Devotional—Mark 7:24–30 Even the Dogs
Tyre and Sidon are cities northwest of Galilee. They are seaports on the Mediterranean Sea. Jesus left Galilee and took his twelve disciples on a seventy-mile walk to Tyre which would have taken three days.
Why did he travel to a foreign land? My guess is so that he and his disciples could take a much needed break. In Galilee they had no privacy. There was a constant demand for healing and teaching, and they needed retreat time.
Mark writes that as soon as they arrived in Tyre, Jesus immediately entered a house and adds that Jesus was not able to hide. I get the idea that his celebrity preceded him to Tyre by other travelers along the way. People tried to travel in groups for safety, because like in the Good Samaritan story, if you traveled alone, you were threatened by the presence of robbers.
As soon as they arrived at the house, a woman fell at Jesus’s feet. This was not a polite kneeling. The Greek text states that the woman literally fell at his feet. It was an act of total subjection. For the sake of her daughter, the woman set aside her own ego needs and completely submitted to Jesus. Her daughter was desperately ill, and the woman knew that Jesus was the only hope she had. We don’t know how old the girl was. Mark simply writes “daughter.”
The woman was not a Jew, and that made a significant difference. Only the Jews were waiting for the Messiah to come. Plus the woman was an alien, a Syrophoenician. In those days people dealt only with people of their own country.
This was true except for the Galileans. Caravans from the east (Babylon), north (Anatolia, Greece, and Rome) and south (Egypt) all traveled through Galilee. This is one reason the Jews in the southern Holy Land, where Jerusalem was, considered [CS1] the Galileans unclean. They were constantly in contact with foreigners: particularly trading with them. As a result, the Galileans were not able to offer sacrifices in the Jerusalem Temple until they went through a special cleansing ritual.
But the fact remains. Jesus came to be Messiah to God’s people, and the woman was not a child of God, as the Jews understood the concept. She nevertheless turned to Jesus and pleaded with him to heal her child.
Jesus properly responded by telling her that he would not help her. He had come to God’s children, and he would first feed them. He said: “It is not right to take their food and give it to the dogs.” This may sound horrible to us, but back then that was what people from one nation thought of people from other nations. Foreigners had no more worth than a common animal. Besides this, how could this non-Jew (gentile) appreciate who Jesus was and what he was doing? She knew nothing of Jewish history.
The woman responded in a surprising way. She treated Jesus like an equal. She had just prostrated herself on the ground at Jesus’s feet, and now she was bold enough to argue with him. “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” In the quotation, “Lord” is capitalized, but in the Greek “lord” is not. With a lower case “l,” “lord” only meant that she considered Jesus to be an important person. She accepted the rejection by Jesus, but reason prevailed.
Jesus respected how the woman stood up to him and forced him to be reasonable. Jesus granted the woman’s request and healed her daughter. He told her to go home, and there she would find her daughter’s health returned. “For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”
As I read the Psalms and the book of Job[CS2] , I see this same manner of talking with God. When I was growing up, I was taught to pray to God like I was having a cup of coffee with him—to use informal language, lik[CS3] e two friends talking together. I never forgot who God was, but our conversations were truly dialogues. I did hear God responding to me in my mind. It was not like talking to an inanimate object. It was similar to talking with my parents.
The Syrophoenecian woman may not have had the faith that Jesus was the Messiah. She did believe that he was able to help her daughter, and the only question was: Did Jesus want to heal her child? This is similar to the leper who confronted Jesus: “If you choose, you can make me clean.”
In responding to Jesus with such authenticity as the woman displayed, I begin to realize that Jesus himself does not have the ego needs that I have. He is free to come down to my level and deal with me one-on-one, in person, and he will be as genuine with me as I with him. What a tremendous gift he gives to us!
Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank you for loving us on whatever plane we are, for descending to us and becoming incarnate. Amen.
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