just enough energy to spare to continue his work among his own people, and they worshipped him, saying, “He has done everything well!”

And he heard them, and wondered what she thought of him, whether her gratitude completely outweighed her stood-upon dignity, how much of the story she told her daughter, and how he came off when she did.

About Rosalind C Hughes

Rosalind C Hughes is a priest and author living near the shores of Lake Erie. After growing up in England and Wales, and living briefly in Singapore, she is now settled in Ohio. She serves an Episcopal church just outside Cleveland. Rosalind is the author of A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing (Upper Room Books, 2020). She loves the lake, misses the ocean, and is finally coming to terms with snow.
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4 Responses to Did Jesus get it wrong?

  1. jon white says:

    I think what’s really telling about this story is where Jesus goes immediately after – to the Decapolis. These are Gentile territory across the Lake from Galilee proper (where the demoniac w/ Legion lived) and so in the wake of this encounter we see Jesus begin to expand his ministry in light of the demands of the unnamed Syro-Phoenician woman. For me, whenever one of these unnamed women show up (and there are several) I think it can be thought of as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit guiding the human Jesus to live fully into his divinity. Thus, these women always mark a turning point, an epiphany, in the ministry of Jesus and are integral to Jesus’ identity and fulfillment of his role as Christ. That’s my theory anyway 🙂

    Jon White

    • Well, yes – and to return to the beginning of your comment, it was pointed out to me that Jesus, whose heart and mission have just been blown wide open by the woman – uses the words “be open” to the man of the Decapolis – and that this choice of wording is significant enough to be preserved in the Aramaic …

  2. Ken Ranos says:

    Hmm, I’ve read the story to portray Jesus as healing the daughter just to get the woman to go away. A very interesting take on it.

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