24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
(Mark 7:24-30 NIV)
Today’s text finds Jesus on the move again. After finishing His encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus heads northwest toward the Mediterranean Sea, to the area of Tyre and Sidon (modern-day Syria).
Mark tells us that Jesus is trying to get a few days’ rest, but even here in Gentile country, the people recognize Him and come to Him with their requests.
Today’s encounter is with a Syrophoenician woman of Greek heritage. The woman comes and falls at Jesus’ feet, begging Him to cast the demon out of her little girl.
In Jesus’ day, a rabbi (teacher) did not speak in public to any woman, much less a Gentile woman. But yet, Jesus saw this woman’s heartfelt cry for help and chose to interact with her.
Jesus points out that she is Gentile and He is Jewish, and His ministry (at that point) is to Jewish people, not Gentiles. When Jesus used the word “dogs”, He did not insult her by calling her a wild, mangy street dog (the term that most Jews used to refer to Gentiles). Rather, he used a different word that meant “house dog” or “lap dog” – an inside pet. Like many people around the world today, many Gentile people of that region kept a small dog inside the house.
Jesus told the woman that it was not right to give the house dog the children’s full meal. The woman, recognizing her position of Gentile asking a Jew for a favor, replies gently that even house dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall to the floor while the children eat.
As we look at this interaction between Jesus and this Gentile woman, we see Jesus’ love and compassion toward her. This was not a harsh dialogue – it is a gentle conversation. Yes, it is an awkward social encounter, breaking many cultural norms. Jesus acknowledges the breaking of these norms with her but does not let those barriers stop Him from sharing tenderness and compassion toward her and her daughter.
Jesus recognizes this woman’s great faith and humble plea for mercy and grants her request. Note that neither the woman nor Jesus requested that the young demon-possessed girl meet Jesus; this was another long-distance healing that Jesus performed based on the requestor’s great faith in Him.
May we practice such great faith as this woman exhibited. And may we sense Jesus’ incredible mercy as we bring our requests before Him.