“He got up and departed from there to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it, but He could not escape notice. Instead, immediately after hearing about Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, “Allow the children to be satisfied first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she replied to Him, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then He told her, “Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has gone out of your daughter.” When she went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone.” (Mark 7:24-30 HCSB)
For the last several weeks, we’ve been considering the charge of hypocrisy that Jesus made against the scribes and Pharisees. He had accused them of being more interested in how things looked on the outside of their lives than how things actually were in their hearts. It was more important, in their minds, to “look good” than to “be good” and Jesus confronted them about this issue. As He told them, the issue was not with whether they followed their religious rules and rituals but with the condition of their hearts before God. This week, we will see Jesus put these very teachings into practice with how He deals with the faith-filled request of an outsider.
Don’t let anybody fool you, living by faith is really hard. If you’ll recall, faith is described as “…the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 HCSB) In other words, it is what you know to be real in your heart but are not able to see with your eyes or prove with indisputable, concrete evidence. To live by faith is to constantly battle with your heart and mind over what you know is Biblically and spiritually true and what you want to pursue and do. Paul calls it a war between the “old man” and the “new man”, the one who walks by sight and the one who walks by faith in the Spirit of God (see Romans 7-8). I don’t mean to imply that Jesus struggled to walk by faith, but we constantly struggle to do so.
In this week’s focal passage, Jesus takes the lessons He taught to the disciples in the first 30 verses of Mark 7 and now applies them in a very practical way. He leaves Gennesaret, and heads northwest into the region of Tyre and Sidon – which is modern day Lebanon along the Mediterranean coast and is a little over 20 miles to the northwest of Capernaum. While we don’t know the exact location, it does seem that Jesus has developed some followers from among the people of this region and He appears to have taken the disciples there to get away from the scribes and Pharisees. Mark does tell us that Jesus wanted to keep His location and His presence in that region unknown, “but He could not escape notice.”
Interesting phrase, isn’t it? He could not escape notice. I don’t want to dwell here long, but I do think it is important to note that when Jesus is present, people notice. The same could and should be said of Jesus in our lives. When Jesus is truly present in us, people notice. In a very real sense, that is precisely what He was teaching the disciples in our previous lessons – God’s presence isn’t based on washing your hands and keeping religious traditions but through a heart that has been changed by His mercy and forgiveness. So, let me ask you: is Jesus’ presence noticeable in your life? If not, maybe that’s because your relationship with God is all outward, all hand washing and religious ritual and nothing has changed your heart.
It seems that Jesus’ desire to go unnoticed is an attempt to get some time alone with the disciples for teaching them, building relationships among them and a time of rest and relaxation for all of them. While I cannot fully explain it, I can tell you that I am physically exhausted every Sunday evening. I think it is a combination of all the physical, mental, spiritual, emotional and relational energy expended on that day. I can only imagine the need these men had for a time of refreshing from God’s Spirit and some physical rest. But, He could not escape notice…
It wasn’t long until a woman, a Greek woman of Syrophoenician heritage, came and fell at His feet. She came and fell before Him because her daughter “had an unclean spirit” and she sought His help for her daughter. Why does Mark tell us about all of her cultural, religious and ethnic heritage? It would seem that Jesus is wanting the disciples to notice something quite dramatic about this encounter and to see the contrast with the encounter He has just had with the scribes and Pharisees.
First, this region is the very region where the prophet Elijah had struggled with evil Queen Jezebel. The people of this region are as “Gentile” and non-Jewish as they get. Yet, when the very Son of the historically and very culturally Jewish God (YHWH) tries to find a place to hide here, He could not escape notice. The scribes from Jerusalem and the Pharisees could not understand Him and His teaching regarding God’s Word or find faith to trust Him, but this very, very Gentile woman seeks Him out and falls at His feet. Desperate human needs and Godly, compassionate responses cross all cultural, political, ethnic, socio-economic and religious boundaries. Human need and God’s response knows no such boundaries.
Next, notice the persistence of her faith. She kept asking Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. This was not a “one and done” request. This woman was not giving up. This was her daughter and she would not relent. She was persistent until Jesus responded. While we aren’t told how long Jesus waited before responding, we are told that “she kept asking” Him to drive the demon out of her daughter. Perhaps she stood outside the house and cried out to Him inside, or she caught Him as He walked through the town or market. Mark’s point is that upon hearing that Jesus was in the area she sought Him out, fell at His feet and began to ask and kept on asking. Relentless, persistent faith. If faith isn’t persistent, then it isn’t faith but just wishful thinking. When you believe, you are persistent in that belief and your trust runs deep. Don’t give up, be PERSISTENT!
Now, notice Jesus’ response. It is difficult for us to hear and fully understand but we do need to hear it and seek to understand it. “Allow the children to be satisfied first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” What we often do is focus in on what we assume is the apparent derogatory word, dogs. If you do then you overlook several important things and one of them is “first.” This idea occurs several times in the Gospels, the Good News is “first” delivered to the children of God, the Jewish people. God’s plan has always been to have a people who are uniquely His and that they would be the source of His blessings upon the rest of the world. This has been His heart from the very beginning and it is now being manifested in the ministry and work of Jesus, His Son. God has a plan and His plan is always best. So, first allow the children to be satisfied.
He does refer to Gentiles as “dogs” but it may not be quite what you think. “It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” The word used here is not one that references the uncleanness and chaos of a pack of wild, ferocious, snarling and ravenous curs that wreak havoc, feed on carrion and frighten everyone but rather that of a household pet or even a small puppy. That makes it a very different picture, doesn’t it? The woman picks up on this and quickly uses it as she responds, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Not waiting to fed a full meal, but enjoying the crumbs that naturally fall on the floor as the children eat. Wow! Didn’t I tell you. Now do you see it? Powerful, persistent faith!
I want faith like that. Powerful faith. Persistent faith. The kind of faith that transforms the heart of a timid Gentile woman into a fierce warrior that fights bravely for her daughter’s life before the very Son of God. She was persistent in her faith. She was dogged in her determination. But she was also humble in her approach as she fell at His feet and respectful as she lauded Him as Lord. “Lord, even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs.”
Lord, just let me eat the crumbs that fall from their table, that is more than enough to meet my need and save my daughter. Think on those words. Let that settle into your soul, a bit. How much of God is enough for us? How much of Him do we need to transform our lives and change our hearts? Since He’s God, whatever He lets fall our way is more than enough. Most of us are too PROUD for crumbs under the table, we want the best seat at the table.
Ah, but therein lies the problem. Our pride desires the best seat, but our pride is what keeps us from getting a seat. If we want to hear Him say, “you may go, what you ask has been done,” then we must be willing to throw off our pride, fall humbly at His feet and cry out, “Lord, a crumb is enough. Please, just a crumb!”
Listen to His response, “Because of this reply, you may go. The demon HAS gone out of your daughter.” When she went home, she found her daughter lying on the bed and the demon WAS gone. No stars fell from heaven, the sun didn’t go dark, lightning didn’t flash and the ground didn’t quake but God HAD spoken and the demon had fled. Her faith in going back home was as great as it was when she had gone seeking out Jesus, persistent, powerful and right on target. I fear I would have wanted and expected more of a response from God than “go home, the demon is gone.” But that’s all the response He gave and all that was needed.
God help me to believe even when I don’t see any direct evidence! Help me to have faith like this woman. Humble me and cause my pride to flee for I always seek the choice seat at your table. Instead, cause me to fall before you, to lie at your feet and to be satisfied with the crumbs that fall under your table. For even the crumbs are sufficient and your grace is always enough.
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