“True progress quietly and persistently moves along without notice.” Saint Francis de Sales
SCRIPTURE & DEVOTION: Mark 7:24-37; focused on 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 impure 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 the dogs.” “Lord,” she replied, “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.
We can’t see Jesus’ face across the millennia, of course, as he responds to a woman’s begging: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” She is pleading that he release her daughter from a demon’s power. She responds, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” How can we know how to take this exchange?
Two things are certain: this is a woman (Jewish men conventionally did not speak to strange women), and she is not Jewish (another reason Jesus ‘shouldn’t’ speak with her).
One way to understand their conversation is that Jesus—for his day—is astonishingly comfortable talking with a so-called ‘unclean’ woman. Already in Mark, Jesus kindly addresses a sick woman as “daughter” who has reached out to him in a crowd, wanting to be healed from a flow of blood (5:24-34). And John’s gospel (4:4-30, 39-42) shows Jesus talking with the woman at the well, also not Jewish, a Samaritan in that case.
So Jesus cannot be dismissing the Syrophoenician woman of our story either because she is a woman, or because she’s not Jewish. He stops everything to pay special attention to all these women. He takes them seriously and responds with love to their pleas, clean or unclean--Jewish or not.
So, in the “dog” and “crumbs” exchange, I wonder if Jesus is checking in with this woman’s sense of what it means to her to be crossing gender and ethnic boundaries by asking the Son of God to heal her daughter. How will that change her life, her sense of self? This may turn out to be a chance for Jesus to change the boundaries of who can come to God, of who God loves, in fact—of who His people are.
He tells her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” This fits pretty well with Jesus’ comment to a Roman centurion: “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel” (Luke 7:9). Jesus seekers and followers were—and are—not all found in conventional places.
What does it mean that my self-proclaimed atheist university colleague from India says she likes Jesus? How about when my pilates/yoga instructor responds to someone’s sneeze with, “God bless you”? If I am really called to carry Jesus’ light into my world, then maybe I can muster His grace and kindness to check in with these people about what their comments mean to them about how they see Jesus, what God’s great love could mean in their lives. Such questions may open doors to more light and love in lives that are hungry for Him, for more conversations that God can use to reach our world.
I pray that we see and love the people in our world the way Jesus does. God, give us your wisdom, grace, and compassion to extend your compassion and love to our world as You do.
Lord, help us to see with Your eyes, with Your heart. We ask that You would give us courage to engage - to ask questions, to get to know people better. Help us to hear their stories, and to share our own in a way that points people to Your love, grace and compassion.