Posted by Pastor Pat on July 2, 2009
“Even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.”
Read Mark 7:24-30
Mark’s accounting of this story is direct and terse. Matthew provides necessary embellishment that enhances the encounter. Together they form a remarkable story of how our Lord is merciful. Mark places this story in contrast to the interaction with the religious leaders. The Pharisees and Scribes are arguing over whether or not one should eat with unwashed hands, and Jesus ministers to a Gentile woman whose daughter is demon possessed. The disparity could not be more stark. How many times do we “hyperventilate” over the unimportant only to overlook the dying lying at our feet? Although it would appear His actions are insensitive (“He did not answer her a word”) and His words are demeaning (“throw it to the dogs”), what we cannot feel is the look in His eyes and the expression of His face.
The woman was consumed by her grief. Her condition was agitated and her actions were aggressive. Her circumstance removed all protocol and etiquette. Without shame or restraint, she pursued our Lord with her petition. Her daughter, her little daughter was cruelly possessed by a demon. As a Canaanite, an outcast and dog to the Jew, she came and prostrated herself before, “The Son of David.” Her petition was simple, “Lord, help me, have mercy on me.”
Our Lord makes the comment, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In this He affirms what is true. Yet what is true in this one statement is not the truth in its entirety. The story of God has the hero coming to Israel and through Israel to the world. Jesus knows this, but His audience and those closest to Him do not. The Book of Acts testifies to the slow manner in which His people “get it.”
Although “the children [must be] satisfied first” it does not mean only or exclusively. It is only after the children eat that the “dogs” partake of what is left. The intent of the imagery is not for us to conclude that the gospel brought to the Gentiles is but mere crumbs and a poor reflection of the real thing, but rather to show how the Gentiles were always a part of God’s story. Our Lord’s response to her faith is unique and the Bible records only a smattering of such statements (cf. Matt. 8:10). All of this is set in contrast to the prevailing condition of the religious establishment. God wants us to see and understand the nature of what He is doing. How many times have we inadvertently developed an attitude and response of religious bigotry toward those who are different than us? It is understandable and easy to gather around and interact with those similar to ourselves. It is only natural. But Christianity is supernatural. Christianity breaks down barriers. Christianity places everyone, everywhere, at all times on an equal plan of need and inability. Only God makes people right before Him. As such, no one is any better or worse than anyone else.
Often ethnicity, geography, and culture cause us to develop prejudices toward others who do not “fit” into our conditioned ideals. This makes us look at others like the disciples looked at this Canaanite woman. It is this ingrained distaste for those who are different that makes us insensitive to their crushing need. We cannot look past the form to observe the brokenness. This story moves us from our preconceived notions as to who God is and what He does, to see that He is the God of mercy and compassion. We know the letter of the law, but do we know its spirit? The entire law is summed up in one idea, “Love God.” Consequentially, “Love one another, . . . even your enemies.” Jesus fully understood what the law stated, but He equally understood the intent of the law. He was capable of looking past the letter and holding fast to the spirit. This must be equally true for His people. It is only as we look past the letter to the spirit that we can effectively minister to our immediate community. In many ways we are no better than the religious leaders of His day. Although we are incapable of judging their motives, we can clearly see how our Lord addressed this Canaanite woman. May God help us to be more like Jesus and less like the religious establishment as we seek to “shout the supremacy of God in our immediate community.”
By Pastor Patrick J. Griffiths. For more information see the Waukesha Bible Church site.