Next, Jesus traveled to the borders of Tyre and Sidon. There he went into a house, hoping that no one had seen him. But he could not be hid. A certain woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard where Jesus was and went to him, falling at his feet.
The woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician. She begged Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter.
But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first—it is not decent to take the children’s bread and throw it to dogs.”
The woman answered: “True, sir. Yet dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
Jesus said to her, “Since you put it that way, go home—the demon is gone from your daughter.”
So it was that when the woman got to her house, she found the demon gone and her daughter resting in bed.
Though the Jesus of Mark’s narrative does not have the verbal acuity of the Jesus we meet in the Gospel According to John, certainly readers of Mark’s gospel expect that Jesus can handle himself in verbal duels. Here, in the only instance of such a thing happening in Mark’s gospel, Jesus loses a verbal sparring match—and to a foreign woman.
Having gone to Tyre, a Greek area, in order to escape the crowds, Jesus must have been none too happy to be found and asked for yet another exorcism. He had escaped his Jewish admirers only to discover that he had Greek admirers too. It was none too polite of Jesus to call the woman a dog, but the woman took the insult in stride, turned the metaphor around, and flung it right back at Jesus. We can’t know if Jesus saw the error of his prejudice or was merely impressed by someone who could best him in a metaphor, but for whatever the reason, Jesus honored the woman’s request.
In the kingdom of God, even the master can be taught a lesson—especially by an outcast.