Reading in Mark 7 today, I’ve always wondered why Jesus spoke so seemingly harshly to the Syrophenician woman who asked Jesus to cast a devil out of her young daughter.
Jesus dealt with each person as an individual. When specific people came to Him with questions, He answered them the way THEY needed to be answered. When the rich man came and asked how He could be saved, Jesus addressed more than just salvation – He addressed the one thing that rich man needed to take off the throne of his heart. He didn’t deal in platitudes, He didn’t sugarcoat. He said what that particular person needed to hear.
So Jesus’ response to this Greek woman has always baffled me. It seems so harsh, so unprecedented anywhere else in Jesus’ dealings with anyone else. I mean, look at the woman at the well. She wasn’t fully Jewish, she was what the Jews then called a half-breed, someone the rest of them despised. Yet Jesus treated her with respect, and didn’t act as if she wasn’t worthy.
The Greek woman He seems to treat differently, as if she really doesn’t deserve any respect. Frankly, nowhere else in the Gospels does Jesus treat someone this way – whether Jew or Greek.
So, I have to wonder. Was something going on in this woman’s life that needed to be addressed? I mean, that IS how Jesus dealt with people, and the Bible doesn’t always tell us what that other person needed. It’s just something Jesus dealt with, in a public way, and yet kept her business private at the same time. There’s a hidden exchange going on in this passage between Jesus and this woman. I’ve always thought it, always wondered at it.
Greeks often held themselves superior to other peoples. They had slaves, they saw Jews as inferior, and probably other people, too. So I wonder if this woman had called other people ‘dogs’, had degraded her slaves, treated people so badly that she called them unworthy to eat at her table. What if she was the bigot, and Jesus was pointing this out to her? What if she hated Jews, and now was coming to a Jew for help as if she could hide the darkness and bitterness in her heart towards Jews? What if Jesus’ words rang in her heart like a foghorn, cutting away the cloudy fog of hatred, and opening up to her mind exactly how mean she’d become?
In verse 27 of Mark 7, Jesus says something that to me seems particularly pointed. He says, “Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto dogs.” I wonder if Jesus said this because it was a quote from her. I wonder if this woman said something similar, or even exactly the same, about someone else dining at her table. I wonder if this was how she was treating her slaves, or a ward under her care, or the poor in her city. It was this quote of Jesus’ that seems to be pointed directly to her, and it was this quote of His that she reacts to.
She is humbled by it.
In verse 28 of Mark 7, the woman seems to acquiesce to whatever message Jesus is directing at her, and only her. She says that the dogs under the table eat the crumbs that the children leave. She seems to be placing herself in with the dogs under the table now, instead of assuming she’s a child of the household – or even the mistress of the table.
In verse 29 of Mark 7, Jesus cites her saying from verse 28 as the reason He will heal her daughter. It was her finally coming to humility that did it. Her finally admitting she wasn’t superior to others, that she wasn’t better than the Jews – than Jesus Himself. She considered herself going to an inferior to help, but she wasn’t helped until Jesus made her see the darkness in her heart and helped her overcome it.
So, while Jesus in this passage seems uncharacteristically harsh, I wonder if it isn’t exactly what the Greek woman needed to hear. I understand the passage doesn’t go into specifics on this woman, this is all conjecture on my part, and I certainly wouldn’t draw any doctrines out of this speculation. But from other instances, it does seem to make sense.
(Yes, I know - my writer-senses are tingling. I sense a Biblical fiction story coming out of this.)
And it speaks to me, too. Jesus always dealt with people as individuals, giving them what they needed to hear. So often we think of Jesus as saving the world, and He did. But Jesus also deals with me as an individual. He deals with me on a personal level, He will address things to me, things that apply to me in a special and personal way. Things that perhaps the rest of the world doesn’t know, but Jesus knows, and Jesus won’t let them remain in me just because other people don’t know. Jesus addresses them, and expects me to come clean, and expects me to just submit to Him.
And Jesus loves me. It’s safe to do that. It’s safe to let Jesus be a personal savior, knowing the ins and outs of my mind and heart.
Same for you, too. I might not know the ins and outs of your personal walk, but Jesus does. And you can bet that while His way may seem harsh for the moment, it’s for your good, for your best. Let Jesus be your personal Savior, not just a name on the page.