Sometimes we need hard medicine

[The Woman] begged [Jesus] to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Jesus said to her, 'Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children's food and throw it to the dogs." 

"It is not right to give the children's food to the dogs?"

What's got into Jesus?

Called a distraught woman and her tormented daughter dogs?
That doesn't seem like the Jesus we know.
The Jesus we know does not turn anyone away.
The Jesus we know eats and drinks with tax collectors, and liars, and prostitutes, and lepers, and sinners.
The Jesus we know hangs out with little children and tells us that we need to be like them.
And her is a woman begging Jesus to save her little daughter.
We would want the Jesus to say something like, "there, there, I love you and I love your daughter.  I have healed her."
Instead, Jesus compares this mom and her tormented daughter to dogs.
What gives?
Maybe Jesus had had enough of people and was grumpy that day.
Our gospel reading tells us that Jesus was tired out by all of his arguing with the religious folks.
Arguing with those religious folks who were excluding people from the congregation for not following all of the rules well enough.
Jesus goes to Tyre, which is pagan gentile territory, to get away for a while.
Jesus hides out in a house and does not want anyone to know that He is there.
But it doesn't work.
This pagan, gentile woman has found where Jesus is hiding out and begs Jesus to free her daughter from a demon.
So maybe Jesus called the woman a dog because he was tired and grumpy and just wanted to be left alone.
While I get tired and grumpy and have called people names, I don't think this is what is going on with Jesus.
When Jesus was swarmed by crowds, it is Jesus' disciples who are always trying to keep people from coming to Jesus and Jesus tells his disciples to let the people come.
And its Jesus who tells the disciples to find the crowd something to eat when they are all tired and hungry.
So no, I don't think Jesus is just having a bad day when he called the woman a dog.
Our Gospel writer Mark does make a point of telling us the woman is Syrophoenician.
Syrophoenicia was the name for the Roman ruled territory that was once the homeland of the Phoenician empire.
The Phoenicians had a long history of raiding and oppressing ancient Israel--Goliath of David and Goliath fame was a Phoenician.
And in Jesus' time the Syrophonecians were a favored subject regime of Rome that helped to keep Jesus' Jewish people in their place and did relatively well under pagan Roman rule.
So maybe Jesus called this woman a dog because because of her race--a race of people that had oppressed Jesus' own Jewish people for centuries.
And while I might, in my more sinful moments, want to strike out in revenge against my enemy when she is at her weakest and most vulnerable, I don't think this is what Jesus is doing.
This is the same Jesus that lives out his teaching that when an enemy hits us in the face, we are to offer him to hit the other cheek as well.
This is the same Jesus that lives out His teaching that we are to love our enemies.
And this is the same Jesus in this very same Gospel that goes on to restore hearing and speech to a man in the same gentile territory who, presumably, was also a gentile.
So no, I don't think that Jesus called this woman a dog because of her race.
So what is going here?
Why did Jesus say these particular words to these particular words to this particular woman?
There is only one answer that makes sense to me given what we know about Jesus' unconditional love.
Her desperate situation and Jesus' harsh words are the tough medicine that this particular woman needed to hear to open her up to the love of God.
We don't know enough about this woman to know for sure, but the fact that Mark felt it important to tell us that she is Syrophoenician might give us a clue.
Maybe this woman's higher social status would make her too proud to ask for help, especially from a Jew, except that she has tried everything and cannot stand her daughters suffering any more.
Maybe this woman thought that she was so in control and self sufficient that she could take care of any problem herself--except that she is clearly not in control of this situation and cannot help herself or her daughter.
Maybe this woman held on to her sense of self and dignity too tightly and does not want to be dependent on anyone else--not even God--and has locked herself in her own lonely prison.
We don't know what was going on with this particular woman, but we do know that pride, the illusion of self reliance, and the need for a sense of control is the challenge of the human condition that we all face.
Jesus later opens up the deaf man by sticking His fingers in the deaf man's ears and saying "open up."
Maybe Jesus needed to compare this particular woman to a dog to open her up and unblock her pride so she can depend on God alone.
And the thing is, it worked.
In response to Jesus comparing her to a dog, the woman catapults herself to a heroic level of understanding and  faith.
She whips back a one liner at Jesus.
"Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
The woman is saying, call me whatever you want.
I don't care what anyone thinks of me anymore.
I believe that even that even the crumbs of God's healing love are enough to free my daughter.
I can't fix this, and I need help, and Jesus you are the only one who can help me.
Jesus is blown away.
He says, "For saying that, you may go, the demon has left your daughter."
This pagan woman of an enemy race has shown more faith in God and belief in God's overflowing love than the whole gaggle of religious people who were busy trying to figure out rules to keep people away from God.
This story is in the Gospel because this is one of the few times in the Gospel that someone one-ups Jesus.
This women is a hero.
We are meant to take this woman as a model of how we should act when we think that God is out to get us or just does not care about our suffering.
The woman shows us how to keep going.
The woman shows us how not to give up on God even when it looks like God has forgotten about us.
But the woman knows, and reminds us, that God always loves us and is with us, even when it seems like God has forgotten about us.
God loves us when we are sick, God loves us when we are broke, God loves us when we are addicted, God loves us when we are getting divorced, and God loves us when we are dying.
God does not enjoy our suffering, but God will transform our suffering if we let him.
God will use our suffering as tough medicine to open us up to God's love and break the illusion that we are the center of the universe.
God will use our suffering as tough medicine to free of from our need to always be in control.
God will use our suffering as tough medicine to break us out of the lonely prison we create for ourselves, isolated from God and our brothers and sisters.
Like the Syrophoenician, women, we have to be brave and trust that God will use everything--everything--for our benefit, and to bring us closer to him.
We just need to trust in God to do it.
And not take no for an answer.

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