Jesus’ ministry was marked by His preaching to pious, religious, Jewish people, who, by Biblical accounts, held many prejudiced beliefs about Gentiles.
In St. Mark’s gospel, the story is told of how Jesus honoured the faith of a Syrophonecian woman as she begged Him to cast a demon out of her daughter.
“First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” [Jews regarded Syrophonecians as dogs.]
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus spoke in terms to which the Jews could relate. His play on words was really a challenge to the Jewish disciples who were listening to His conversation with the Syrophonecian woman. This begs the question – was Jesus indirectly addressing deep-seated prejudice and self-righteous piety that may have been in the hearts of his disciples?
I believe that Jesus was fully aware of the woman’s faith and was prepared to redeem her daughter from the grip of the devil. But Jesus’ message was clear: Salvation is not reserved for a few. It was the Jews’ responsibility to accept Jesus’ teachings and spread the Good News to other nations.
Two dimensions of faith: trust and belief
Faith is the universally acceptable response to the Good News. Responsive faith has two dimensions – belief and trust – both demonstrated by the Syrophonecian woman’s bold declarations that Jesus could rid her daughter of the demon and her belief that the Good News of salvation was also for the Gentiles.
Recent events have given rise to my own reflection on how declarations of faith can appear to be a veil for self-righteous piety and the promotion of personal agendas.
Belief or self-righteous piety?
- The US Supreme Court’s ruling that makes same-sex marriages legal, has led to an uproar of debates in many Christian communities with quotes from the Bible to justify labelling ‘us’ against ‘them.’
It’s not my intention to make or break the case for same-sex marriage here. I have a greater concern. I question if the reaction in some Christian quarters is really about deeply rooted fear of others who are ‘different’? I also question, if in the heated debates and hubris, have we strayed from the baseline teachings of Jesus – love of God and our neighbours?
The core belief of our Christian faith is love. Jesus’ death is the greatest manifestation of love, motivated by our need for redemption. If we agree that all of us are beneficiaries of God’s redemptive love, shouldn’t our faith lead us to embrace diversity as we proclaim the Good News?
Trust in God or a personal agenda?
- And speaking about proclaiming the Good News, I recently learned that a prosperity preaching televangelist asked his congregation to purchase him a $65M private jet.
The intention to purchase the private jet was “to help empower the ministry to reach the lost and change precious lives around the world.” Fair enough. But I am led to question if the televangelist’s trusting faith has more to do with his own agenda, than the big picture of God’s plan when the televangelist declared: “I can dream as long as I want to. I can believe God as long as I want to. If I want to believe God for a $65 million plane, you cannot stop me. You cannot stop me from dreaming.” I won’t judge the motivations and faith of the televangelist and his followers. I will say, though, that the messages are mixed.
True faith expresses bold humility
There is much we can learn from Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophonecian woman:
- Falling at Jesus’ feet was an act of humility, setting the stage for her bold declaration of trust and belief.
- The woman had a trusting faith as she begged Jesus to heal her daughter.
- Before receiving Jesus’ confirmation that her daughter was healed, she boldly declared her transcendent belief in God’s universal plan of redemption for all people.
May we, like the Syrophonecian woman, have faith that is marked by bold humility as we declare the Good News and receive the blessing of answered prayers.
Christ in you, the hope of glory. That’s why glory matters.