Mark 7:24-30 (5 Sep 2021)

Hear the sermon on the passage here

Was Jesus a celebrity?

There were no pictures of him in the media. Despite the fact the Jewish leaders were bothering the Roman leaders about him when the soldiers arrived to arrest Jesus they didn’t know who he was and had to ask someone to identify him to them. Judas helped them out. 

Jesus had no marketing or advertising agents.  All he had were his disciples and, let’s face it, they’ve never been very good at telling people about him.

His approach was not at all egocentric.  In fact he kept pointing people away from himself to God and his kingdom.

He didn’t sell himself, seeking notoriety and identity. Even when he healed someone he told them to go quietly and not tell anyone what he had done.  Not surprisingly, people did share their good news with others, so talk of his miracles and teaching did get known.

He had no heroic actions to follow, unless you mean his crucifixion.

He had no great wealth or property.  As he said, even foxes have dens but he had nowhere to lay his head.

In Mark 7:24 we are told that Jesus set out and went to the region of Tyre.  He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice

Jesus was no celebrity in terms of what we think of as a celebrity but just as some of our modern celebrities do, he needed some time on his own with his Father God.  Sometimes isolation, separation can be unpleasant and lonely – as many people are finding during our pandemic lockdowns.  However, when things get hectic we will again look for a bit of peace and quiet.

In any case, spending some time just you and your Heavenly Father is a vital part of life, lockdowns or not – even for Jesus.

However, this was not to be.  A woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.  Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin.

Syrophoenicia is a part of ancient Israel on the north-west coast, a coastal area and including the city of Tyre, the region Jesus had just come to.

Jesus could not escape notice and this woman had heard about him and not just his name but that he was someone of great authority and power, someone who could heal the sick and cast out demons – like the one crippling her daughter.

This stranger had heard about Jesus which makes me stop and think.  It’s sad that my neighbours haven’t heard about Jesus, about his great authority and power, that he is someone who can not only heal but, even more, give real mercy, forgiveness and eternal life.  My neighbours don’t come to Jesus for salvation.  They don’t know what they are missing out on.  

She clearly had expectations of Jesus.  She trusted him, had confidence in him and came with great humility, not with a demand but with faith.  Indeed, she worshiped him as she came and bowed down at his feet – the correct attitude for anyone asking Jesus for anything.

But there was a certain boldness in her approach.  She was in breach of all sorts of cultural norms.  She came as Gentile.  She wasn’t a Jew.  And even if she was a Jew it wasn’t proper for a woman to approach a man, a rabbi like this.

There was a certain desperation in her approach, too.  She was desperate for her daughter’s life.  It was the kind of desperation any parent could understand.  The well-being of our children is so important to all parents.

You probably do as I do and pray for your children so often you could say it’s like praying continuously.

Do you pray for your children for their guidance, provision and healing? If you don’t pray for demons to be cast out of them at very least we pray that Satan will not lead them but that they will know and follow Jesus.  The prayer is essentially the same.  We ask that they will be saved from the power of Satan and of sin and they should be followers of Jesus and temples of his Holy Spirit.

I often wish Jesus would answer my prayers more obviously, more quickly, but I am glad he doesn’t respond to me the way he responded to this woman.

In verse 27 we read that in response to the woman’s request Jesus said, ‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’t bread and toss it to the dogs.’

Its hard to think of a response that sounds less dismissive, so its not surprising that many people find this an offensive thing to say.

What does it mean?

You are not one of my children, not one of my lot. You don’t matter much to me – no more than a dog would, he seems to say.

People in our days regard their dogs with affection.  Some people I know call them their children which, for lonely or childless people brings them comfort and company.  I know people who have no grandchildren so they call their children’s dogs their grand-dogs.

Jews of Jesus’ time kept dogs as pets but since they lived outdoors, ate scraps and garbage they were generally regarded as unclean and not important.

In some cultures, such as in Islam, to call someone a dog is to make a very strong slur against them, an insult and a dismissal.

It’s true, of course, that children are more important than dogs, that they should have priority for care and food. 

It’s also true that Jesus knew that his calling was first and foremost to his fellow Jews, his message, his healings were meant first for the benefit of the Jews.  Sadly, it turned out that he was rejected by his fellow Jews and they called for his crucifixion.  Ultimately the gospel was taken to the gentiles, gentiles like this woman before him now.

When Jesus gives you a response to your prayers like this one you might be offended, even angry, perhaps walk off in a huff and have nothing more to do with him.

But how did this woman respond? 

“‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’”

You have to admire her determination.  She pressed on.  She responded with reason, with humility and with wit. There was an expression of respect for Jesus, submission to his priorities.

She wasn’t making demands or claiming her rights.  What she was asking for was mercy.  She would be ever so grateful just for the crumbs left over. She was asking for grace.  She didn’t claim she deserved any favours  but that Jesus would give her what she asked for just because he could.

I don’t know about you, but sometimes I feel things like

  • Jesus doesn’t want to answer my prayers
  • I feel Jesus doesn’t want to give me what I asked for
  • That my requests are too trivial to bother Jesus with them
  • I think that there are plenty of people who take priority over me
  • Or even that he’s too busy for me.

However, I know none of these things are true!

Nothing is too trivial for God.

If it matters to me, it matters to God. 

He doesn’t play favourites  – all are equal in his sight. God does not discriminate. 

I know God owns time, that it does not matter to him and that he always has plenty for me.

I think we pray too little,  too meekly and give up too easily.

Although this woman did not know what it says in Hebrews 4:16 she behaved as if she did.

“Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

Praying with confidence does not mean being rude or demanding but rather respectfully and worshipfully. It means pray because you know God wants you to, that he wants you to verbalise your thoughts to him and, most importantly, because Jesus has made  access to Father God for you.

When prayers appear to be dismissed or ignored remember this woman.

You may see there is a reason why your prayer isn’t answered.  

Perhaps there is a better way to pray. Pray to Jesus to teach you to pray, asking for lessons just as his disciples did.

Try explaining to Jesus why your request is reasonable.

Persist in prayer – don’t give up too easily. 

So this Syrophoenician woman begged Jesus to heal her daughter with persistence, determination and with worshipful humility. She responded to what the apparent knock back she received with a “yes, but” answer which Jesus obviously respected. He answered her prayer and gave her what she asked for.

“Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’ She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” (Mark 7:29-30) 

Could you cope with the idea that having a prayer answered is like being given crumbs under the table at Jesus’ feet?

How do dogs respond when given crumbs under the table, leftovers from their owner’s meal?

Usually they are so grateful, so pleased to have such a treat! No complaints but rather an excited “how good is that” response! How special I must be! “Please sir, may I have some more.” I am so grateful to have some of what you’ve got.

When Jesus answers one of your prayers do you feel this way? Not, perhaps with panting, jumping around and wagging our tails, but expressing that kind of joyful gratitude.

Thank you! Thank you! Thank you so much!

And, because you obviously love me so much, I’ll be back for more!

If there’s any other tidbits of mercy and grace, I’d really love to have them, too.

 Compared with all that Jesus is, has and has done, this woman received a few crumbs from his table. But they weren’t crumbs to her.  Her daughter was healed!

And she was healed  by Jesus without him being physically present with the girl in just the way Jesus works today, without being present in person but in the power of his Holy Spirit.

And answered prayers are always and only on the basis of love, mercy and grace.

Be grateful for whatever you get! Give thanks.  Learn to be so grateful that you are overcome with joy and, at least metaphorically, you wag your tail in praise.