The dialogue of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is one of the most uncomfortable passages for me in the Bible. It seems very unlike Jesus to be so rude, exclusive, uninviting, and offensive when he is often the first to accept the outcasts, untouchables, and sinners. I’ve struggled a long time with this passage to find something to write that would be edifying and relevant for this season of Lent.
But it’s exactly the notion of “giving up” that is threaded throughout this interaction. Jesus proclaiming that he’s come for the children of Israel does not offend her, nor does it stop her. Instead, she’s giving up any rights she may have (or wish to ever have as a Gentile woman) in exchange for assertiveness. Tim Keller provides a helpful interpretation: “In Western cultures we don’t have anything like this kind of assertiveness. We only have assertion of our rights. We do not know how to contend unless we’re standing up for our rights, standing on our own dignity and our goodness and saying, “This is what I’m owed.” But this woman is not doing that at all. This is rightless assertiveness, something we know little about. She’s not saying, “Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness.” She’s saying, “Give me what I don’t deserve on the basis of your goodness–and I need it now.”
Throughout Scripture, Jesus asks those who want to follow him to give up their homes, families, comforts, religion, identity, and even life. In this passage, one can argue that Jesus is asking her to give up her right for healing because she is not Jewish. And yet, she never claims to have that right in the first place. She is clear about where she stands and boldly accepts her place while proclaiming the Messiah’s power to save even those that were not chosen.
How often does our perseverance in prayer, our persistence in pleading, our cries for help come from a place of giving up our right to an answer not because we are owed something but because we know God is able to encompass even our request? How often does our posture towards God still rest on self-righteousness instead of humility in knowing that it’s not our asking that makes God capable of answering? How often do we base our striving on a notion of perseverance when in fact it’s simply entitlement?
During this season of Lent, let’s examine what it looks like to practice rightless assertiveness in our prayer life. The woman did not contradict Jesus’s description of who she was. She simply accepted the truth of who she was but even more, who He was, in order to plead her case and for that she was given what she was not owed. May this be an encouragement as we come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16).
Ana-Maria Sinitean was born in Romania, grew up in Chicago, has been calling DC home for the past 9 years, and a proud Mount Pleasant resident for the past 6 years. She loves hosting people in her living room, discussing apologetics, hiking, exploring little towns in Virginia, and reading all the books.
 King’s Cross, pg.88-89