Grace For The Journey
Mark 7:24-30 records for us an odd encounter to say the least. The passage reveals a woman who has a conversation with Jesus that causes us to scratch our heads. There are several principles that we can discover from the episode in the life of Christ.
1. Consider Her Problem
The passage tells us of a woman with a problem. And the problem concerns her daughter. Specifically, the woman’s daughter is being harassed by “an unclean spirit.” The woman learns that Jesus is in town so she goes to Him that He may fix her problem by healing her daughter.
Mark identifies this woman as a Syro-Phoenician, which means she is from Phoenicia, a place that included Tyre and Sidon. If you look this up on a map, you’ll see that Tyre and Sidon is Northeast of Galilee in Gentile territory. This is far away from Jerusalem and Galilee.
The greater context of this narrative reminds us that . . .
While God had others.
Israel largely failed to understand this stewardship of faith. They failed to understand that they were entrusted with the responsibility of sharing with others the good news about the One True God of the Bible. The Jews had largely regarded those of other races as unclean and unfit for worship of the One True God.
In the more immediate context of chapter 7, Jesus had just been teaching in Galilee about clean and unclean foods. He moves from Galilee into Gentile territory to demonstrate that all peoples are clean through the power of the gospel.
Verse 24 says, “From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.” Given the continuing pursuit by the scribes and Pharisees, it’s almost as if Jesus is trying to retreat for awhile. He goes north to get away from these religious legalists. But Jesus’ showing up in town with the His disciples is not something that stays a secret for very long. Mark says, “He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.” Matthew Henry writes that Christ could not remain hidden because “though a candle may be put under a bushel, the sun cannot.”
Verse 25 state, “For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. She kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.” Here we have this woman and her problem. She has a young daughter with an unclean spirit. She comes to Jesus and falls at His feet, bringing her problem to the Lord. She asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter.
2. Consider Her Persistence.
The Bible tells us that she “kept asking” Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. She is persistent in prayer. JC Ryle writes this about the persistence of this woman for her daughter and how this illustrates the burden many parents have for the spiritual well-being of their children: “Fathers and mothers are especially bound to remember the case of this woman. They cannot give their children new hearts. They can give them Christian education, and show them the way of life; but they cannot give them a will to choose Christ’s service, and a heart to love God. Yet there is one thing they can always do – they can pray for them. They can pray for the conversion of wayward sons, who will have their own way, and run greedily into sin. They can pray for the conversion of worldly daughters, who set their affections on things below, and love pleasure more than God. Such prayers are heard on high. Such prayers will often bring down blessings. Never, never let us forget that the children for whom many prayers have been offered, seldom finally perish. Let us pray more for our sons and daughters. Even when they will not let us speak to them about true religion, they cannot prevent us speaking for them to God.”
This woman is persistent in taking her problem to the Lord. Matthew tells us in his account (Matthew 15:21-28) that the woman cries out to Jesus, but that Jesus does not immediately reply. Matthew puts it this way this way: “But He answered her not a word” (Verse 23). Jesus is silent. Silence is not the same thing as ignoring. The Bible paraphrase, The Message, says, “Jesus ignored her.” I disagree. Paraphrases are helpful in their own way, but we must take care never to preach from them. Silence allows a conversation to deepen. Silence draws out information that otherwise may remain hidden. Silence allows for reflection. Without periods of silence, conversation may remain only on the surface level.
For example, imagine two people seated next to each other on an airplane. They introduce themselves and begin talking. During the course of the flight they may chat energetically and rapidly about work, family, or favorite sports teams, but it’s largely a superficial conversation. Contrast that conversation with two people sitting directly across from each other in a quiet, coffee shop. They are looking directly at each other. They are reading each other’s body language and facial expressions. Neither is rushed, but is taking time to both listen and speak in meaningful ways. This conversation goes to a deeper level.
We need to resist the temptation to always be talking! We should for those “awkward silences” or lulls in the conversation. Those periods of silence often produce some of the more profound and insightful responses.
After some time, Jesus speaks to the woman. And what He says in response is something we never could have imagined. Verse 27 states, “But Jesus said to her, ‘Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.’” One of my seminary professors commented on this verse by saying that when we read it we may ask, “Wait – what?! Did Jesus just refer to this woman as a dog?!” And in some sense, He did. We’ve got to allow for tensions in the biblical texts. We must allow them to breathe and stand on their own. Yes, Jesus says, “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And He says that in response to the woman’s asking Him for help. In essence, He says, “Let My children, the Jews, be filled; let them have bread first. They get first place at the table.” Paul reminds us of the truth in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek (or the Gentile).” The Jews got first place at the table.
The woman’s witty reply in verse 28 is priceless, “And she answered and said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.’” Essentially she is saying, “Yes, I know I have no place at the table. Just give me some table scraps, scraps that the little dogs might get under the table.”
In the ancient near east, dogs were not the cute, little pets we often see in our part of the world. Dogs in the ancient near east are like dogs in many parts of the under-developed world today. They were mangy and ugly – and calling someone a dog was an insult. Greeks, Gentiles, non-Jews, were often called dogs as a term of contempt.
In an effort to soften the blow, some commentators explain that Jesus used the diminutive form of dog. So, we should think of a smaller dog or a puppy dog. But you know, if you get called a dog, does size really matter?! Jesus is speaking proverbially. And it is almost certain He is speaking in a soft, compassion tone.
In those days people did not have either knives or forks or table-napkins. They ate with their hands; they wiped the soiled hands on chunks of bread and then flung the bread away and the house-dogs ate it. So, the woman said, “I know the children are fed first, but can’t I even get the scraps the children throw away?” And Jesus loved her reply. Here was a faith that would not take no for an answer, here was a woman with the tragedy of an ill daughter at home, and there was still light enough in her heart to reply with a simple request. Her faith was tested and her faith was real, and her prayer was answered. Symbolically she stands for the Gentile world which so eagerly seized on the bread of heaven which the Jews rejected and threw away.
This Syro-Phoenician woman recognizes that Jesus is not making a racial statement but a theological statement. And she passes the test. She is persistent! She’s like a New Testament Jacob who wrestled with God and said, “I will not let you go until you bless me” (Genesis 32:22-26).
3. Consider Her Provision.
What does the Lord provide her? Verses 29-30 tells us, “Then He said to her, ‘For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.’ And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.” The provision was healing for her daughter!
She would settle for the children’s
Crumbs under the table,
In His complete healing
Of the daughter,
Jesus has given her
“A whole loaf” of bread.
The Syro-Phoenician woman knew her place before the Lord. She knew she had nothing to offer Him, but her pleas. There was no boasting. No bragging. No rights to claim. No merit to bring. She brought only her humble cries for healing.
Many modern readers are offended by Jesus’ reply to the woman, but notice that the woman is not offended! Have you ever noticed that?
Why do you suppose this woman is not offended by Jesus’ telling her “it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs?”
Don’t you think it’s because she knows her place before the Lord? This woman knew . . .
She had no rights to claim
And that the right posture
Before a sovereign
Is to bow the head
And bend the knee.
The great reformer Martin Luther commends the woman for her great faith, “Very well, she says, if I am a dog, I ask no more than a dog’s rights. I am not a child nor am I of Abraham’s seed, but you are a rich Lord and set a lavish table. Give your children the bread and a place at the table; I do not wish that. Let me, merely like a dog, pick up the crumbs under the table, allowing me that which the children don’t need or even miss, the crumbs, and I will be content therewith..”
The Syro-Phoenician woman’s actions illustrate the way every person should approach the Lord . . .
We must remember we have
No “right” to sit with the King
Nor do we “deserve” such an honor.
We must humble ourselves before the Lord.
Like the woman, we must
Agree with what He says (verse 28).
The Syro-Phoenician woman
Comes to Christ not
On the basis of her goodness
But on the basis of His goodness.
Remember that Jesus became the outcast for us so that we who are “dogs” could receive the bread of life. He humbled Himself so that we could be saved. In some sense, you could say that He became a “dog” so that we could become a “sondaughter.”
This is grace. This is God’s giving to us what we don’t deserve. God gives to us unlimited, unmerited favor – when all we deserve is His wrath. Apart from God’s grace, we remain spiritual beggars. The good news of the gospel is that God receives us once we recognize our spiritual state, own up to our sin, and come to Him, trusting Jesus Christ as our only Savior.
God’s love for the Syro-Phoenician woman
Reminds us God loves all people
And is building a kingdom of
Every nation, tribe, people, and tongue.
This passage is a rebuke to those of us who are Christians. It’s a rebuke for what is often our prejudice about people who are not like us, and not of us … from a different race, who smell, whose clothes are funny, who speak with a funny accent and we dismiss them.
May we never look at others this way. As we look at other people – no matter their race, no matter their ethnicity – may we see God’s love for them, His love for all people. We are just as they. None of us deserves a place at the table. We are all under that table. It is Jesus who exchanges places with us. He becomes the “outcast” so that we may be “brought in.”
This is God’s Word …
This is Grace for your Journey …
Rest and Rejoice in this eternal truth!
Ephesians 4:7 – “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”
Hebrews 4:16 – “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”