Summary: Let us learn to examine ourselves in light of Jesus and not examine Jesus in the dim light of ourselves. It will cause discomfort, but how wondrous it is to serve a true King and to experience the mercy of a Lord that we truly fear.
In the movie “The Kid,” Bruce Willis plays an image consultant. We see him racing in to save clients who have said or done something that makes them appear insensitive to people, which in their cases they actually are. “What did I say?” “What did I do?” is their befuddled reaction to the controversies swirling around them. It’s Willis’ job to give them a positive image. Fortunately, he did not have Jesus for a client, as this text brings out.
Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. This is the area north of Galilee. He has traveled outside the traditional borders of Israel, which would have been considered pagan territory in his day. This was unusual for Jesus. We have no record of him traveling outside Jewish territory other than the short excursions on the east side of the Sea of Galilee. He does minister in Samaria, but even then that is while he is traveling through the territory to get to Jewish populations.
Jesus intentionally kept his ministry restricted to the Jews. In Galilee there were a number of predominantly Gentile towns, but the only towns that he is reported to have ministered in were Jewish. Even in this passage note that he does not actually enter into the town of Tyre, and Mark comments that he went into the territory to get away from people rather than to minister: He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it.
It is apparent that Jesus, with his disciples, is trying to get some rest. They are mobbed by crowds everywhere they go, as we have seen. He then travels outside of Galilee altogether in hopes of taking a break.
Good try. Yet he could not keep his presence secret. 25 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. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
Jesus’ fame has spread far and wide. When they heard all he was doing, many people came to him from Judea, Jerusalem, Idumea, and the regions across the Jordan and around Tyre and Sidon (Mark 3:8). This woman has heard about this man of God who heals all manner of sickness and drives out demons in everyone who comes to him.
Let’s review for a moment all the types of people who have come to Jesus for help. There are the sick. Regardless of their ailment, Jesus heals everyone. There are the unclean – the lepers. He cleanses them even though they are outcasts who ought to be avoided, especially by a holy man. He drives out demons from the demon possessed. He befriends public sinners. He, in other words, helps everyone who comes to him no matter his status or condition.
The woman coming to Jesus is a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She is Hellenistic, i.e. she is raised in the Greek culture of the Roman Empire. She is a native of that territory north of Galilee that is known as Syrian Phoenicia. She is neither a Jew living in Gentile territory, nor a Gentile who has adopted the Jewish faith and culture. Mark wants us to know that. She in no way has claim to God’s covenant people.
What is her need? She has a daughter who is demon possessed. As Matthew quotes the mother, her daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession. We are used to this by now. That’s hardly a difficult problem for Jesus. It is no effort on his part to call a demon out and send him on his way. Jesus has already demonstrated his compassion and willingness to heal. We’ve already seen another parent come to him to heal his daughter, and Jesus goes out of his way to help.
He then comes up with a response that, mildly speaking, is shocking. 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.” Excuse me? Wait a second, Mark. Jesus said what? He to referred this mother’s suffering daughter as to a dog?
Mothers, you wouldn’t have trouble with that, would you? If you took your gravely ill daughter to a doctor and asked him to heal her, it wouldn’t bother you if he dismissed you by saying that he was in medicine to help children, not dogs? I have read this passage many times and I still cannot read these words without shock and embarrassment.
Review the story. Mark makes clear the intensity of the mother’s emotions. As soon as she hears that Jesus is near she goes to him. She falls at his feet. She begs his help. Her emotions and behavior are the same as the father who sought Jesus’ help for his daughter. For him, Jesus immediately goes with him to heal the daughter. For her, well, what is the problem? This is not like Jesus. He hasn’t hesitated to help anyone, much less speak so offensively. All the more reason his response is so baffling. He is not someone of whom we might say, “He’s a nice guy, but sometimes he can be out of sorts.” If anything, he is too willing to help people in need.