Read Text: Mark 7:24-30
Theme: Blessed are those who trust in Jesus regardless of the obstacles, for they shall be saved.

        There’s no suffering that compares to watching your children suffer. When my first son was born I got to cradle him and walk him into the newborn room. I got to dress him and put the little hat on him. But when my second son was born they took him away into a room where I couldn’t go. He was born just a few weeks premature and the nurses were concerned about the way he was breathing. To save his life, they whisked him into the neonatal room and placed him on oxygen.
        I had no idea what was going on. So I followed and asked questions. I was demanding explanations as we stormed out the door of the delivery room. We went across the hall and I kept my eyes on my son.
        They took him into a room that I couldn’t go in. When I approached, it did not open. I waited, and the moment that the door opened into the area I wasn’t supposed to go – I went in. I wanted to see my son.
        I must someday apologize to those fine nurses. I made their job hard that day because I did not respect the boundaries. Very sternly and very politely, the nurse told me that I wasn’t supposed to be in this room. I knew that. But my problem wasn’t a lack of knowledge. I wasn’t supposed to go in that room – but for a parent whose child is suffering, barriers just don’t matter.

        That’s why I understand what this Syrophonecian woman did – she ignored the barriers. Jesus has come to Tyre to be alone. But she crosses that barrier and intrudes on his solitude. In the ancient world it was improper for a woman to directly address a man, but she crosses that barrier as well – since she has no man who can go to Jesus for her, she simply does the improper thing. And then there’s the two-ply barrier of race and religion. She is gentile, he is an Israelite. In the culture of her people there are many powers and spirits at work – some of them good, many of them evil. But she pushes and dodges her way through every obstacle because there is no suffering like that of watching your child suffer – and there’s nothing she can do but ask questions and pray.
        She’s seen her daughter suffer the torment of the unclean spirit. That’s not a familiar condition to us. There were other parents who came to Jesus because of the suffering of their children. One of them was a man whose boy had an unclean spirit. The spirit would throw the child into fire and water. Why? It wanted to destroy the child. Now there’s a particularly horrible condition - an invisible force that threatens to destroy your child. Something you can’t fight, something you can’t shoot or strangle. Powerless to stop the torment. If the daughter of this Greek woman is being tortured by such a force, it is no wonder she ripped down the “Do Not Disturb Sign” and ignored the glances and gasps to seek out this man known for having authority over evil. Wouldn’t you if it was your child?
        Of course I understand Jesus’ answer. I’ve been there too when the desperate, needy people come for help and sometimes your hands are tied. “We don’t have what you need.” “There’s just not enough.” “We’ve hired all we can.” “We can’t help you until you respect yourself.” Sometimes you’re not able, sometimes it just wouldn’t be right. No one wants children to suffer, but sometimes we are overwhelmed. Helping one means turning your back on others. Sometimes we cannot help because we have made a commitment to help others. This is where Jesus finds himself. He came to Tyre to rest, and now he’s overwhelmed. His commitment to Israel means that he has little to spare for the gentiles. And I know this statement sounds more like an American tourist in a third world country than it does Jesus – but there it is and he says it: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” That’s just the way it is. It would be nice to imagine otherwise, but sometimes that just the way it is. “They were here in line before you ma’am.” These are the rules. That’s just the way it is.
        Now, do you think this woman who intruded on Jesus privacy, who ignored social customs and ignored matters as serious as race and religion is going to be turned aside by an answer like that? When I stormed that hospital door in September of 1998, I was not persuaded by the argument “You’re not supposed to be back here.” I knew that! And this woman knows that she’s not supposed to be there. She knows she’s not worthy to sit at the table. But that’s not going to persuade her. And being compared to a dog will not move her either. She’s probably endured much worse than that. She’s probably used to taking what she can. No amount of suffering you can heap on her compares to the suffering of watching her child suffer. So she challenges Jesus’ “matter-of-fact/that’s just the way it is” pronouncement of how things are:
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” It’s a reply worthy of the sharpest Rabbi – but Jesus knew Rabbis, he was called a Rabbi and she’s no Rabbi – she is a Greek woman who has intruded on the privacy of a Jewish man. She crossed all the barriers and now she must have wondered if she crossed the line.

She probably expects the first part of Jesus’ statement: “For such a reply, you may go.” Of course, why not? Why not be dismissed. Maybe it was just like she had been from all the other healers and authorities. Not even an offer to try or to examine the patient. Not even the offer of a prayer of consolation. Perhaps she did need to accept the way things were – It’s not fair! It’s not right. She is late in line. “For such a reply, you may go.”

But the second part of Jesus’ response is unexpected good news: “The demon has left your daughter.” Like the women on Resurrection morning, they expected a tomb, but they did not expect it to be empty. We want a happy ending, so we look forward to this part, but do you see how unexpected it is for the woman? Jesus doesn’t agree to go with her to see the girl. There’s no “maybe later.” There’s no instruction for a remedy. Instead it is the promise that the healing is already done. The only wait she will go through is the journey home – and when she gets there, her daughter’s suffering – and her suffering – will be over. The demon has left her daughter – “for such a reply!”

There’s no suffering that compares to watching your children suffer. God knows that – his son suffered and he suffered with him. God knows that – his children suffer and he suffers with them. The good news is that the end of the suffering has already been declared – the only wait is the journey home.

[Addendum: Many people have asked me about the health of my second son born in 1998. If you were to see him now as he approaches his seventh birthday you would probably find it hard to believe that he was born a few weeks premature. The nurses at Brazosport Memorial Hospital were attentive and acted quickly when they noted that my son did not seem to be breathing properly. He was on oxygen for a few days but gained strength quickly. Months later he contracted RSV but he recovered from that. As of today, he sometimes suffers from allergies, but for the most part he is big, strong, and healthy. We are blessed! Thanks be to God Almighty!]

Chris Benjamin

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 August 2005

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