Content with crumbs?

How do you react when the Lord seems aloof? The Syrophonecian woman was persistence personified. She received a blessing because she knew her need. Her story can help us know our own need better.

Rhona Cooper, until recently a research assistant in the Health and Temperance Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, first presented the contents of this article at a Women for Christ meeting during the 1985 General Conference session.

She must have had a name, but no one thought it important enough to tell us. Let us call her Kuria, the Greek word for lady. Someone must have told her that the Galilean Healer had come over the hills into her country. Maybe one of her neighbors was in the crowd when the centurion's servant was healed. The news traveled quickly: "He heals everyone who asks for healing, not just Jews."

Jesus had come from another verbal encounter with the regular standing committees of argumentative scribes and Pharisees. He had made yet another withering exposure of their hypocrisy and had attacked their harsh system of rules and regulations, which totally ignored human need. A few miles away from all of this was the peace of the hills, and on the other side of those hills was a foreign land, Syrophoenicia. Never before in His adult life had He left the land of Israel, and now in the country of Phoenicia "he would have liked to remain unrecognized, but it was impossible" (Mark 7:24, N.E.B.).

Here Kuria found Jesus just as He was leaving the house where He had hoped to find quietness and peace in anonymity. (How He needed respite from argument and opposition!) Here she found Him, her last and brightest hope.

Life was difficult with a devil-possessed daughter. Kuria spent sleepless nights without relief. She endured nightmarish days watching her child trapped in long sessions of screaming and writhing. Mother and daughter were prisoners within their own home. Kuria had devoted hours to pleading before heathen gods and shrines and had spent a fortune on votive offerings and sacrifices, all to no avail. In return for her efforts she had received only cold, unfeeling stares from eyes of stone.

Kuria's friends and neighbors knew of her tragic life, but what would they say if they saw her here seeking out this Jewish Healer? Would they condemn and shun her? Would they understand her fear and reticence as she approached this Stranger? Could they comprehend even faintly the desperation that drove her to make such a spectacle of herself as to follow Him and call out after Him? After all, Kuria was a Phoenician, child of a proud race, while He was a Jew from Galilee. With Him were twelve peasants, all men. What could they understand of the intensity of her anguished concern for a tormented child? And what hope could there be for her, a Gentile, unclean in Jewish eyes?

Her lack of knowledge militated against her. She had been reared in the worship of heathen deities, a total stranger to Israel's God and to Israel's Scriptures with their foretelling of the Messiah to come. She doubtless associated the name Jehovah only with Jewish exclusiveness.

Her birth was against her. When, many centuries before, the children of Israel had entered the land of Canaan, God had commanded them to wipe out the Canaanitish people with their abhorrent rites of worship. Israel failed to exterminate the Canaanites, and from generation to generation the hatred and bitterness had continued to fester between the two peoples. All this she had doubtless absorbed since childhood, a part of her cultural inheritance.

The disciples opposed her, wanted only to be rid of her, to silence her disturbing voice. From them she received only stormy looks and tones of irritation at what they considered her intrusion into the brief time they had hoped to spend in peaceful retreat with their Companion-Teacher.

Far more disheartening than all of this was the fact that Jesus Himself appeared to be against her. He had surrounded Himself with a wall of silence broken only by words of apparent rejection and dismissal.

But the thought of her desperately ill daughter (Matthew 15:22 tells us this was a particularly serious case of demon possession) caused her to forget everything else. Appearances, nationality, class--all were unimportant. Nothing and nobody must prevent her reaching this Man, the reports of whose healing power had spread beyond the borders of Israel.

"Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me, pity me," Kuria called as she followed Him at a distance, not daring to approach too closely for fear He would reprove her contaminating Gentile nearness. Time and again she called, "Pity me." But He was silent, and continued to walk ahead as though unaware of her existence.

The disciples thought it was time to take matters into their hands: "Send her away; she is an embarrassment to us. Give her what she wants and let us be rid of her!"

Now the Master speaks. "I was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, and to them alone" (Matt. 15:24, N.E.B.). The disciples were silenced and non plussed. We hear no more of them. In all the days and months they had spent with Him, they had never heard or seen Him even appear to reject anyone who came to Him seeking help. Strangely, they did not recognize the Lord's skillful portrayal of their own attitudes toward those not of the chosen race.

Kuria was not easily repulsed by either disciple or Master. Now she no longer followed from behind but ran ahead, kicking up little fans of dust as she ran. Her thoughts were racing too. Perhaps, perhaps, the fault was with her; maybe she was not presenting her case very well. His silence doubled her entreaties and His withdrawal drew her more strongly toward Him. "Have mercy on me. Pity me, pity!" she called. She had reached the lowest depths of despair and | had nothing more to lose. She fell before Him in worship, with head bowed low and eloquence in her clasped hands. "Lord, help me" was her artless plea.

Again the Lord breaks His silence, this time with words that appear so cutting, so final: "It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs" (verse 26, N.E.B.). Did the disciples hear correctly? Did she hear aright? Did He call her a dog? Was there worse to come? Was this the death knell to her hopes?

Something in His tone of voice told her to turn this apparent slight to her advantage, and with her native gift for repartee she let the words fall into the severe silence.

And then she countered: "I know, Lord, that I am only a heathen dog, and I'm willing to be a dog if I can have a dog's portion, the crumbs. I'm not asking for a loaf or even a morsel, just a crumb. One tiny portion of Your power would be enough for all my need."

Kuria was still at His feet.

She was still pleading with eyes, hands, and voice--magnificent persistence!

Still her faith refused to accept denial. Then in a voice warm with heaped-up kindness and love for this alien woman the Master commended her for her faith and answered her prayers. "Kuria, you have great faith. Your request is granted. Your daughter is healed. " The words fell like rain on a parched desert. This was balm from Gilead. It was as though the sun suddenly appeared from behind leaden clouds, bringing light and warmth and a lifting of her spirits. Now He sounded like the Jesus of whom she had heard, who had only kind words and abundant healing for all. This was the One who would not break a bruised reed or quench the smoking flax.

Johannes Bengel, the Lutheran New Testament scholar, remarks that Jesus marveled at only two things, great faith and great unbelief (Luke 7:9; Mark 6:6). This woman's monumental faith in the face of all odds caused Him to marvel, "Kuria, great is thy faith!"

Kuria had ignored all the barriers across her way, or had turned them to her advantage. When there was nothing left and in utter helplessness she worshiped in submission, she reached the place to which the Master had been leading her. He had in mind for her far more than she had ever thought of. Not only did He provide healing for her daughter, He gave her healing for her own soul. Though she would have been satisfied with just crumbs, He wanted above all to supply her from His table, where there was "bread enough and to spare."

Kuria thought she was pursuing the Lord, while in reality He was, as always, the Divine Pursuer. He awaited only her realization of her helpless emptiness. Prayer is for the helpless.

That memorable morning when she left home in search of healing for her demon-possessed child, she had no thought of finding anything for her own soul. But she found a Saviour, and with Him the assurance of peace, light, and the wonderful freedom of the gospel. Martin Luther said, "We pray for silver, but God often gives us gold instead."

This was a day of glorious bounty. A child was freed from the demons that imprisoned her mind. A mother found release from intolerable burdens, and freedom from the tyranny of heathen worship. The disciples saw demonstrated the all-encompassing salvation Jesus had come to give regardless of national or denominational labels. Ellen White comments that Kuria "departed, acknowledging her Saviour." 1

At times when we seek fellowship with Jesus we almost feel His actual presence. Why is it not always so? Why does He sometimes appear to treat us as He did Kuria? We come with all our urgent pleas. He says nothing to us, and we become spiritually dry. Our prayers gather vehemence and volume, but still no word. At such times we find it difficult to believe that we are secure in Him, or even drawn to Him, or that He has any spiritual blessings to give us.

If He were always easily accessible, easily elicited, His presence would not be so richly rewarding. It is in these very times of dry silence that we grow into a sense of our helplessness and impotence. They prepare us to receive the treasure of assurance He longs to give.

This materialistic age desperately needs us all to be godly women, women who daily feel our helplessness to meet all the demands made upon us and who depend totally on Jesus' sustaining power. He is the bountiful giver to us all. He delights to surprise us, and when we are thinking only of crumbs He gives a spiritual feast.

"Then in the hour of our desperate need

When we seek answers to our anxious plea

Our empty words seem echoes all in vain.

'I spoke to God; He never speaks to me.'

"Find that silence deep within your self

Where other voices never can intrude,

For God will speak to those who learn to hear,

Who wait for Him in silent solitude." 2

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Rhona Cooper, until recently a research assistant in the Health and Temperance Department of the General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, first presented the contents of this article at a Women for Christ meeting during the 1985 General Conference session.

January 1986

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