Mark 7:24-30: Jesus and the Syro-Phoenician Woman

The sermon at church this morning was entitled “Humility: The Ultimate Faith Additive.”

The text for the sermon was Mark 7:24-30.  In this text, Jesus went to the region of Tyre, and he found a house there where he could stay.  According to the text, Jesus did not want anyone to know he was there.  But a Syro-Phoenician woman, whose daughter was demon-possessed, heard that Jesus was there.  She came to him, bowed at his feet, and asked Jesus to cast the demon from her daughter.  Jesus replied, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”  The woman then said, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”  Jesus responded, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.”  The woman went home, and her daughter was in bed.  The demon had left her.

(In my description of the story above, I draw some from the language of the New Revised Standard Version.)

The person preaching to us this morning made a variety of points about this story.  She noted that this story occurs after Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees.  The Pharisees had questioned Jesus because his disciples were eating without ritually washing their hands, and Jesus criticized the Pharisees, then taught his slow-to-understand disciples that true defilement is within human beings.  According to the preacher this morning, the reason that Jesus in Mark 7:24-30 was in Tyre and did not want anyone to find him was that he was frustrated.  She said that this was Jesus’ “human side.”  Jesus and the person in whose house he was staying probably did not want that Syro-Phoenician woman bothering them, the preacher said, but the Syro-Phoenician woman was not going away: she wanted Jesus to heal her daughter.  But she was humble about it.  She did not get defensive when Jesus compared her to a dog.  And her stance towards Jesus was a humble stance.  The preacher said that Jesus is an additive that makes a difference in a person’s life, and that humility is an additive to one’s faith in Jesus that makes a difference.

I have a variety of thoughts.

  1.  I have had issues with humility and worship as of late.  In God’s eyes, according to my understanding, it is not enough for us to respect God as superior to us; no, we have to love, worship, and adore him.  But I have difficulty loving and worshiping God, if he is a certain way.  As usual, I have been struggling with those passages in which Jesus says that God will not forgive us if we do not forgive others (Matthew 6:15; Mark 11:25-26).  I hate those passages (assuming my understanding of them is correct).  They seem to me to condition God’s forgiveness and acceptance on things that are difficult to do, things that few, if any, people do perfectly.  I have a hard time worshiping God and calling him a God of lavish love and grace, if that is the way that he is.  Plus, I am repulsed by the idea of groveling before God.  “Oh please, master God, disregard my doubts.  Don’t beat me or my loved ones!  Bring good things to my life!  I promise I won’t have bad thoughts about you!”  Not a very attractive picture, is it?
  2. Still, I do respect the Syro-Phoenician woman.  She loved her daughter, and she was willing to suffer rejection and indignity so that her daughter might be healed.  That is a parent’s love!  I do not see much indication in the text that this woman loved Jesus.  She loved her daughter.
  3. I may not like grovelling, thinking that such a stance is beneath me.  There have been times, though, when I have felt dependence on God.  I look within myself and see depravity, and I realize that I depend on God to be good.  I am afraid, and I throw myself on God’s love and mercy.  I do not look at those times negatively.  They are times when I magnify God and feel his strength and support.  I can also identify with feeling a need for Jesus—-for himself, and also for the peace and joy that he can bring—-and tenaciously praying to him, even when he seems to be silent.  In this sense, I respect the Syro-Phoenician woman.
  4. I do not entirely understand Jesus’ rationale for turning the woman down.  As the preacher said this morning, Jesus’ mission at this time was to Israel, and this woman was not an Israelite.  I guess my struggle is with Jesus’ analogy, as Jesus compares his miracles of healing with the children’s food.  Jesus says that it is not fitting for him to take the children’s food and to give it to dogs.  The children represent the Israelites, while the dogs represent the Gentiles.  But is there not enough food to go around, even for the so-called dogs?  It is not as if Jesus only has so many miracles to perform, for Jesus can perform miracles whenever he wants (well, then again, there is that troublesome Mark 6:5 passage, which says that Jesus could not do miracles in Nazareth on account of the lack of faith there).  Plus, it is not as if Jesus at this particular time was feeding the children: Jesus ran away from Israel to go to Tyre and get away from the children.  I may be asking the wrong questions, for Jesus’ point was probably that his blessings at this point were for Israel, so that Israel would repent and take her role in God’s plan; they were not for everybody, at that stage.  To give the blessings to others would undermine or compromise Jesus’ mission at that stage, he may have thought.
  5. The preacher’s point about Jesus making a difference in a person’s life resonated with me.  I recently read Robert Price’s Reason-Driven Life, which was a response to evangelical pastor Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life.  Price was critiquing Warren’s suggestions on how Christians can share their faith, for Price seemed to regard that as a canned approach.  One of Warren’s suggestions was that Christians share the difference that Jesus makes in their life.  I find this suggestion to be helpful.  What difference does Jesus make in my life?  I have someone to go to with my problems.  I have someone who helps me to be and to do good.  I think that every Christian should ask himself or herself: What difference does Jesus make in my life?  That is not necessarily canned, for it can lead to a more authentic faith.
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About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. I study the History of Biblical Interpretation at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio, as part of its Ph.D. program. I have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting.
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