She is a desperate woman. Her daughter is gripped by the power of a demon greater than all of the available remedies. She has exhausted them all. To be certain, she has tried everything that she knows to do. Neither the advice of friends nor the wisdom of those who often times know what to do in cases of sickness and injury provides any relief. She is a desperate woman.
So desperate that she forgets her place. Without regard for race, creed or ethnicity, she moves out to find help for her daughter. She is blind to any customs, mores or values that would deny relief to her tormented child. What is or is not socially acceptable means nothing to her so long as her little girl is hurting. What has always been, and even what she has always held to be true, is secondary now to finding someone who can ease her child’s pain.
She is hearing stories of a man who does such things. He is a Jew from down south. Why he finds himself in her town she knows not nor cares. The reports of His deeds seem incredible, too much to believe. Something in the stories ring true. Her hope is gaining momentum. Her desperation has a direction, but it is no longer simply desperation that drives her. No, her desperation has turned to determination as she becomes convinced that this itinerant miracle worker is the answer that she is longing for.
She falls down at His feet when she finds him and begs him to heal her daughter. Now her daughter will be made well, so confident is she in this man’s power and compassion.
But it is not happening. He is refusing. Rather adamantly he tells her that his power is not for people like her. His mission is elsewhere. He is in her town to rest, not to heal the sick. He will not do for her before he has done for those that he was sent to do for. The children must eat before the dogs are fed.
She has no time to be insulted. What she does have is a certainty that it is within this man to heal her daughter. Yet, it is more than that. She sees in him what others do not see. Not his most adamant opponents, nor his closest followers, have yet seen what she sees with absolute clarity. One wonders if even he sees what she sees, that he is for everyone.
With such certainty, she moves through clouds of desperation gripped by a mother’s determination, refusing to be denied His healing power. With great clarity and not a little cleverness, she reminds Him that even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the table. What can he say? She has spoken a timeless truth. If there is a dog in the house, there will be no food left on the floor.
For seeing what she sees, and saying what she says, her daughter is made whole again. The demon leaves her daughter.
Does this encounter mark a change in mission for Jesus, a broadening of the focus of His life and ministry? Does it in any way affirm His assertion that “. . . God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish?”
What is it about this mother that moves Jesus to move beyond His initial reluctance to healing her daughter? Was it her determination or her desperation? The story as it is told in Mark’s gospel would seem to indicate that it is the wisdom of her reply that won Jesus over. “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”
Whatever the limitations or restrictions that Jesus understands to apply to the range and scope of his ministry get obliterated in this encounter. Compassion trumps gender, religion and ethnicity. With Jesus, compassion always overrides whatever would withhold treatment, deny care or hoard mercy. She is persistent and he is compassionate. As followers of Christ, we are called to both that kind of compassion and that sort of persistence.