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Project Commentaries: Blessed Are The Meek by Elspeth Young
By Elspeth C. Young
This woman has long been a hero of mine. The greatness of her faith and the stature of her spiritual strength are, to me, on a par with the centurion who besought healing for his servant. Both exemplify implicit faith in and a knowledge of the divinity of the Son of God, and do so without the help of the covenants, teachings, and culture surrounding the house of Israel. To both individuals, the Savior not only mercifully granted the miracle for which they petitioned, but bestowed a commendation for their great faith (see Luke 7:0 and Matthew 15:28). Such commendations echo other scriptural examples of cultural outsiders who sought for and recognized truth, such as the widow of Zarephath, Naaman the leper, the Queen of the South, and King Lamoni's wife.
The painting in progress. Research for this artwork
began in January 2009.
While this story has been the topic of much controversy among many scriptural students and scholars, my depiction of this Biblical scene is an attempt to present a hopeful view of the miracle recorded by Matthew and Mark. Some who read each account are distracted by a seeming racial slur in the Savior's statement that I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel . . . It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs (Matthew 15:24-26). Instead, I see this as nothing more than a riddle-like parable testing her understanding.
She passes the test of faith with flying colors--immediately shaping the parable to suit her urgent desire: Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table (Matthew 15:27) and she is just as immediately and graciously rewarded. As one writer declared: The woman's commendable persistency was based on the faith that overcomes apparent obstacles and endures even under discouragement. (See Jesus the Christ by James E. Talmage (Salt Lake City, Utah: Deseret Book Company, 1916, p. 356) Surely, such is the quality of the faith we all seek regardless of race or culture. Indeed, as another ancient prophet inquired--speaking even to those who would have been considered children of the covenant: Are we not all beggars? (Mosiah 4:19)
Clearly, this woman demonstrated her ability to receive whatever gift the Savior might choose to give her. He not only praised her for her faith, but added the gracious promise: Be it unto thee even as thou wilt. (Matthew 15:28)
Accordingly, the posture of the Syrophoenician within the painting is not abject, but worshipful. The Greek words used in both Biblical accounts to describe her behavior as denoting devotion. Hope and anticipation are bright in her eyes, not misery. She looks upward with sincere belief in a loving and merciful Savior. True, she has humbled herself enough to cast herself upon the floor with the dogs, but her attitude is like the humble faithful who succeed in attaining the fruit of the tree of life, described as those who did press their way forward, continually holding fast to the rod of iron, until they came forth and fell down and partook of the fruit of the tree. (1 Nephi 8:30) She, too, recognizes the source of all goodness and falls down at His feet.
In Matthew and Mark, the woman is described as a Canaanite, Greek, and Syrophoenician who located the Savior while He visited the gentile borders of Tyre and Sidon (then under Roman rule). These facts create a wide variety of possibilities for her nationality and appearance. There is, therefore, great latitude in depicting both the figure as well as her surroundings. I chose costuming that lavishly echoes traditional Phoenician dress, a model of Caucasian race since the the races of Phoenicia are supposed to be descendants of Shem, and a background inspired by wall paintings and the stonework of home interiors in ancient Greece and Rome.
Elspeth's under-painting of greyhound
The dog by her side is an elegant Italian greyhound. Such whippets and greyhounds are known to date back to ancient Egypt, and also frequently appear in Roman mosaics.
Some of Elspeth's preliminary sketches of greyhounds