Mark: According To
Crumbs for the Dogs
(There is Room at the Table for All)
24 From there He arose and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered a house and wanted no one to know it, but He could not be hidden.
After the encounter with the Pharisees that we saw in our last two posts, Jesus withdrew from Capernaum, and crossing Galilee, He retires to the hill country on the borders of Phoenicia. Looking westward, He could see, spread out upon the plain below, the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon, with their heathen temples, and magnificent palaces and markets for trade. The harbors were filled with ships and beyond lay the blue expanse of the Mediterranean Sea. In coming to this region, He hoped to find the retirement He had failed to secure at Bethsaida and Capernaum.
Ok, I have to admit the question that has rolled around in my head. Why would Jesus, the Messiah, want to travel to such a heathen and pagan world? After all, had he not come to teach the gospel to the Jews? At least that is what He has stated in the past. Then, has the reason for his mission changed?
In the land of Tyre and Sidon He sought retirement and in tow he brought all his disciples with Him. Most were rough Galilean men who were used to being around sinners and here Christ brings them for rest, among even greater sinners.
25 For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Poor Jesus, even when attempting to escape the clutches of the throngs and escaping to a heathen country, this woman bursts into the house were Jesus is staying and askes for a demon, an unclean spirit, to be cast out of her daughter.
The people of this region were of the old Canaanite race. They were idolaters and were despised and hated by the Jews. To this class belonged the woman who now came to Jesus. She was a heathen and was therefore excluded from the advantages which the Jews daily enjoyed. Yet, there were many Jews living among the Phoenicians and the news of Christ’s had spread to this region.
This woman had heard of the prophet who it was reported, healed all manner of diseases, and even healed people that were possessed by unclean spirits. Inspired by a mother’s love, she determined to present her daughter’s case to Him. He must heal her daughter for up to this point no heathen god had been able to grant her daughter relief.
24 But Jesus said to her, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
Matthew in his gospel makes it clear that at first, Jesus did not answer this woman and her cry for help, but it was the disciples that came to Jesus and urged Him to send her away (Matthew 25:24).
We should find this disturbing that Jesus failed to listen to this woman and it goes contrary to much we have learned about the character of God. Perhaps, there is a great lesson being taught to the disciples by Jesus. If Jesus has been the typical Jewish Rabbi, He would have done precisely what the disciples proposed Jesus should do and that was to send the woman away. After all, she was heathen, a woman and a gentile.
Even after spending so much time with Jesus, they did not fully comprehend the fact that God considered all men everywhere eligible to become citizens of the kingdom of heaven. Which by the way, is a lesson Peter had to learn more than once. Three-times Jesus had previously healed gentiles, these were the centurion servant, the demonic of Gergesa and the visit among the Samaritans. These previous encounters with Gentiles has all been incidental to His ministry for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Even the Jewish leaders had not criticized Jesus for these previous incidents.
When Jesus finally acknowledged the woman, Jesus treated her with contempt calling her a dog. Jews often called gentiles dogs, so for the disciples to hear Jesus call this woman a dog would not have surprised them, as it would surprise you and me. But Jesus was attempting to teach them a rich spiritual lesson, a lesson that even today is often easily forgotten. Jesus said, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Long had the Jews called themselves the children of God and now Jesus was reaffirming in their minds that this gentile woman was certainly not a person of worth, she was no better than a little dog that eat the crumbs that fall from the children’s table.
This was totally opposite of the way God wanted the children of Israel to treat others, but because of their man made traditions, and their attempt to make themselves holy by separating themselves from all those around them, they had built up this wall of separation between themselves and the other nations until they thought of these heathen people as dogs, common or unclean, not worthy to be associated with by the children of God.
We should all admire the faith of this gentile woman for her answer indicates a keener insight into God character than even the disciples understood. “And she answered and said to Him, ‘Yes Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.’” 29 Then he said to her, “For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” 30 And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed.”
It would appear this is the end of the story, we can all go home shouting and praise God for Jesus healing the daughter of some poor Gentile woman. Not so fast, let’s take a moment to unpack this. First and foremost, this woman, who was acquainted with the Jewish religion showed greater faith and the disciples had. Second: Jesus appeared to reinforce the teachings and beliefs of the Jews that other races or peoples were indeed inferior to them. But, instead Jesus showed His disciples that even the heathen are of value to Him and all of heaven. Although it is true Jesus mission on earth was not to teach and save the lost of the world, but to teach the Jews the true plan of salvation that had been buried under the huge pile of man made traditions. Yet Jesus was preparing the disciples that this message which was at this time exclusive to the Jews was to be soon given to all people of all nations.
So why the exclusivity at this time? We often miss the reason God chose a people. We think he chose a people because he thought they were better than everyone else, yet God told Moses that these were the least of all peoples (Deuteronomy 7:7). God desired a people that were the least of all peoples so that through them he might reveal his character to the world and that through them, he would prepare and then send the promised Seed. The Seed that was originally promised to Adam and Eve after their fall (Genesis 3:15). This was the same Seed that was promised to Abraham in which God said that through his Seed the whole world would be blessed (Genesis 22:18).
But Israel had failed and so Jesus (the Seed) came to redirect the thinking of the people back to their original purpose, knowing full well that by doing so, he would be nailed to a cross. But also realizing that by being nailed to the cross and having come in the likeness of fallen man, and upon living a sinless life, he would become the blessing to the whole world as was promised to Adam and Eve, to Abraham, and David.
But at this time, the disciples were not ready. They had not yet broken down the walls of unbelief, man-made traditions and prejudice that had been built up throughout the centuries. So Jesus desired to teach and that even the little dogs, the common people, the people you look down your nose at are also worthy of receiving the gospel message of hope and healing from the demons that daily torment their lives.
Oh, but we are better than these pig-headed Jews of old, for we live in the era of enlightenment! Don’t we? Or do we? How do we treat a person of another faith? As a Christian, and may I remind us that when we take the name Christian, we are stating to the world, that it is our desire to have the character of God as my character, so then how do we treat those that have a different life-style than I do? How do I treat others, that have a different skin color or dress and act differently than we do? Jesus endeavored to teach the disciples and us that even those we consider dogs, deserve to eat at least the crumbs that fall from the table of God’s children. But in reality, what Jesus is saying to His disciples, is that all people, no mater who they are deserve a place at the table and in no way, should our man-made traditions, our own interpretations of the law of God keep us from making room for them.
The Gospel message is not a message for just the Jew or Christian, the Gospel message is a message for all peoples for all time. It is a message that shows or reveals the character of God and invites us to allow the Holy Spirit into our heart to transform our heart from a heart full of defilement that is made of stone, to a heart made of flesh in which the commandments of God are no longer written in stone but written upon the flesh of our hearts. God’s law, his commands reflect his character and he invites us to partake of and reflect his character. When we lift Christ up, then we will draw all men to Christ, for there is room at the table for all. This is the lesson Jesus hoped to teach the disciples by healing the Syro-Phoenician’s daughter. The Gospel will heal all nations, all people, all things if we first get out of the way allowing God to lead and all of our man-made traditions and prejudices to be cast away.