Mark 7 24Jesus 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. 25In 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. 26The 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 their dogs.” 28“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”
Is this really the Jesus who welcomed all sinners, Jews and Gentiles alike? His harsh response seems to indicate otherwise – why is he all of a sudden unwilling to offer this Greek woman healing, and even willing to go so far as to call her a dog. Yet upon further inspection, he clearly does not believe this, because in the end he honors her response and heals her daughter. Either he had the fastest change of heart recorded in history, or we’re missing something. And the something I think we’re missing is tone. What if Jesus was being satirical? He was anticipating healing her daughter from the start, but in the presence of his disciples and whoever else may have been present, he decided to make this a teachable moment. The common attitude of the Jews at the time was exactly as Jesus had said – the Gentiles were nothing but dogs, God’s Messiah was only for them. By giving voice to this unspoken attitude, he brought it to light and then shot it down for all to see that this attitude is wrong. He allowed them to root him on as he turned away this inferior ethnicity, and then did the exact opposite of what they wanted him to do. Had he simply said “yes,” right away, the Jews present might not have noticed that this was a teaching moment. They might not have realized how this social attitude had seeped into their beliefs, that they had an attitude problem that needed correcting.
Secondly, the woman is commended for her humility. Jesus talks often of humility.
Matthew 6 1“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.
Luke 18 9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10“Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
In addition to showing her mercy, he directly praises her reply, for she does not deny that she is a dog but rather claims that even the dogs receive God’s grace. She recognizes that apart from God, we are nothing, but that he has made us ALL in his image and has given us ALL an opportunity to know him, regardless of the opinions of other men, like the Jews who claimed to know God’s plan and held that his grace was only meant for them.
In the end, it seems that Jesus’s plan was to make a seemingly common incident where a woman asks for healing into a profound teachable moment, demonstrating the equality of all people and the importance of humility.