Speaking truth with courage | Bible study


Speaking truth with courage

Rev. Sue Ellis
Moderator, Synod of South Australia


In the early 1990’s, as part of the Reconciliation movement, I mustered my courage and decided to take part in the South Australian version of the About Face program. This involved a weekend exposure to the life and experience of Patricia, an Aboriginal person living in Port Augusta, a place where I had lived and taught. I was billeted in Patricia’s home. She shared her story of being raised at the Point Pearce mission, a place where language and culture were denied to her. Her story shocked and confronted me.


I too had grown up on the Yorke Peninsula of South Australia, only 30 kilometres from this woman. How different our lives had been! I remember our football team played the Point Pearce team back then. I was at first inquisitive then fearful of these different people who seemed to live so roughly. When the mission school children moved to my school, I was one of the children chosen to orient the newcomers to our school and our ways.


Listening to Patricia’s story years later, I realised I had been part of the assimilation policy of the day and how much I had contributed to the racism that she and others had faced – and still face today. It took all my courage to admit this before the group and to apologise for my ignorance and lack of compassion and advocacy before that time.


Bible study


Read Mark 7: 24 – 30 ‘The Syrophoenician Woman’s Faith’


A challenging but illuminating episode in Jesus’ journey. How can we learn to speak the truth with courage?


Jesus is on a Messianic mission. He has come from feeding the five thousand and healing the sick near the Sea of Galilee to the Gentile territory of Tyre.A Syrophoenician woman exhibits great courage as an indigenous woman, coming into the house and approaching Jesus—a Jewish foreigner—to ask for the healing of her daughter. Jesus’ response to her passionate plea is surprising. “Let the children be fed first,” he replies (7:27). He is referring to the children of Israel (the Jewish people) and reveals his messianic mission. He continues, “for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jews considered dogs as lowly and unworthy.


The insult of inferring the woman is a ‘dog’ suggests Jesus is shaming the unclean Gentile woman. “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” she retorts (7:28).


Jesus has talked about dogs from a derogatory Jewish perspective, but the Gentile woman starts talking about dogs as if they have a particular place in her household, eating the children’s crumbs off the table. She refuses to have her daughter placed outside the boundaries of Jesus’ power to heal. She turns a metaphor for exclusion, ‘food for the children,’ into a metaphor of inclusion, ‘crumbs for the dogs.’ From the Syrophoenician woman’s viewpoint, there is similarity between dogs and children, whereas Jesus, from a Jewish context, sees only difference. In redefining the place of ‘dogs’, the woman challenges who Jesus will feed and heal. 


Group study discussion

  • Where do you see courage displayed and what fears were overcome by the characters in each of the stories?
  • What do you think made Jesus change his mind?
  • A comment by Joan L. Mitchell – “In the Syrophoenician woman’s story, Mark’s gospel points to dialogue as potential space where people can entertain one another’s truth claims, deconstruct oppressive social reality, and construct inclusive Christian community.”[1] Do you agree? Is dialogue such a space in this story or others in the Bible?
  • In an age of an increasingly polarised politics and negative online debates, what can we learn from the exchange between the Syrophoenician woman and Jesus?
  • Are there places where courageous dialogue could be fostered by your Christian community? How about by each of us personally?



Going Global 🌏

It’s never easy to stand up and speak courageously, challenging the accepted wisdom of the day. In Timor Leste, the Church has taken on the role of defending children in a culture where young people are often undervalued because so many adults have themselves suffered trauma.  In poor communities or places where violence has been normalised for decades, families can be unaware of—or unwilling to face—the damage done to children through neglect or abuse.


The Church is bravely opening up conversations around child protection, children’s rights and how to spot signs of abuse in defiance of a culture that tends towards silence and protecting perpetrators in fear of families losing face. It is doing so with respect and courage because it passionately believes that children are the future hope of the nation.


Watch the second Lent Event video, ‘Truth with Courage’ here.


Discuss together

  • What stood out to you personally after watching this video about the challenges faced by the children of Timor Leste?
  • What sort of difficult conversations do you think would arise for our church partners as they grapple with the accepted use of violence within the families they work with?
  • The Syrophoenician woman was willing to speak up with truth and courage for the health of her child. What can we do here in Australia to ensure the health and protection of children everywhere, including places like Timor Leste, where 70% of people live on less than $2 a day?



  • Spend some time praying together for the political conversations that are taking place around the inclusion of Australia’s First Peoples in national life and for the everyday conversations that happen about race in Australia. Ask for grace, patience and the ability to listen to one another in these dialogues.
  • Pray for our partners in Timor Leste as they teach and train leaders about the rights of children, how to spot and address abuse and family violence and as they confront perpetrators. Pray that this narrative about the role and importance of children would be understood and accepted in a culture numbed by oppression and violence.


Take action




[1] Mitchell, JL 2001, Beyond Fear and Silence, Continuum, New York