A Lesson in Chutzpah. Or, How to Be Fearless Like the Syrophoenician Woman and Change the World: Mark 7:24-37
Today’s Gospel Lesson from Mark is a lesson about Chutzpah.
Chutzpah is the personal confidence or courage that allows someone to do or say things that may seem shocking to others.
Chutzpah is not the same as charisma—it’s not polish or savviness or charm or being well connected—its synonym is Fearlessness (1):
As in, The Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel story has a lot of Chutzpah.
Let’s revisit this morning’s Gospel passage:
First, we have Jesus who is traveling without his disciples—away to the region of Tyre—an ancient Phoenician City--
Tyre is located in what is now in Lebanon but at the time of Jesus was part of Syria--
The Gospel doesn’t tell us why Jesus went to Tyre—but he is all alone, and wishes to keep his time there a secret. He doesn’t want anyone to find him--
Maybe, he thinks, by going to Syria—a region full of Phoenicians—Phoenician, by the way, is code for PAGAN—he’ll be able to hide—and get a respite from his preaching and teaching and healing—wouldn’t that be a relief—he thinks to himself--
And so he gets to the house where presumably he is going to hide out for awhile—unnoticed in a city full of Pagans.
But, immediately, a woman falls to his feet and begs Him to heal her daughter.
And, what does Jesus do?
He gets kind of cranky and a little mean—“God’s mission in the world is meant for the Children of Israel—not for you and your daughter”—he scoffs. I am not for you—He seems to say—and You are not for me.
But the Syrophoenician woman doesn’t care who Jesus thinks He is and what He thinks His ministry is all about—she doesn’t care that He is clearly in a mood—that He seems he has temporarily forgotten who He is and who God is—and that he seems not to know she is actually, beloved in God’s sight--
She knows who she is—she is a mother—with a sick daughter—and she is going to ask for what she needs.
She is fierce. And bold. And quick.
And, she is fearless—because when Jesus rattles off a racial slur and calls her a “little dog”—This woman stands her ground and speaks her simple truth:
“But sir,” she says, “even the dogs like me under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
As I sat with the Syrophoenician woman this week my affection and respect for her deepened--
She is humble—throwing herself at Jesus’ feet—for the sake of her daughter, asking only for a crumb.
She risks vulnerability by telling the truth about who she is, what she needs, and why Jesus should give it to her.
She is fearless.
It seems to me that there are two miracles in this story of the Syrophoenican woman. Healing and Conversion.
First, the woman’s daughter is healed. Which is also miraculous because initially Jesus said no, I’m not going to do that.
And so, here is the second kind of miracle: a conversion experience that happens to Jesus—In fact, this is the only time recorded in the Gospels when Jesus changes His mind--
And in that changing, that turning—somehow in the encounter between Jesus and The Syrophoenician woman, the powerless become powerful, the sick become healthy, the excluded are brought in and the healing, saving authority of GOD is made to flow through the very Body of Christ.
She is, in her own way, an echo of the Prophet Isaiah: “Be Strong! Do Not Fear! Here is your God—He will come and save you: The eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped—the lame shall leap like a deer, and the speechless sing for joy—waters shall break forth in the wilderness—and streams in the desert—the burning sand shall become a pool and the thirsty ground springs of water.”
The Syrophoenician woman in today’s Gospel story has a lot of Chutzpah. And, she has something to teach us.
Perhaps you—like me—are sometimes a little too fearful. A little too insecure. A little too afraid to speak your truth or stand your ground and ask for what you need.
Or, perhaps like me—you too are a little too afraid to really look and see— really listen to, and hear—the cry of those around us—in our households, schools, church, neighborhoods, and world.
It can be so overwhelming, really.
And yet, our Gospel passage this morning is an invitation—it invites us to consider a series of questions:
How can you become just a little more bold--
How can you see with just a little more courage the needs of others--
How can you let you true self shine through just a little more--
How can you become just a little more confident in your simple truth about who you are and what you need--
So that your own unique Chutzpah serves to proclaim and reveal the vision and mission of God’s dream for the world?
September 6, 2015
 1 http://www.forbes.com/sites/crossingborders/2012/05/18/why-chutzpah-is-the-new-charisma-and-how-to-use-it-to-get-what-you-want/
My Sermons (and other thoughts)
a sampling of sermons preached in the Episcopal Diocese of Arizona and a sprinkling of other writings