As we approach Mother's Day lets consider a bright and brave woman whose concern for her daughter led to a memorable verbal joust with Jesus. When scholars of the law crossed words with Jesus they went away confounded but when this woman challenged him she went away victorious.
Prior to this event Jesus had been engaged in a strenuous and demanding ministry. Also, Jesus must have known that King Herod, who had beheaded John the Baptist, was disturbed at his popularity. Kings like Herod were notoriously paranoid about large crowds following popular leaders and had ways of controlling such situations. Perhaps for a little R&R, and also to escape Herod's spies for a time, Jesus took his band of followers out of Herod's territory into Gentile country to the region of Tyre. There, Mark says, he entered a house and wanted no one to know of it, but he could not escape notice.
Soon, a woman, a Gentile of the Syrophoenecian race, came to see him and dared to tell him the truth.* Jesus focused his ministry on the House of Israel and it appeared to her that he had overlooked an important truth. First, she made her need known to his group by crying out: "Have mercy upon me, Lord, son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon possessed." Jesus refused to answer her. She continued to pester his disciples who went to Jesus and urged him to send her away. It seemed that he would do so because he commented that he had been sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. Just then she managed to get close to him, knelt before him, and pleaded, "Lord, help me." He replied with what was probably a well known proverb. Focusing on the Jews, he seems to reject her request by saying, "Bread is for the children, not the dogs." She didn't hesitate but came right back with a truth that his proverb overlooked; "Even the dogs under the table get some crumbs."
Martin Luther marveled at her reply and said, "He is silent as a stick. Look, this is really a hard thump. Her reply was a masterpiece." It was indeed a masterpiece. It made Jesus stop and think. When he replied it was probably after a pause and with a smile as he said, "For saying that you may go -- the demon has left your daughter."
For a truthful, penetrating response, he granted her wish and healed her daughter. This unnamed Syrophoenecian mother tells the truth and her daughter is healed. Someone has said, "when we lie we die." But when we tell the truth life has a chance.
We come to the table to tell the truth. Like this woman, we come to ask for what only Jesus can give, secure in the truth that his power is for us as well as for others. He does not put a fence around the table and say that only certain privileged people may receive his blessing. But we come also to admit that sometimes we lie, or cheat, or sin in some other way. We admit that we do what we ought not to do and that we fail to do what we ought to do. And Jesus honors our truth telling. He heals, forgives, and renews our life and our hopes. So let us come confessing our sins, but also confessing our faith in the one who loves us and gave himself for us.
*The ideal of telling the truth based on this story is from Joseph R. Jeter, Jr. Re/Membering, p 123)