June 3 – Jesus Ventures into Gentile Territory

Mark 7: 24 – 36 NLT

“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.”

Jesus and his disciples have been incredibly busy. They tried to go to a remote place for some rest, but the crowds followed them there and needed to be fed. Coming back into Galilee didn’t make things less busy. So Jesus leaves Galilee and heads to an area about 20 miles north of Capernaum which was considered primarily Gentile territory. His name and stories of miracles have preceded him as a Gentile woman comes into the house where he is staying and falls at his feet asking him to cast a demon out of her daughter.

As Christians today, when we read this account in Mark, we likely cringe when Jesus says, “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.” To call Gentiles “dogs” is really rude. Once again, I turned to commentaries to see what they had to say. Steve Wilmhurst in A Ransom for Many says this: “she is a Greek-speaker, culturally alien to Israel. She is from Phoenicia, the coastal strip of what is now Lebanon – administratively it is part of Syria, but what counts is her: she has nothing to do with the Jews. To understand what this means we must remember how the Jews thought of the Gentiles. One of the daily prayers used by Jewish men of the time went like this: ‘Blessed are you, Lord our God, ruler of the universe, who has not created me a woman; who has not created me a Gentile; who has not created me a slave, or an ignoramus.’ But here is a Gentile woman, the lowest of the low for a devout Jewish man. So how will Jesus, a devout Jewish man, respond to her? Perhaps given that background, his response is not quite so unexpected, but it still shocks us (v.27). His meaning is plain enough: he is here to feed the children, not the dogs.” …

There are two reasons why he speaks as he does. One is that he is simply telling the truth. Jesus’ mission at this point is focused on the Jews. Two thousand years of history, beginning with Abraham and running down through the centuries since, have not quite finished yet. Everything about Jesus is Jewish. His royal ancestry through the line of David; his birth in Bethlehem, ‘royal David’s city’; his religious upbringing; his visits to the Temple; the language he speaks – all are Jewish; and all reflect the fact that for two thousand years God has been dealing with the world through the nation of Israel and the Jewish race. If the rest of the world want to encounter the one, true living God, they need to go up to Jerusalem and become Jews. Up to this point, they are the children and we Gentiles are the dogs. Jesus’ mission continues that story. His ministry of teaching, healing and driving out demons is for the Jews. The children must be fed: he cannot take their bread and fling it to the dogs. The Jews come first in the purposes of God.

But there is a second reason for Jesus’ response. We know that by the way the story concludes. In the end, Jesus will not reject this woman. This verdict about the children and the dogs is not the final word. Jesus is testing her to see how she herself will respond to such a blunt judgement. If Jesus’ response shocks us, the woman’s reply to him is breathtaking (v.28). She makes just a small change to the picture he has painted. In her picture, the dogs are under the table, where they can pick up the crumbs that fall from the master’s table – but they are still dogs! She is willing to take the lowly position he has assigned her. In effect she is saying, I understand that the Jews are your first love and they demand all your attention. But surely there are some small leftovers for me – surely you can drop me a few crumbs – and that is all I am asking! Almost unique in the gospel story, this Gentile woman, this outsider, holds her own in a conversation with the Lord Jesus. She puts his own dull, male disciples to shame! She does so, not by being proud and laying down the Law, as the Pharisees have done; not by trying to outwit him with smart arguments, as the Sadducees would do; but wonderfully, by listening to his words; looking into his face; and asking him for mercy.”

There was a definite divide between Jews and Gentiles. For over 2000 years, the Jews had been God’s special people, a light to the world around them. Jesus’ coming was going to change that. In the various gospel accounts, we see Jesus interacting with the Gentiles. None were ever turned aside, even though they may have been questioned about their faith. Paul talks about this divide in Ephesians, and we’ll take a look at what was said there:

“Don’t forget that you Gentiles used to be outsiders. You were called “uncircumcised heathens” by the Jews, who were proud of their circumcision, even though it affected only their bodies and not their hearts. 12 In those days you were living apart from Christ. You were excluded from citizenship among the people of Israel, and you did not know the covenant promises God had made to them. You lived in this world without God and without hope. 13 But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ.

14 For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. 15 He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. 16 Together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.

17 He brought this Good News of peace to you Gentiles who were far away from him, and peace to the Jews who were near. 18 Now all of us can come to the Father through the same Holy Spirit because of what Christ has done for us.

19 So now you Gentiles are no longer strangers and foreigners. You are citizens along with all of God’s holy people. You are members of God’s family. 20 Together, we are his house, built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. And the cornerstone is Christ Jesus himself. 21 We are carefully joined together in him, becoming a holy temple for the Lord. 22 Through him you Gentiles are also being made part of this dwelling where God lives by his Spirit.” (Romans 2: 11 – 22)

God’s love and forgiveness are for all people today. We can be critical of the Jews in Jesus’ day thinking they were incredibly prejudiced and intolerant. But, we need to be careful that we don’t divide people into categories based on race, economic differences, education, job status, etc. “For this is how God loved the WORLD: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3: 16)

“Jesus Heals a Deaf Man

31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him.

33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!

36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”

Jesus is now going to the east side of the Sea of Galilee, an area not far from the place where the herd of pigs drowned when possessed by demons. Mark is the only one who includes this story in his gospel. Thanks to the commentaries I’ve read, this story is a bit unusual and has a prophetic message.

Friends brought this man who was deaf and had a speech impediment to Jesus; he didn’t come on his own. Jesus takes him away to a more private place which is unusual. It appears that Jesus wanted this man to completely understand what was happening. Jesus could have healed him by just saying so; in fact, Jesus doesn’t even have to be with someone to heal them. He had just healed the Gentile woman’s daughter by saying the demons were gone when the girl was in her home. Here Jesus puts his fingers in the man’s ears – as if to make sure the man realized that Jesus would do something for his hearing. He then touched the man’s tongue, again making sure the man knew something would happen with his speech issue. Jesus looked up to heaven helping the man be aware that his healing came from God. Then Jesus used a word rarely used in the Bible – ephphatha. It is also used in Isaiah in a passage that describes the Messiah bringing a new age. There is a verse in the New Testament that also talks about Jesus’ coming bringing a new time. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5: 17 NIV)

Mark is deliberately telling us stories that show who Jesus really is – God Himself come to earth. He is bringing a new time – a time where the traditions of the Pharisees are no longer a way to earn God’s favour, a time when Gentiles will also have God’s healing power, a time when people who don’t understand who Jesus is will come to know him personally.

Today’s devotions are more of a teaching/learning experience. I appreciate getting to understand what the Bible says, and to learn about practices or language that help me understand how complex the Bible is. This reinforces my conviction that the Bible is truth, and not some fairy- tale myth.

One Reply to “June 3 – Jesus Ventures into Gentile Territory”

  1. Audrey, some good insight into a difficult passage re dogs and crumbs. What an incredible example Christ leaves for us to follow. thanks, Jan

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