Mark 7:24–30 (ESV)
24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement, you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Have you ever just wanted to get away from all the hustle and bustle of life and just soak in some peace and quiet for a while? You plan a great vacation or a weekend getaway where you can just kick back and relax for a while, one where you can put all that other stuff behind you and just enjoy a much calmer setting, and then it happens.
A call, a text, an email breaks through and suddenly work or the needs of others intrude on your tranquil setting.
That’s a little bit of what’s happening here with Jesus. Jesus’ ministry has been going strong for quite some time now. He’s been teaching people, miraculous signs have been performed, Jesus has had some confrontations with the religious leaders, and His fame and reputation have been spreading all over Galilee and the surrounding area.
So Jesus decides to dial it down a bit and He travels outside of Israel to Gentile territory in order to rest and pray and find a bit of quieter space to be with His disciples when all of the sudden someone comes knocking at His door. It’s an encounter with Jesus that is full of surprises.
First, we’re surprised by this woman and her boldness in approaching Jesus. In that cultural context, there are many things working against this woman as she brings her plea to Jesus. First, she is a Gentile (remember that Jews and Gentiles didn’t mix together). Second, she comes from a region that represented the most extreme expression of paganism. Third, the history between Israel and Tyre wasn’t good. In the Old Testament, Tyre was the home of Jezebel, who married Ahab and became the queen of the northern kingdom of Israel. She brought pagan worship practices to the people of God and led many astray during the days that Elijah was a prophet of the Lord. So this woman has no credentials to her favor and no one would question Jesus’ refusal to speak to this woman, yet He does.
And then we’re surprised by Jesus’ offensiveness. What Jesus says to the woman catches us off guard. We’re caught off guard when Jesus says, “Let the children be fed first” referring to the people of Israel. The point is that Jesus' ministry is first to the people of Israel. Only after His earthy ministry does Jesus tell his disciples to go to all the nations.
And then there’s the remark about “dogs.” To call someone a dog was an insult in both the Old and New Testaments. Calling someone a dog meant that you thought they were despicable, wretched, and worthless. The Greek word for “dog” used here empties all the harshness, contempt, and condemnation out of the comment as opposed to the other Greek word for dog, however, in that cultural context, it’s still a putdown and the woman wouldn’t have taken Jesus’ remark any other way.
But that’s when we’re surprised by the woman’s humility. You see, Jesus has just told her a mini-parable and the woman gets it! She is the first person in Mark’s Gospel to hear and understand a parable and she accepts the analogy and yet she still comes begging to be fed.
She rightly understands that the master of the house feeds both the children and the dogs and she is making that connection with Jesus, humbly trusting in Jesus’ provision, not only for Israel, the children, but also for her, this little dog.
That’s when we need to jump to Matthew’s account of this encounter. In Matthew’s Gospel Jesus replies to her, O woman, great is your faith!” (Matthew 15.28).
Jesus then sends the woman on her way, telling her that her daughter is made well and in her, we see a hint of the future of the Kingdom of God that is available to all who will simply come.
It’s great stuff and what I love most is how this woman persisted in faith to receive the blessings of the Lord. Sometimes we need to persist in faith when we pray. It doesn’t mean that we conjure up blessings by using Jesus’ name or that through our prayers we force God to respond. Persisting in prayer and faith simply means that we are laying hold of the promises of God; for healing, for blessing, for reconciliation, for provision, for comfort, and for peace, all in His good timing.
God bless you and know that you are constantly in my prayers!