1 March 2013Mark 7:24-37
"She answered him, 'Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs.' Then he said to her, 'For saying that, you may go - the demon has left your daughter.'" (vv. 28-29)
This passage contains two stories of people being healed. They
are connected because both of those healed are not Jews, but
Jews and Gentiles were not comfortable neighbours. Jewish culture and practices were radically different, and set Jewish people apart from those living around them. Pagan Gentiles worshipped other gods, and so were seen by Jews as idol-worshippers. To be in contact with Gentiles made strict Jews unclean, so they could not perform religious duties. A rabbi (a teacher of Jewish Law) who taught about 50 years later said that "he who eats with an idolater is like unto one who eats with a dog".
Jesus is approached in private by a Gentile woman. This action was certain to cause offence to any devout Jewish man. Jesus speaks as though offended, as he rejects the woman's request that he help her daughter. Not only does he reject her, but he refers to her as a dog (verse 27). It is remarkable that after such a rebuff the woman persists. She makes her almost witty reply about the dogs eating the crumbs under the table (verse 28) and Jesus changes his mind.
Because this whole conversation is cast in terms of food it points to other stories around it. Earlier Jesus has fed a great crowd of Jewish people (Mark 6:33-44). In his insult to the woman, he says that the Jewish people (the "children") need feeding. After she has persuaded him to feed her with crumbs, Jesus travels deeper into Gentile territory, and as he returns to Galilee feeds another crowd (Mark 8:1-9). Although Mark does not say so explicitly, the context suggests that the crowd is Gentile. Is Mark suggesting that Jesus recognised the spiritual hunger of Gentiles because of this woman's words?
The deaf and dumb man is also healed (verses 32-37). If feeding is used as a metaphor for hearing God's word, then here is someone who cannot hear and cannot be fed. But now Jesus 'feeds' him - a Gentile man, and he hears and speaks. Just a few verses later there is a contrast when Jesus finds his own Jewish disciples unable to hear and understand what he has to say to them (Mark 8:14-21).
- What divisions in our society do we feel as deeply as that between Jews and Gentiles in Jesus' time? Who would you find it difficult to welcome into your personal space?
- How are you fed by these stories? What is it that inspires and sustains you?