We have to remember that Mark wrote his gospel to quell the deep and understandable anxiety of the Christians being persecuted by Nero in the slums of Rome. This mostly Gentile audience had to know that following Jesus was worthwhile, even in the face of the atrocities with which they were dealing. They had to know that they were important to God and that in the end of it all, their destinies were secure with God. It must have been exhilarating, then, when they opened the scroll further to what we today call Mark 7:24 and following. It is the first time in Mark’s historical account that we see Jesus deal personally and directly with a desperate and needy Gentile. One can almost see the first readers sitting up a bit more in their seats and scanning the scroll with renewed interest. Consider the passage:
[quote]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. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 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.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone. (Mark 7:24-30)[/quote]
Some important observations should be made here. First, this is Jesus’ first real foray into Gentile territory. Perhaps because of the overwhelming crowds, coupled with the desperate need he and his disciples had for a break (cp. Mark 6:31), he and his friends made their way northward into what today we refer to as Lebanon. They found a house in which to stay, and for at least some time this place became their refuge.
Of course, whatever hopes Jesus had for being below the radar evaporated quickly—his popularity was simply too great. As he and his disciples settled into the home, and, in my own opinion, sat down for their evening meal (thus the colorful references to bread and table), a very anxious local woman created quite a stir, causing some of the disciples to check on the matter just beyond the door (cp. Matthew 15:23). Not taking no for an answer, she pushed her way into the home, fell at Jesus’ feet and implored him to rid her daughter of a demon. At first glance Jesus banter with this woman unsettles us. Not only does he seem unwilling to help her, but he implies that she is a dog. Is this, in fact, what is really happening?
The moment really gets lost in our English language and modern context. It is far more playful and winsome than we can appreciate, and Jesus, ever the master at capturing the moment to illustrate values and ideas, is, I believe, taking advantage of the activities at the table to draw from this woman a deeper faith and appreciation of who he truly is. His reference to the children no doubt referred to his hungry and weary disciples and his desire to invest himself into them first and foremost. The reference to the dogs was not to imply she was some mangy scavenger rummaging through trash cans in the ally. Rather, it refers to the domestic pets, the puppies, that might be lingering hopefully under the table, awaiting crumbs from the children’s plates. Her response to Jesus suggests she is totally content for the disciples to receive from Jesus what they need and even deserve. She also knows, however, that there will be leftovers, and it is simply those leftovers she would like to have. She presumes, rightly, that with Jesus, there is more than enough blessing to go around.
His positive response to her winsome retort suggests that Jesus was merely seeking to stretch her own faith. This seems reasonable on a couple of important levels. First, in the region in which they found themselves it was common for medicine-man-like figures to be gallivanting around the countryside. Jesus wanted to ensure she saw him as more than some snake-oil salesman. He wanted to stretch her to recognize him as someone far greater and powerful; someone worthy of real faith. Moreover, he wanted to affirm that while he was no doubt thrilled to offer grace to a Gentile, he did indeed come, as the Apostle Paul would later write, “to the Jew first, and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
Three practical applications may prove helpful here. First, there is a need for the disciple of Jesus to find rest. Getting away to get refreshed is a necessity. It may well cost money and time (I’m sure Jesus’ journey to Tyre and Sidon did). But it is vital for the well-being and vitality of the heart, mind and body.
Secondly, as the follower of Jesus seeks rest, he or she must still remain ever available to God and God’s mission. To put it bluntly, we are always on. Always. That does not mean to imply there should be no boundaries (see, for instance, Mark 1:35-38). It simply means we must see each moment as an opportunity to give ourselves to our Lord and his work.
Lastly, as we represent Jesus, we must always be concerned to present him as he truly is. He is not some medicine-man or snake-oil salesman. He is the Lord of Glory and the Redeemer of Souls.
Never forget it.
One last thought. No matter who you are or from where you come, the grace of Jesus is available for you. He always has enough. If you find yourself in desperate straits today, call on the Lord Jesus. With genuine and bold faith with him to give you what he has to offer—real life . . . real hope . . . real help . . . even himself.
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“Write This Down” is a summary of select teaching moments offered by Pastor Matthew. The preceding material is from the message “The Gentiles Also,” part one of the sermon series entitled, “Signs,” a study through the Gospel of Mark, presented on the weekend of January 26, 2014, at Bethel Church.