In 1857 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled African-Americans were not U.S. citizens. This encouraged whites to treat blacks as inferior and segregate them to the back of the bus and to their own schools, hospitals, cemeteries and churches.
In the 1st century, Jews considered Gentiles unclean “dogs” and avoided them. But in today’s text, Mark reports Jesus intentionally going to Gentile cities. Good for us! If Jesus had been a Jewish supremacist, he’d have had nothing to do with us.
Jesus and the Dirty Woman (7:24-30).
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. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter. “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 their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus retreated 30 miles west to Tyre on the east coast of the Mediterranean (today’s Lebanon). He couldn’t keep his whereabouts unknown. Tyre people knew him, because months earlier they had crowded the sea to hear him teach and see him work miracles (3:8).
A Syrian-born Greek woman heard he was near, found him and on her knees begged him to drive a demon out of her daughter. Jesus answered rudely: “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to dogs” (CEV). In other words, “Israel first. It’d be wrong to give to dogs like you!”
The woman’s reply sounds as humble as Jesus’ sounded arrogant: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (CEV).
I suspect a moment’s silence hung in the air as Jesus looked into that mother’s heart. Then: “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.”
First, Jesus wasn’t (and isn’t) bound by national, racial, gender or traditional barriers. He goes to anyone at anytime, sometimes in the most startling ways.
Second, Jesus isn’t tame. He called a needy mother a “dog”! Commentators do mental gymnastics to soften the blow. But Jesus—to test her faith?—hit the desperate woman full force. Aren’t some responses we receive from Jesus hurtful at first?
Three, faith is a humble virtue. So-called faith preachers “sell” faith like a reward to the highest bidder. But this Syrian woman shines with true faith: “You are the Lord. If I’m a dog, so be it. And if all you’ll give me is a crumb of your blessing, I’ll take it.” Faith is admitting we have nothing to bring to Jesus but our need—and simply trusting him to love us well.
Jesus and the Dumb Man (7:31-37).
Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged him to place his hand on the man. After he took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then he spit and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means, “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly. Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”
The Decapolis, a league of ten cities east of Galilee, was mostly Gentile. Jesus’ reputation preceded him: for many months the delivered Gerasene demonic had gossiped what Jesus had done for him (5:20a). Unsurprisingly then, when Jesus shows up, people bring him a deaf and dumb man. One wonders if they wanted entertainment or really cared about the poor guy. No matter. He wins in the end.
Jesus’ healing technique sounds like a “faith healer’s” show (except for taking the man apart from the crowd!) Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears. Spits on his finger and touches the man’s tongue. Looks up to heaven, sighs and says, “Be opened!”
At once the deaf man hears the crowd praising Jesus. Immediately he praises Jesus to every person who’ll listen.
Three Lessons. First, Jesus had (has) emotions. He “sighed.” The Greek can mean “complained” or “grumbled”. Or it can mean “groan” out of deep concern. The first would have Jesus complaining, “Not another one! Let’s get it over with!” The second, “I care so much for you, man of my creation. Let me make you well!” I suspect the second. How could the Son of God’s love not love?
Second, Jesus touched the “ugly.” One can imagine this man a big, dumb, silent ox. Easily a butt of bad jokes. Often ignored because he didn’t “work” right. Jesus came. He didn’t (doesn’t) heal from an ivory tower. He touched. Maybe that’s why we lay hands on the sick when we pray for them.
Three, Jesus’s kingdom authority reaches to all peoples. Not just the healthy, the sick. Not just the religious, the sinner. Not just the valuable, the seemingly good for nothing. “God chose what the world considers foolish to shame the wise” (1 Corinthians 1:27a, CEV).
We who follow Jesus have a King who loves the dirty and the dumb who are humble enough to confess that they are!