Summary: Jesus is not impressed with the outward trappings of self-righteousness. He is impressed with a heart full of simple faith, which we find most often in the hearts of those we least expect. So like Jesus feed the "dogs" and touch the "dumb."
Dumb Dogs (Mark 7:24-37)
I like this thought posted by Mike Atkinson in his daily email humor list some time ago. "If you can start the day without caffeine; if you can get going without pep pills; if you can always be cheerful, ignoring aches and pains; if you can resist complaining and boring people with your troubles; if you can eat the same food every day and be grateful for it; if you can understand when your loved ones are too busy to give you any time; if you can overlook it when those you love take it out on you when through no fault of yours something goes wrong; if you can take criticism and blame without resentment; if you can ignore a friend’s limited education and never correct him; if you can resist treating a rich friend better than a poor friend; if you can face the world without lies and deceit; if you can conquer tension without medical help; if you can relax without liquor; if you can sleep without the aid of drugs; if you can say honestly that deep in your heart you have no prejudice against creed, color, religion, or politics; then, my friend, you are almost as good as your dog." (Mike Atkinson, Mikey’s Funnies, 6-26-02, www.mikeysfunnies.com)
I like that, because it makes you think about yourself in relation to what many consider to be a dirty animal. That fact is: to call a person a "dog" in many cultures is meant to be derogatory and demeaning. But maybe such a name isn’t so bad when you think about your own dog that’s always so glad to see you even though you feed him the same food every day, or are too busy to give him much time, or sometimes take out your frustrations on the poor mutt.
Some people are like that, as well. Those we might consider "dogs" may actually demonstrate a strength of character far greater than any of us here in this room. In Mark 7, Jesus talks about what’s inside a person that makes him or her unclean. It’s not the outward performance that determines a person’s acceptability. It’s what’s in the heart.
So what is Jesus looking for in our hearts that bring Him pleasure? What does Jesus want to see on the inside that impresses Him? Well, if you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Mark 7, Mark 7, where Jesus finds what He’s looking for in the hearts of people that some in His day considered "dogs."
Mark 7:24-26 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. (NIV)
This was a very needy woman, a desperate mother, deep in Gentile territory (40 miles away from any Jewish settlement), and of a nationality that the Jews considered their worst enemies. About 200 years before this, a Syrian ruler, Antioches Epiphanes tried to eradicate the Jewish race. He desecrated their temple by offering a pig on the altar. He outlawed circumcision and Sabbath keeping. He forced the Jews to eat pork under threat of torture and death. And since many Jews refused, he ended up slaughtering hundreds of them. Eventually, the priests organized an armed revolted against him, and with the threat of Rome looming on the horizon, he finally left the Jews alone. That’s why the Jews in Jesus day had such animosity towards these so-called "Greeks", and especially towards Syrian "Greeks."
If ever there was a "dog" in the Jewish mind it would be these Syrian Phoenician "Greeks." In fact, the Jews called all Gentiles "dogs," but these were the worst of the "dogs." And this woman, to the typical Jewish male, would be the lowest of the lowest of the low, a real "female dog" (if you know what I mean). Men in Jesus day just did not talk to women in public, except for their wives or daughters. Even so, this woman dares to approach Jesus, a Jewish male, and begs Him for help. How does Jesus respond?
Mark 7:27 "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." (NIV)
The "children" here are the Jewish people, and Jesus makes it very clear that He came first to minister to the Jews, not to Gentile "dogs." This seems so out of character for Jesus. What’s He doing here? Well, first of all He came to this way-out-of-the-way place to get some desperately needed rest with His disciples (see Mark 6:31). But He is also teaching His disciples a lesson, who are steeped in the same mentality as their fellow Jews.