There is a saying you have probably heard before. It goes like this: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” We all know this is a lie. Honestly, there have been times in my life when I would have rather been hit with a stick or stone, than to be called a name that hurts me to the core. Even Jesus told his disciples that it is not about the food you eat – what you put intoyour mouth, but the words that comeoutof your mouth! He explains that our words – what we say to others demonstrates what is in our heart. Our words are heartfelt whether for the good or the bad!
Therefore, in Mark 7:24-37, I was completely thrown off when Jesus just after giving this teaching to his disciples, encounters a Gentile (non-Jew) woman who knows who Jesus is and bows at his feet. She tells Jesus about her daughter who needs his healing. Jesus says to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v.27). In other words, Jesus is telling her that his salvation is for the Jews, not the Gentiles, especially a Gentile woman whose status in society is at the very bottom. Jesus calls her a dog! This Gentile woman, in her desperation for her daughter’s sake, is witty and bold in her response. She says to Jesus, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs”(v.28). In other words, she tells Jesus that ‘yes’ perhaps she is a dog, but nonetheless, I will sit under the table and wait for the children (the Jews) to drop a crumb. Because of her brave and bold response, Jesus heals her daughter.
How do we explain Jesus’ behavior? Why would Jesus ever call someone – anyone, a dog? Was he just tired? Did he just didn’t want to deal with her? Did the Gentile woman change his attitude or mind after her response? Did her bold faith move God to action and to respond? Did she possibly teach Jesus a thing or two about humanity? Why the name-calling? Why did Jesus call her a dog?
I believe we have to read on to understand and know the answer.
After Jesus leaves Tyre, he encounters a man who is deaf and mute. After spitting and touching the man’s ears, Jesus looks up into the heavens, and says, “Ephphatha,”which means, “Be Opened”(v.34). For me, that is a loaded statement! “Be opened” for me means that our hearts need to be opened! Our minds need to be opened! Our arms need to be opened! Opened to what? Be opened to others who are different than we are. Be opened to others whose skin is a different color, born of different ethnicity, social and economic status! Be opened to God’s possibilities!
When the Syrophoenecian, Gentile woman approached Jesus, he put her in her place! He wanted her to know, his disciples to know, and you and me to know, that this woman is not worthy of what Jesus had to offer. Here is a woman whom in those days, meant absolutely nothing to their culture and society. She knew it. She knew she was unworthy, underserving, but yet, unrelenting. “But, all I need is a crumb – I’ll sit under the Lord’s table because a crumb will be enough grace, compassion, and mercy, to sustain me for a lifetime.” This woman – this non-Jew woman was opened to God’s possibilities!
If we think for one second that we might be better than others because of our skin color, our ethnicity, our social and economic status, then we have to ask the question, “Who are the dogs now? And, who are the children?” When we think we are more deserving than others to receive God’s salvation before others, we are headed down a very slippery slope.
Here is the thing…If Jesus were to stand before you, and put you in your place – who you really are – unworthy, underserving, and a sinner in every way…
Would each one of us not be willing to sit under the Lord’s table, begging for just a “Crumb”of God’s grace, compassion, and mercy?
I know I would.