The Power to Invoke Favors

The Gospel (Mark 7, 28-30) addresses obtaining a favor not on the assurance of one’s right or the law but instead on insistence. Today’s Gospel scene and the dialogue between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, whose daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit, have something spiritual and temporal to offer us. Let us journey together with Jesus and the woman through this Gospel passage.

Law, Exclusion, and Faith

Here is the scene. Jesus goes to the vicinity of Tyre. He does not want anyone to know he was there. He has been ministering in Jewish provinces and is exhausted, so he leaves and goes into Gentile territory to rest.

A woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit comes and falls at his feet, asking him for the favor of healing her daughter. Although she is a Syrophoenician, it is presumed that she would have known the Jewish customs given Tyre’s proximity to Judea. The woman was aware of her tribe as a Gentile. She has none of the religious, moral, and cultural credentials necessary to approach any devout Jew, let alone a religious teacher. But her daughter has an unclean spirit, and that is what she cares about—she seeks help.

She enters the house without an invitation, falls down, and begins begging Jesus to exorcise a demon from her daughter. Jesus replies: “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Mark 7:26–27).

Significant Truths

Of course, we can unlock the passage’s meaning with knowledge of the context and the figurative language used in the text. However, Jesus’s response contains several significant truths beyond the narrative’s surface.

First, one might see Jesus’ response as an insult. But actually, he was standing on the law and calling the woman’s attention to the order of things, letting her know she was transcending the boundaries of the law.

According to the order of the day, it is essential to do things the right way. The woman embraces the challenge and lets Jesus know she understands the law but operates outside the codes of conduct that have held people captive, isolated, and hopeless. “Yes, Lord,” she replies, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

She is aware of who Jesus is, that he is also here to liberate those held captive by human-made laws. So, the woman affirms her readiness for the inbreaking kingdom of God, where both dogs and human beings could dine together.

Second, if we put ourselves in the shoes of the Gentile woman, I think we will find another very practical truth to our own lives. Quite likely, it’s only when one realizes one has no leverage position before God apart from his providence that one will finally begin to hear and understand God’s ways. Jesus is blunt in his response, but the woman does not care. She doesn’t take offense or stand on her rights.

According to what the woman heard of Jesus, she believes that though she may not have a place at the table, there is more than enough for everyone in the world. She wrestles with Jesus most confidently. For such a response, Jesus heals her daughter.

Overcoming Obstacles to Our Trust

In most contexts today, we only assert our rights and fight for something if we are defending those rights. Therefore, the concept of favor is unfamiliar to many of us. Favor differs from rights. Rights are what one is owed and what one deserves; favor is devoid of rights. It is often associated with kindness, grace, and providence.

Favor is predominantly seen in our relationship with God and extended to those who go out of their way to do good without relying on rights. Being accustomed to a society where we depend more on rights than favor, control than trust, and assurance rather than hope, we hesitate to demand divine providence. We do not persist in asking God for favor. We relinquish our hope too quickly.

The Gospel presents us with an alternative to what we are used to as humans in our relationships: trust in divine favor. When we approach life and situations with the reality of our everyday existence, we might lean more towards the law. However, when we understand the favor that characterizes the life of faith and God’s relationship with us, we gain the courage to trust and ask where we know the law cannot help us or is insufficient. In this way, we can dissolve the walls of exclusion, build faith, and mend relationships simply by expressing confidence and gentle insistence on what we know is possible.

[Readings: 1 Kgs 11:4-13; Mk 7:24-30]

Sr. Olisaemeka Rosemary

Rev. Sr. Dr. Olisaemeka Okwara is a Catholic nun of the Daughters of Divine Love Congregation. She is a Systematic theologian, a writer, and a researcher at Julius-Maximilians -Universität Würzburg, Germany. Email: [email protected]

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