Series on MarkIn the history of verbal sparring, no one was quite as good as Jesus. His enemies tried to trap Him with all manner of challenges, including sending spies who pretended to be sincere to try to catch Him in some contradiction they could use against Him later on. But the more they threw at Him, the more He excelled in His answers, to the point that eventually they resigned themselves to complete silence.

But then in Mark 7 Jesus went to the Gentile regions north of Galilee where He finally met His match. A woman of Syrophoenician origin (today’s Lebanon, roughly), came to Jesus with a request. Her little girl was possessed by a demon. Jesus was trying to get some respite in the house of a friend away from the multitudes. He had now achieved celebrity status, even in somewhat foreign territory.

This woman probably had to speak to Jesus in Greek. She didn’t have an invitation to come to the house, she didn’t believe the same God Jesus did, she was a woman, and she had a daughter plagued by an impure spirit. It’s no wonder that in the parallel account Matthew says that the disciples wanted Jesus to turn her away because she kept begging Jesus to make her daughter well.

To test her and to teach the disciples a lesson about the reach of God’s good news, Jesus referred to a parable that was commonly found in the mouth of a Jew: “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” Actually the original parable was harsher, it simply said, “dogs.” Jesus seemed to have softened it here using the word for “puppies.”

Yes, for sure this sounds a little harsh. Jews, because of their laws of ritual purification and defilement, didn’t come into contact with non-Jews. They often referred to Gentiles as “dogs” just as Gentiles referred to them as “haters of humanity.” Jesus had stated that He had come first to the lost sheep of Israel, but He was anticipating here something that would become a huge issue to the nascent church in Jerusalem after His resurrection – was the Gospel also meant for non-Jews?

The woman immediately understood what Jesus was saying. She didn’t argue with Him. She didn’t demand an apology for His use of an offensive racial analogy. She didn’t demand her rights. She agreed with His premise – that Jesus came to the Jews first – and she was fine with it. But she didn’t stop there. She said, “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

In other words, she was not asking for the main course. She only wanted the part others didn’t and she wouldn’t stop until she got it. The crumbs were hers and her daughter’s and she would beg for them until she was heard.

I just love what this woman did. She showed an incredible ability to understand the message Jesus had been trying to teach his disciples. They were still clueless after all that time with Him, but she got it after only a few minutes in His presence. She understood parables which the disciples were always asking for a private audience to try to understand.

This foreign woman apparently grasped the Messiah’s mission better than the Israel did. She knew instantly that there was plenty of surplus associated with the work of Jesus. What He provided for Israel and the disciples had enough left over that could reach even one such as herself!

No wonder Jesus said, “What an incredible answer. For that, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

Now, there were scores of times when Jesus healed because people believed or because others believed for them. But in this case, Jesus healed because a woman gave Him a brilliant answer that showed more understanding about the Kingdom than the disciples had.

The woman was stoked – her daughter was whole again. I just wonder if I will see her in heaven one day, not eating the crumbs but sitting at the table where the great banquet will take place. She may even be a guest of honor.

Pastor Ivanildo C. Trindade

Lead Pastor, Grace Church, Lititz, PA