Jesus went to the district of Tyre. He entered a house and wanted no one to know about it, but he could not escape notice. Soon a woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit heard about him. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she begged him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Let the children be fed first. For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied and said to him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Then he said to her, “For saying this, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When the woman went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.Mark 7:24-30
The Syrophoenician Woman
After his conflict with the scribes and Pharisees over kashrut (kosher laws), Jesus walked into the unclean, Gentile district of Tyre. He slipped into a house in the hope of finding refuge in anonymity. Any hope for obscurity vanished when reports of his presence reached a zealous Syrophoenician woman. Matthew called her a “Canaanite woman of that district,” emphasizing her reviled status in Jewish history (Matthew 15:22).
Aware of Jesus’ healing power, the woman fell at his feet, begging him to cast a demon out of her daughter. But her request precipitated Israel’s mission to the Gentiles. The “children” must be fed first, Jesus responded. “For it is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” The Greek word used in the Gospels, kunarion (little dog, puppy), is actually a diminutive of kuón (dog). Speaking as a Jew, Jesus referred to the Gentiles as outsiders to the covenant. “Dogs” do not share in the inheritance of children.
Unwilling to be deterred, the woman implored, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s scraps.” Her entreaty, full of faith and love for her daughter, overwhelmed Jesus. Transforming his image of the house of Israel, she infused the children with compassion. As children take pity on household dogs and feed them, may the Son of David also share his mercy with the Gentiles!
“For saying this, you may go,” Jesus said. “The demon has gone out of your daughter.” The woman’s determination obtained its reward. When she went home, she found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Hound of Heaven
The Syrophoenician woman’s faith inspired the couplet identifying Christ as the “Hound of Heaven,” a divine image made famous by the poet Francis Thompson (1859-1907). Although culturally derogatory, the label kunarion (puppies) triggered the image of the divine hound chasing his beloved.
“Universally despised in the East,” the dog is “man’s best friend” in the West. Thompson’s poem, characteristically British, throws fresh light on the Christian faith.
The Hound of Heaven shared his feast
With the littlest and the least.
A Study of Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven by John Francis Xavier O’Conor