Mark 7:24-37 (AD 29)\
There was a seeming contradiction in Jesus’ ministry. Aspects of his work that seemed in conflict with each other.
On the one hand, he came to preach, teach, heal, save, and generally be about the gathering of the lost sheep of Israel to be saved for their Father in heaven. For maximum exposure in pursuit of that goal, as his brothers told him, he should have gone to the capital city of Jerusalem and spread his influence there, at the epicenter of Jewish society (John 7:3). His brothers figured that being stuck in the underpopulated, uncultured north wasn’t helping him.
But that was neither the only nor his absolute aim. He also was determined to reach those most neglected by society, and to help people through one-to-one contact. He also knew when he was supposed to. Going straight to the capital would have brought his ministry to a premature end.
In this story, in year two of his three-year public ministry, Jesus was in the far north of the country. He tested a Greek woman by seemingly brushing her off with the apparently highly offensive put-down of, “First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (v.27). We don’t know how, but the woman clearly understood Jesus’ reference to Gentiles as being ‘dogs’, but wanted nothing more from Jesus than what he had to spare.
Why did Jesus talk like that?
First, his use of a non-Biblical saying didn’t mean he endorsed the saying. (Similarly, Paul the apostle said, “I have the right to do anything” (NIV)/”Everything is lawful” (ESV) (1 Corinthians 10:23)). Secondly, the principle behind it was correct: Jesus was sent primarily to the Jews (ref: Matthew 10:5; 15:24). After the resurrection, and more fully since the time of Paul the apostle, that divide was broken down (ref: Ephesians 2:14).
Thirdly, the Greek word translated ‘dog’ isn’t the typical insulting word used to refer to corpse-eating garbage dogs. Rather, it was ‘kunarion’ which refers to a small dog that could be kept in the house as a pet. Hence the woman’s reply uses Jesus’ word ‘kunarion’ and makes reference to eating what falls off the table in someone’s house.
Finally, both Jesus and the woman use a word translated ‘children’. In the original, Jesus used a word denoting purely biological children, whereas the woman’s expression referred to all the junior members of a household, including servants, making her point about wanting mercy extended beyond the Israelites. Something Jesus was already doing to a limited degree, and did again here.
We need to have the same faith and humility as the Greek woman.
We need to beg for mercy. Not hopelessly, but with certainty, for our own salvation. But also for the salvation of others.
We need to know our place, that we deserve nothing, that we’re not a special class of privileged people.
And like her we need to go to the one who can help us, came to help us, and wants to help us.