The Lectionary readings today are the end of King Solomon’s reign (1 Kings 11:4-13) — a king in Israel, the son of David and a man endowed with wisdom — when his zeal for the Lord waned and he became influenced by his foreign wives, and appeased their foreign gods, and his wisdom failed him. The second reading is Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) — a foreigner — who comes to Jesus for the healing of her daughter.
If you have ever read Mark’s Gospel, Jesus is not always nice. Matthew was clearly embarrassed by this and often edited Jesus’ words so that he did not come across as harsh as he sometimes does in Mark. Nevertheless, Jesus compares the woman to a dog. We can debate, as some do, as to whether Jesus was employing “friendly banter” but the point is friendly or no, she was a foreigner, and Jesus understood his ministry as being directed (almost) exclusively at “the lost sheep” of Israel.
Dogs were unclean. Dogs touched and ate anything, so when they ate something unclean, they became unclean, and uncleanness was transferable by contact. But the woman is not simply like a dog in that she is an “unclean” foreigner, she is also like a dog in that she is both smart and loyal — and her intelligent response and her loyalty to her daughter are rewarded.
So the Lectionary presents two sets of foreign women. In the Old Testament, foreign women were considered dangerous and often presented as temptresses who led good Israelite men astray. Since the “fear of the Lord is the beginning of all wisdom,” Solomon’s corruption through wealth and power, and the influence of his 700 foreign wives, robbed him of his wisdom, while the foreign woman, who most likely does not worship the God of Israel, displays wisdom in her interaction with Jesus, who is the Logos — the rational principle upon which all things are created and sustained.
The Lectionary shows that a desperate, foreign woman, who does not even believe in God can receive more blessing than a powerful king of the chosen people. The key to FAITH is TRUST. Faith is not about believing that God exists, and it is not about being in the right group, and it is clearly not about power or prestige or privilege. It is about trust — trusting that YOU matter to God and that God wants what is best. It is about trusting that persistence — persistence in prayer, persistence in commitment, persistence in the believe that doing the right thing no matter what will be worth and rewarded.
Today we learn that a king of the chosen people can be just as unwise and unclean and as faithless as a gentile dog, and a gentile woman can be just as wise and as clean and as faithful — more faithful — than a king of Israel.
So dare to persist in prayer. Have the courage to live as a child of God — because even if you get scraps that fall from the table, the scraps from God are more than a banquet for a king.