When the King Came: Stories from the Four Gospels - George Hodges

In the Land of Tyre and Sidon

So our Lord and his twelve friends went away, leaving the Lake of Galilee and the fishing-nets behind them: and by and by, when the road climbed the high hills, there was a silver line along the far horizon which meant the salt sea, the Mediterranean. Beyond lay Greece, and then Italy, and then Spain; and north of Spain, France and England; and west, across the unknown ocean, America. He looked out into the wide world. He was a fugitive, driven from his native land; but heaven was his true native land, and he was Lord of Life. There were great thoughts in his heart, of which the twelve friends knew nothing. He had now ended that part of his ministry in which he had gone about among his own people, speaking words of wisdom and doing works of wonder. He was still to teach and still to bless, but the greater part of his time was to be given to the Twelve. One purpose of this journey into a foreign country was that he might be with them more intimately. He was to prepare them to carry on his work after his death. For he saw now that he must expect death.

Presently, they came to a little town near the great seaport of Tyre, where the signs over the shop doors were in Greek, and the people said "Good-morning" in Greek when they met in the street. There he found a lodging, and went in and shut the door. He felt that he was in a place where nobody knew him, and was glad. After what had happened, he wished to be alone. But he could not be hid. It may be that some dim rumor of him had traveled even over those long roads. For there were people coming and going. As long ago as King Solomon's time men had gone from Tyre to Jerusalem on business, as brass-workers and wood-carvers, as artists and architects. Some such person, working in the temple or in Herod's palace at Tiberias may have brought the word. Somebody may have seen him in Judea or in Galilee, and now, seeing him again, recognized him.

Or, perhaps, they knew him without having seen him. As he passed by, they observed him. They did not need to be very keen of sight to perceive that he was different from other men. One day, Paul and Barnabas, journeying through Asia Minor, came into a place, and the people running together cried, "The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men!" They guessed that by the way Paul and Barnabas looked. They said at once that Barnabas, who was a tall, fine-looking man, must be Jupiter, and that Paul, who talked a great deal, must be Mercury. And here, in the land of Tyre and Sidon, was God indeed, the almighty and eternal God, come down in the likeness of a man. He could not be hid. Men pointed after him as he walked along the street, and women looked out at him from the windows of the houses, saying, "Who is this?"

Thus it was that news of his arrival reached a woman who was sitting by the bedside of her sick daughter. She was a heathen woman: they were all heathen in the neighborhood of Tyre and Sidon. She was one of those outsiders whom the scribes so much disliked. Her little girl had been brought up a heathen. She had never heard of the wanderings of Abraham, but she knew all about the wanderings of Ulysses. She had never been told of the adventures of Samson, but her mother had told her many, many times the brave stories of the adventures of Hercules. She was quite ignorant of Aaron and the Golden Calf, but she could have told you of Jason and the Golden Fleece. She was a little heathen maiden, and said her prayers to the little statue of a Greek god, for that was the best she knew. And now she was very sick, and had been in that sad state a long time. Something was the matter with her head, so that she said disconnected, foolish things when she talked. As her mother said, she was grievously vexed with a devil. That is all that her mother knew about it, and we ourselves, as I have said before, know little more.

The news came, then, that some great one was come to town; out of the land of Israel, some said; and others added—either guessing or having questioned the apostles—that he was a son of David, a king and priest in one, like the Wise Men of the East; a god in the likeness of a man. Nobody quite knew who he was, but he was good and great; anybody could see that. So the next neighbor on one side came in and said, "Why don't you go to the Son of David and tell him of the sickness of your daughter? Why don't you get him to lay his hand on her and make her well?" And the next neighbor on the other side said, "You go and speak to him, and I will stay with the little girl while you are gone."

So the mother went. She met our Lord and the Twelve walking in the street, and immediately she cried to him, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David: my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." For that is how mothers feel about their children. "Have mercy on me," she said: not, "Have mercy on my daughter." The daughter's pain was the mother's pain. "O Lord, thou Son of David, hear me and help me!" But our Lord said not a word.

Here was a marvelous thing. He who had never before turned a deaf ear to any call of distress said not a word. On he went in silence, the Twelve about him, and the mother following. I told you that when people cry in the East, they cry with their lips as well as with their eyes. And so she did. She cried so that women heard her in their kitchens, where they were busy about the stove, and came running to the door to see what was the matter. Men came hurrying around the corners of the street. There was a crowd. Jesus went on, and she came after crying, and the crowd followed.

At last the apostles said, "Master, send her away, for she cries after us. We came here to be hid, and she is raising the whole town about our heels." The apostles were annoyed and impatient. I wish that one of them had said, "Master, is there not something which we can do for her?" But they showed no pity. There was a time, in the Middle Ages, when people had an idea that it was a good plan to pray to the saints. The saints, they thought, would be more likely to hear them than God. This story does not bear out that belief. Of course, Peter and Andrew, and James and John and the others were better men afterwards than they were that day in the Tyrian village; but I should think that when this remark of theirs was read in church, it might have discouraged some of those who were praying to them. Might not Peter still be inclined to say, "Send her away, for she crieth after us?" One time, our Lord and the Twelve were going to Jerusalem, and they came at nightfall to a village in Samaria, and nobody would take them in; and James and John proposed that he should call down thunder and lightning and destroy them all. None of the saints—even the best of them—has ever been so loving as he.

But this time our Lord answered his apostles, and it seemed for the moment that he would do as they suggested. "I am not sent," he said, "but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." That is, the lost sheep for whom I am seeking are not of this heathen fold. I am concerned about the Jewish sheep. And so he was. He had, indeed, been criticised for his brotherly dealings with outsiders, but up to this time he had really had little to do with them. When he sent his apostles out to preach and heal, he had told them to go only to the Jews. Because all good work must begin with the doing of one thing well. Nobody succeeds who is content to help a great many people a little. The true way is to help a few people a great deal. Then these few will be helpers in their turn. Thus, more slowly but more surely, will the great work be done. Accordingly, our Lord had addressed himself to the Jews, his own people. He had sought the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That, as he said, had been his mission. That had been his wise plan. Thus he spoke, and the woman heard.

Did that send her away? Not for a moment. It may be that the tone of voice explained the words, so that she knew that he was but thinking aloud, considering what he would better do: "Thus have I done through all my ministry; shall I now change?" Anyhow, the woman made her way through the reluctant company of the apostles, past St. Peter and St. John and St. Simon the Zealot and St. Matthew the Publican, and fell down on her knees at our Lord's feet, so that he stood still, looking at her. "Lord, help me!" she cried, and there was hope and faith in her voice. The saints were no friends of hers, but he would be her friend. "Lord, help me!" But he answered, half musing and half smiling, "It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs." As if he said, "Don't you know that I am a Jew, and that Jews believe that they belong to the household of the heavenly Father, while you Gentiles are but dogs?" Did he think, as he spoke, of the contrast between the cold unbelief of the scribes, with their great pretensions, and the warm faith of this heathen woman whom they despised? Did he take these hard words upon his lips, showing by his tone of voice that he did but quote the common saying of his narrow countrymen, and that he had no sympathy with it? It is plain, at least, that the woman understood him. She looked into his face and saw only kindness there. "Shall the dogs," he said, "ask for the children's bread?" "Yes, Lord," she cried, "not the bread, but the crumbs; even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." And the Lord replied, "O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee according as thou wilt."

So the woman went home with a glad heart, and before she got to the house there were the neighbors running out to meet her, and the little girl herself stood at the gate.