The Syrophoenician Woman (P&P)

March 3, 2024 | Prayer & Praise Worship Services

Rev Gladwin Lee
The Syrophoenician Woman (P&P)

March 3, 2024 | Prayer & Praise Worship Services

Rev Gladwin Lee
Scripture Passage: Mark 7: 24-30 (NIV)

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Summary l If Jesus is God and God is love, why would Jesus speak in such a rude and unloving manner to this woman in Mark 7:27?  Our understanding of this passage affects how we imitate Jesus.  A poor understanding may lead others to think it is acceptable to be racist and rude.  It is neither acceptable nor Christ-like to be rude or racist.  Why did Jesus say that?

1. Priority of ministry

Let the children be fed first” (Mark 7:27)

Jesus’ focus in His ministry was on the Israelites, but He also wanted to do private ministry in the Gentile region.  Hence Jesus explained His reluctance to her that He had been called to minister to the house of Israel.  Tom Wright wrote that Jesus’ personal vocation was not to spread the gospel to the Gentile world, but to tell the Jewish people that their deliverance was at hand.  Therefore, Jesus did not want to be distracted from His primary task.  However, this does not explain the offensive words used.  Being right does not give us the right to be unkind.  Kenneth E. Bailey offered the next two explanations that Jesus was ministering to the woman and educating His disciples at the same time.

2. Display the woman’s faith and humility

The woman approached Jesus with the cry of a beggar.  She was desperate for her daughter’s deliverance from the demon, she broke several social norms and boundaries to ask Jesus for help:

  1. Nationality – people of Tyre were the enemies of Jews
  2. Religion – she was an idol worshipper
  3. Gender – she was a woman and she should not talk to a man who is a stranger

Jesus was silent when she came to Him.  His silence drove her to cry harder and louder.  Gordon Smith wrote that the dryness in our prayers is not a sign of the absence of God but, perhaps, an indicator that God is actually very near at hand.  God’s silence is intended to shape our faith and to remind us that He operates on a schedule different from ours.  He intends to mature us from spiritual infants to spiritual adults, and not molly coddle us.  Like the woman, we need to press on and wait for God.  We need to increasingly walk by faith, and not by sight, even in the dark nights of our soul.  Jesus also used words to put her to a test.  This Gentile woman accepted and absorbed the insult.  She returned it with humility in Matthew 15:27. Jesus wanted His disciples to see:

  1. Her humility
  2. Her deep faith
  3. Her wisdom
  4. Her motherly love
  5. Her persistence

3. Confront His disciples’ prejudices

Jesus wanted to challenge His disciples to drop their prejudices.  After teaching His disciples about what is clean and unclean, He entered unclean territory to teach His disciples in greater detail.  His disciples may have viewed Jesus’ action as appropriate when he maintained silence with the woman.  In Matthew 15:23-24, they urged him to send her away as they were annoyed with her.  Jesus said the offensive words to the woman in order to expose His disciples’ true feelings.  Jesus used the occasion to help her and to educate His disciples.  Kenneth Bailey again wrote that it was acutely embarrassing for the disciples to hear and see their deepest prejudices verbalised and demonstrated.  His silence and His words were also meant to challenge His disciples to think about what is truly clean.

There is a diversity of race, culture, nationality, educational background, financial status and age in Singapore.  Are we able to face our own prejudices and discrimination?  Will you give up your seat on the MRT to a migrant worker?  Will you prefer your child to marry a Christian who has not graduated from school or a heart surgeon who is not a believer?  Some of us might have age-related prejudices leading us to think that our young adults unable to rise to the occasion, or that our seniors are unable to learn new things?  We need to be careful what our labels and prejudices are.  Will Jesus also say the same words to us?  “These people honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me”. We are so diverse that it is easy to misunderstand and allow our prejudices to create exaggerated and unkind impressions of people.

Was Jesus unkind?  His silence and choice of words were meant to challenge His disciples to realise their hypocrisies and prejudices.  He wanted His disciples to realise the distance between His message and the current state of their hearts.  Let us also heed His message for His disciples; to face our prejudice and discrimination, and to drop our labels to see that these ‘unclean’ people are also clean and loved by Him.

(Sermon notes by Honey Vreugdewater)


  1. Read Mark 7:24-30. Who are the dogs and the children that Jesus was referring to?
  2. Using Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30,
    1. Describe the woman’s attitude and actions
    2. Describe the disciples’ attitude and actions
    3. What did Jesus do?
  3. In Mark 7:27, Jesus said, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Why did Jesus say those words?
  4. What prejudices do you observe in (a) our society, (b) our church and (c) yourself?
  5. What practical steps would you take to face your prejudices and foster change in any of these 3 areas?
  6. How did the woman respond to Jesus when he said those words in Mark 7:27? In what ways does the woman’s example (actions and response) inspire or teach us about approaching God?
Wesley Communications Team
Posted by Wesley Communications Team

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