I love Jesus! I love Jesus … particularly … because Jesus changes lives. He changed my life. Jesus changes how we feel about ourselves, gives us new life, and provides an ethical framework for life – one that just plainly makes sense. Jesus loves me … I love Jesus! We see in the Gospel narratives how Jesus loved people … all people. And many people were able to respond to that love. People who met Jesus through the Gospels, were able to begin to see themselves and their futures differently … much differently. Jesus was able to offer healing based on faith, and hope based on forgiveness.
As we read these incidents in the Gospels, we too are being asked to think differently about other people. We read that the stranger becomes our neighbour. People who the society of the time excluded as unworthy … e.g. lepers, women of a certain reputation, tax collectors and Roman centurions … actually (shockingly) became examples of faith. The first (in their own mind) shall be last, and the last (through humility) shall actually be first. Whenever we read about Jesus engaging with another person, it is likely we are being challenged to think about the world differently. When I read about how Jesus related with people, it must change the way I relate to people.
Many times Jesus had intentions of slipping away to a quiet place for rest and prayer. But such was his reputation and ministry amongst people, that it was difficult for Jesus to escape notice. It is notable that this notoriety was even evident deep into Gentile territory. Jesus was NOT afraid to travel to foreign parts – quite the opposite … this was deliberate, as if making a strong point about the breadth of God’s concern for all people. After all, why otherwise would Jesus have travelled to Tyre, if not to show … to all … the real breadth of his mission.
God’s intention, on the basis of his loving covenant with Israel, was always to embrace all the nations of the world. God’s mission of blessing all nations … goes all the way back to the beginnings of God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12 (really to Creation itself). People may have divided off into different places with different languages and customs, but God was still committed to reaching them all. Our great commission … of making disciples from all nations … is at the centre of God’s heart.
We see on the day of Pentecost how people from a great variety of language groups were able to clearly hear the Gospel shared in their own language. Today, we strive to understand the culture around us, so we too can share the Gospel in ways that will be understood – often beginning with acts of practical service. Jesus was known for such acts of practical service and healing, and so this local woman from the region of Tyre … sought Jesus out, as soon as she got wind of such a great opportunity.
Opening Text – vs 24-26
Jewish historian Josephus described the Gentile people from Tyre as “notoriously our bitterest enemies”. They worshipped many (false unproductive) ‘gods’. In Old Testament times, Jezebel, the wife of King Ahab, forced the worship of the pagan god Baal upon the Israelites – she came from this particular region. Notorious … yes; but NO region, nor its people, could be permanently shunned on the basis of one point in time. Jesus taught about loving one’s enemies, and he sought to prove this to be God’s unfailing attitude through his own ministry.
Like with our own ‘enemies’ maybe, Jesus could easily just walk over to Tyre one day – making the point that he was intent on change and reconciliation. This was narrated as something that Jesus would just naturally do … as part of the way he was doing life. But one could imagine, that Jesus went over to Tyre deliberately, to show a resistant Israel … that grace was now moving in a Gentile direction. Indeed, as the New Testament story unfolds, under the leadership of Paul, the crumbs that were being thrown away, were going to be eaten with relish by others.
It seems it didn’t take long for Jesus to be approached. How did this woman (with the demon-possessed daughter) know about Jesus, and what he was capable of doing? Earlier, in Mark 3:8, we read that people from her area of Tyre had travelled to the Galilee area to see Jesus. Obviously the word had got around. She had heard enough to approach Jesus – humbly too … as she bowed before him. In love for her daughter, and in desperation about her plight, this woman “begged” Jesus to deliver her daughter from this demon-possession (v 25-26).
This Gentile woman knew how she would have been viewed by any Jewish person, let alone a revered teacher. In her mind, there may even have been the thought of being rejected and sent away humiliated. But nonetheless, here she is bowing down at Jesus’ feet in all vulnerability (expressing her need). Do we sense a fledgling faith here … the beginnings of which could only grow and grow … if properly nurtured? No one could nurture faith like Jesus could!! We should take note.
The Controversary – vs 27-28
This woman passionately asked Jesus to deal with the ‘demon’ that was traumatising her daughter! Jesus’ response (in verse 27) has often confused people … as being harsh, unsympathetic, rigid, (culturally) exclusive. At first glance, it is a little strange. Jesus seems to be referring to the people of Israel as the (preferred) “children”, and the Gentiles as “dogs” – a serious term of contempt; with the implication of relative superiority and inferiority – which of course doesn’t fit well with the Jesus we know. Even if we factor in the notion that salvation comes from the Jews … in that they were God’s people first, and that Jesus himself was a Jew – it still seems a very harsh response.
So, we need to ask the ‘why’ questions! What was Jesus’ intent here? Jesus was only saying what other people would have expected him to say, what even this Gentile woman may have expected to hear, what the attitude of most other people would be – exactly what they would have been thinking – why would any Jewish teacher worth his salt … especially one who had made the sort of claims about himself Jesus had … have anything to do with such a woman. Why would he!? She was a Gentile woman from the worst of places with a demon-possessed daughter – you would have to be kidding! Except Jesus said it … with a twist! Which was something this woman likely picked up on!!
The woman was NOT deterred – faith again! She sort of played along – having a strong conviction that Jesus was NOT like others she had encountered. Jesus would surely raise himself above this, and NOT be influenced by such ridiculous cultural exclusions and hatreds … and he would surely listen to her anyway! Here’s the twist – not always completely evident in the English. The woman may have picked up that Jesus, instead of using the normal word for “street-dogs” (seen as dirty), used a different word that more referred to “house-dogs” or “lap-dogs” (thus softening the language and critiquing the common derogatory tones of the day).
This choice of words … would have provided an encouragement for the woman to continue. There may have even been a glint in this woman’s eyes … a moment of understanding or clarity, as she thought about the ‘household pets’ … often seen sitting under the dining table … waiting for the children to drop down scraps to them. Jesus may have even given the woman a bit of a wink – an encouraging gesture to stay with him on this … that he was really on her side! He just had to, first, acknowledge the elephant in the room, and bring poor attitudes into a new light.
In her response, this woman seemed to be saying (in verse 28) … that if the work of God was emanating first out of Israel, then that was okay with her. She was prepared to accept whatever was on offer … that could help her daughter. She too used the softer word for “house-dogs”, rolling along with, maybe even smiling back at, Jesus’ edgy turn-of-phrase! All that she had heard about Jesus was surely true. Given the circumstances, Jesus was actually conversing with her in the most engaging and gracious of ways.
The Resolution – vs 29-30
Yes, even a “crumb” of grace, if it came from Jesus, would be enough to heal her daughter!! More evidence of faith from this woman! She was NOT going to worry about anyone who would have reasons to exclude her – rather this woman just simply looked toward (this wonderful man) Jesus on behalf of her beloved daughter. She correctly believed that the mercies of God were for all people (including her). I reckon you would call that ‘faith’! And that is exactly how Jesus saw it (v 29) – as we read, “For saying that, you may go – the demon has left your daughter”!
If Mark did not make this clear enough, later on Matthew did (in his Gospel). We read there, at the conclusion of the same incident, “Woman, you have great faith; your request is granted (Matt 15:28 NIV). As this woman heads off home (v 30), it seems she was in no doubt that Jesus had healed her daughter – the “demon” was gone … of course it was! We know that faith brings great outcomes! Her child was liberated from the evil spirit traumatising her, and the woman herself was released from a huge burden of care.
In verse 27, Jesus simply feeds back to his audience what was commonly thought within an often exclusively-based society – making the point that Jesus is fully aware of the often dark heart of people toward outsiders or those different from them; which has, at least in part, left this woman and her daughter in such a very distressing situation to begin with. Lamentable, but real. Then, this woman’s persistence and clarity and faith … unlocks the love and graciousness of God – that, we see, is as much for her … as for anyone else.
Jesus is almost making a joke of such an exclusive and superior mindset (given its absurdity), and as the woman is already on the same (theological) wavelength – she gets the sarcasm … and replies in kind. We might find it funny too, if it didn’t hit us so squarely in the face … regarding any failure to love our neighbour (when they are different to us). Despite opinions to the contrary, her nationality or cultural background or life predicament … does NOT exclude her from God’s love. She, like everyone else, has open access to Jesus … when given the opportunity.
Jesus, aided by this woman, was here breaking down the social and spiritual boundaries between cultures, and forever challenging any existing distinction between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’. We have to be very careful with any labels … that they don’t unnecessarily push people away or make them feel excluded. We are all ‘sinners’ in need of God’s salvation. No one is less or more worthy of God’s grace. God loves everyone the same amount without distinction. Sometimes this lesson takes a while to sink in – and we need to be reminded. The disciple Peter … himself … took until Acts chapter 10 and his encounter with Cornelius before he fully got this.
There was a great lesson to be learned here, and how brilliant of Jesus to give a lesson on the inclusiveness of his love … through the words and actions of one of those most discriminated against – a foreign woman with a demon-possessed child! While religious leaders opposed Jesus, while people of his own hometown of Nazareth rejected him, while his own disciples failed to understand Jesus – here was a Gentile woman from a foreign region, notorious for false religion … expressing true and effective faith. She foreshadowed the future – there is plenty (of grace) on God’s table for all (L Richards).
This woman correctly believed that the mercies of God were for all people (including her). This had been the case since Genesis, was proclaimed by Jesus, and was fulfilled at Pentecost. Faith can be found in the most surprising of places. Jesus was on the lookout for faith wherever he went. He even seemed to expect to find faith somewhere in Tyre. The Holy Spirit is on the move promoting faith. It can be hard to find. Yet, we should be ready to listen to the conversations around us each day, for those little comments (or acts of kindness) that suggest a fledgling faith … glimmers that can be encouraged and built on … toward serious faith in God … that can change everything.
Through the various community groups I have been involved in over the last forty years, there have been many opportunities to encourage faith in others. It may have been faith left mainly in the past, or new thinking about persistent problems – but many people, especially in challenging times, are still attuned to the spiritual. You just have to be available … like Jesus, be where the action is … like Jesus, be ready to listen (more than talk) … like Jesus. One fond memory … is following many conversations I had with one woman I was on a committee of management with … she gently slipped into conversation one night … that she had returned to going to church. I love Jesus.