Summary: Jessu went to those those outside of the covenant community of Israel to show God’s love for all people.
14th Sunday after Pentecost
10 September 2006
LOVE BEHIND ENEMY LINES
Text: Mark 7:24-37
24 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. 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. 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 the dogs." 28 "Lord," she replied, "even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs." 29 Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter." 30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. 32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. 33 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. 34 He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, "Ephphatha!" (which means "Be opened!"). 35 At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. 37 People were overwhelmed with amazement. "He has done everything well," they said. "He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak."
In these two stories we have examples of Jesus’ love going behind enemy lines into pagan territory and reaching the foreigners beyond the boundaries of Israel. The first is a Syro-Phoenician woman and the second a deaf man from the pagan region of the Decapolis.
Jesus treats the Syro-Phoenician woman quite rudely and there is no getting around that fact. This is even clearer in Matthew’s version (15:21-28). Mark doesn’t tell us exactly what the woman said when she made her request but Matthew tells us that she cried out “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly” and that when Jesus heard this he “did not answer a word.” So the first thing he does is ignore her.
The next thing he seems to do is disqualify her whole race from receiving the benefit of his ministry. When the disciples urge him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us,” Jesus seems to disqualify her whole race when he answers “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
He has ignored her; he has racially slurred her; and now he just comes right out and calls her a dog. Matthew tells us she knelt before him (Mark says she begged him) and cried out “Lord, help me!” and he replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
The amazing thing is that none of this deterred her. She just flat out contradicts Jesus in Matthew’s account when she says. “Yes it is, Lord. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” What incredible tenacity! What holy stubbornness! What great faith! And this last thing is what Jesus ultimately commends her for. Jesus said to her, in Matthew‘s account, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour. Her faith was in her answer as Mark’s account makes clear, “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.