Parallel Text: Matthew 15:21-28
A quick reading of this text will tell us that Jesus heals someone’s daughter, but quick readings don’t always yield the whole story, for there are those times when we are better off slowing down just a bit; this is one of those times.
This is the first time that Jesus has entirely left the country, as we would say today, for He is in Lebanon. It would seem that He has withdrawn entirely from Galilee with His disciples after more than a year of frantic activity and ever-growing crowds. It is to be a time of rest, and can I say it? A vacation or “retreat” of sorts. Yet He has become famous, and even in this Gentile land, His presence will not be a secret for very long. Mark goes to great lengths here to make it clear that the woman who approaches Jesus for help is a Gentile. He tells us that she is a Syrian of Phoenician extraction, rather more personal information than is really necessary, but he does so because her being a Gentile is the point of the story.
She asks Jesus to help her daughter, for her daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit. Jesus responds to her plea with a strange remark:
“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.”
So is He telling the woman that He can only help the girl if she’s just eaten? No, I don’t think so. The woman sure had a comeback…
“Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
It was not uncommon in those days for people to have dogs as pets and as workers in the fields. In those days, they didn’t have a special aisle in the grocery stores for all of the various kinds of dog food, and so the dogs ate table scraps. After a meal was finished, they would feed the leftovers to the dogs. During the meals, the dogs would have to wait, but if crumbs fell from the table, the dogs would snatch them up. Jesus and the woman were using a metaphor.
Jesus is telling the woman that He has come to preach the Kingdom to the Jews (children) and the Gentiles would receive the message after the Jews have had the first opportunity for salvation, for this is what God had promised them. The woman, being a Gentile, would have to wait. This was one sharp lady who fully comprehended what Jesus was telling her, and expanded His metaphor to the dogs snapping up crumbs that fall from the table, as she entreats Him to help her child.
Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
This Gentile woman demonstrated more faith and understanding that the religious leaders of the Jews ever did! As a result of her faith, she was able to snatch up a “crumb” from the table, and the demon was gone from her child… and the child wasn’t even there.
An amazing story: Jesus demonstrated another aspect of the Kingdom He was preaching: The Good News would be preached first to the Jews and after a time, it would be taken with power and authority to the Gentiles, for all Nations would be blessed by the seed of Abraham, as God had promised so long before.
This also marks the beginning of a new phase in Jesus’ ministry, for from here forward Jesus will be highlighting for the disciples, the marked contrast between the traditions of Jews as taught by the religious leaders, and the reality of the Kingdom of heaven in their midst. He did so in this scene by 1) talking with a Gentile woman (which a Pharisee would never do) and 2) by responding to her faith and healing her child, which a Pharisee would also never do. These contrasts will continue as Jesus’ foreign tour moves on to its next stop…