I have often been described as too outspoken. I blame my mother for this. Not only did I inherit much of her personality but she also gave me a name which means ‘helper or defender of humankind’. I am proud to say that I have passed on the meaning of this name to my daughter; and I am sure that the reputation is going to remain intact for at least the next two generations.
Being an outspoken woman is not a new thing; Scripture has several examples of women who were willing to speak up in a society that expected them to be silent. At times they spoke up at great personal risk. Some scholars even allege that there is one woman in particular who, in speaking up, may have changed the focus of the gospel message forever. Could it be possible that an outspoken woman paved the way for you and I to receive the Good News?
The Canaanite Woman, or the Syrophoenician Woman as she is known in Mark’s Gospel (Mark 7:24-30), was certainly a woman who would not be silenced. In Matthew’s Gospel (Matthew 15:21-28) we read of the disciples trying to silence her and have Jesus dismiss her, but they do not succeed. We do not know if this woman is regularly outspoken but, at least on this occasion, her need is such that she refuses to keep quiet. For the sake of her daughter she is willing to risk everything to make her request to Jesus. It is at this point that the first miracle in this story occurs. Jesus should not have listened to this woman, and indeed at first it appears he won’t, but then, perhaps due to her courage or perhaps due to her persuasive argument, Jesus not only listens but grants her request.
This woman could not have been more of an outsider if she tried; not only was she a woman, she was Greek and a Syrophoenician. In this story she is a foreign non-Jewish woman approaching Jesus and entering into a debate with him about her rights. This of itself makes any story fascinating but this one has additional twists. On previous occasions, when people have approached Jesus asking for healing, Jesus seems happy to grant their request. On this occasion however we encounter a reluctant Jesus. Scholars hold a variety of opinions about the reason for this reluctance, but what is certain was that there were socio-economic as well as religious tensions between the Jews and the Tyrians. Jesus takes the reluctance to heal a step further and actually insults the woman in the most derogatory of terms. We might have expected an outspoken woman to express her anger at such an insult, but instead she accepts Jesus’ designation as a dog and continues to assert her rights even as the lowest of the low. For the sake of her child she risks her reputation and maybe even her life, she speaks in a way that she knows will not be welcomed and she persists even when insulted and rebuffed. And the outcome is remarkable. This woman not only has her request granted but many believe that her encounter with Jesus is actually a significant turning point in the ministry of Jesus. As a result of this encounter the boundary markers separating the Gentiles from the Jews are broken down. The good news will now be proclaimed and available to all, even an outspoken woman from an unchurched background in the 21st Century.
The theme for our International Day of Prayer for Victims of Human Trafficking is “We will not be silent”, inspired by the following reminder from Isaiah 42:22 (NLT)
“But his own people have been robbed and plundered, enslaved, imprisoned, and trapped. They are fair game for anyone and have no one to protect them, no one to take them back home.”
The people of God cannot remain silent while any of God’s family continues to be bought and sold, enslaved and treated as dispensable objects. Like the Syrophoenician woman we must find the courage to speak up for the vulnerable even at personal risk. It may feel that our voice is small, insignificant, but her example is powerful evidence of how one small voice can change the course of history.
Call me outspoken, bossy, a dog, but for the sake of my child or indeed any child ‘I will not be silent’.