The Faith of a Gentile Woman
24 Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn't want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn't keep it a secret. 25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter.
Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, "First I should feed the children - my own family, the Jews. It isn't right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs."
28 She replied, "That's true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children's plates."
29 "Good answer!" he said. "Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter." 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.
Seeking rest from his wearisome opponents, Jesus heads into Gentile territory. There he is immediately greeted by a Gentile woman whose daughter is possessed by a demon. Refusing to take No for an answer, the woman's faith is rewarded.
Region of Tyre (Mark 7:24)
Here we find the very human Jesus seeking rest by retreating to a "distinctly heathen land. ... There was too much excitement among the people, too much bitterness among the Pharisees, too much suspicion on the part of Herod Antipas, too much dulness [sic] on the part of the disciples for Jesus to remain in Galilee."574 This passage is often viewed with embarrassment, for it appears that Jesus is being "harsh and unsympathetic,"575 refers to Gentiles as dogs, and is contradicted by a pagan woman.576 (Once a minister in a liberal denomination was preaching on this passage and actually went so far as to conjecture that Jesus must have been having a bad day!) There is, however, much more to the story than first meets the eye.
A woman (Mark 7:25)
One commentator describes the woman who approached Jesus as: "A Greek in religion, a Syrian in tongue, a Phoenician in race."577 In a parallel account, Matthew reports that the woman twice addressed Jesus by a Messianic title ("Lord" and "Son of David"), thus demonstrating her faith in him as the Messiah (Matthew 15:22). (Along these lines, it may be significant that the language used to describe the woman's asking [Greek erotao] frequently suggests familiar or equal footing between the petitioner and the one being petitioned.578) The woman's faith was both sincere and determined. She "fell at [Jesus'] feet" (v. 25) - a simple yet poignant act which indicated "her humility, reverence, submissiveness, and anxiety"579 - and "begged" (v. 26, "kept asking" NASB) him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. "The woman by her persistent plea demonstrated her faith in the person of Christ. She a Gentile (dog), asked for what the children (Israel) cast aside. Because of that faith, her request was granted; her daughter was healed immediately."580
As renowned Bible teacher Warren Wiersbe points out, this Gentile woman had many obstacles to overcome, including:
her nationality - Normally Jews did not associate with Gentiles.
her sex - Jewish men looked down on women, and a Jewish man would have very little dealings with a strange woman.
Satan - One of the Devil's demons had taken control of the woman's daughter.
the disciples - They wanted Jesus to send the woman away (see Matthew 15:23).
Jesus - He appeared reluctant to help.581
It is helpful to keep several points in mind when examining the exchange that took place between Jesus and the Gentile woman, including:
With the cross looming ever larger, and with many of his followers having defected (see John 6),582 Jesus had begun spending less time with the crowds and more time with his disciples in order to better train and prepare them.583
Jesus' first priority was "'the lost sheep of the house of Israel'" (see Matthew 15:24, NASB).
Jesus never turned away a Gentile who came to him for help (see Gentile (v. 26) below).
"[A]t no time, certainly, did God shut up his grace among the Jews in such a manner as not to bestow a small taste of them on the Gentiles."584
The woman was seeking a crumb of kindness at the same time Jesus was feeding his disciples.585
Dogs (Mark 7:27-28)
"He said, 'Stand in line and take your turn. The children get fed first. If there's any left over, the dogs get it.' She said, 'Of course, Master. But don't dogs under the table get scraps dropped by the children?' Jesus was impressed. 'You're right! On your way! Your daughter is no longer disturbed. The demonic affliction is gone'" (The Message). The "dogs" referred to by both Jesus and the woman were "'lap dogs, house dogs,' as opposed to dogs on the street."586 Hence it "does not refer to wild dogs (scavenging animals roaming around the countryside) in this context, but to small dogs taken in as house pets. It is thus not a derogatory term per se, but is instead intended by Jesus to indicate the privileged position of the Jews (especially his disciples) as the initial recipients of Jesus' ministry. The woman's response of faith and her willingness to accept whatever Jesus would offer pleased him to such an extent that he granted her request."587
While "[wild, scavenger] dogs" was indeed used by some Jews as a pejorative for Gentiles, such is not the case here.588 As one source explains: "In the Orient dogs have no owners but run wild and serve as scavengers for all garbage and offal. Such 'dogs' the Jews called all Gentiles - ownerless, in every way unclean, always to be driven off. It is an entirely different conception when Jesus speaks of 'the little pet dogs' in referring to the Gentiles. These have owners who keep them even in the house and feed them by throwing them bits from the table. No Oriental street dogs were allowed in a house, to say nothing of a dining-room or at dining tables."589 Rather than "resenting Christ's words about giving the children's bread to the dogs (Gentiles)," the woman "instantly turned it to the advantage of her plea for her little daughter."590 Jesus' resistance in helping the woman was not meant "to extinguish the woman's faith, but rather to whet her zeal and inflame her ardor."591 In effect, Jesus was inviting "this woman to express the faith that would eventually come to be expected of the Gentiles."592
Gentile (Mark 7:26)
Regarding the relationship between the pre-crucified-and-resurrected Jesus and the Gentiles, we can note the following.
Despite Judaism's generally negative attitude toward Gentiles, it welcomed with open arms "a true proselyte who would forsake paganism and become a Jew, both spiritually and nationally." What's more, it was believed "that there would be a massive conversion of Gentiles on the Last Day," although "this conversion is frequently portrayed in terms of Gentiles flocking to Zion at the last day, not in terms of Jewish missionaries reaching out to Gentiles (cf. Isaiah 19:23; Zechariah 8:21; Jeremiah 3:17)." While in Jesus' day "Gentile" was synonymous with "sinner," Jesus refused to adopt the popular mindset that longed for the day when judgment and vengeance would be visited on the Gentiles. While Jesus did not engage in a full-blown mission to the Gentiles, nonetheless he "attracted great numbers of Gentiles (Mark 3:7–12; Matthew 15:29–31). ... he ministered to them and preached the Gospel to them (Mark 5:1–20; 7:24–30; Matthew 8:5–13 par. Luke 7:1–10; John 4:1–42; 12:20–22). ... He castigates sinners (both Gentiles and Jews) and invites all to repent, whether Jew or Gentile." With the exception of the (half-Jewish) Samaritan woman at the well, Jesus neither initiated contact with Gentiles nor failed to minister to those who came to him. To summarize: Jesus "focused his efforts on the Jewish nation and its obligation to receive the Messiah of the final days. His emphasis on the Jews, however, did not exclude Gentile participation in the kingdom during his ministry. However, Gentile participation was nonetheless an exception and not the rule." (Interestingly enough, within Mark the fist open confession of Jesus as the "Son of God" ["or a son of God or son of a god" NASB margin] is made by a Gentile: a Roman centurion present at Jesus' crucifixion [Mark 15:39].)593
Tasting is Believing
The story is told of a well-educated skeptic who enjoyed giving public lectures on the foolishness of religious faith in general and the Christian faith in particular. He would normally end his tirades by asking if anyone in the audience had any questions.
On one such occasion the speaker's audience included the man who had been the town drunkard until he was converted to Christ. This man politely raised his hand and said that he had a question. He then walked to the front of the audience, pulled an orange out of his coat pocket, peeled it, and ate the entire thing - all without a word.
Then the former-drunkard-turned-Christian asked the speaker if the orange that had just been eaten was sweet or sour.
By now very angry, the speaker called the man an idiot and asked how he (the speaker) could possibly know when he had not tasted it.
To which the born-again Christian replied, "'And how can you know anything about Christ if you have not tried Him?'"594
"Gentile dogs," said the Jews, "can know nothing of God." By her persistent faith, however, the Gentile woman who came to Christ proved them wrong. In response to her faith, she experienced what the Pharisees did not know because they refused to taste it for themselves: the love, grace and mercy of God in Christ.
??? What does it mean to "persist"? What can this woman's example teach us about how to persist in our faith?