June 27, 2021
Crumbs from the Table
In this passage, Jesus’ interaction with this woman comes across as off-putting for a couple of reasons.
First, here is a woman who is in a desperate situation. Her daughter is sick. Perhaps dying. She musters the courage to come and ask Jesus for help and Jesus initially rebuffs her request. How many people throughout history have desperately cried out to God for help—only to have their requests denied? This is enough of a reason for many to leave the faith.
But second, and more disturbing is the way Jesus denies this woman her request. She says, “my daughter needs help.” He replies, “It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” This comes across as not only harsh and offense, but it seems to be a racial slur. Jews referred to Gentiles as dogs. It’s intentionally insulting.
Which leads to the broader question: Doesn’t this entire episode show that the Bible is a book based on ancient, chauvinistic, racist morality? How could any modern person with any sense of decency ascribe to such an outdated religion?
Reddit post: I don’t think the bible is a good moral guide in today’s world. It might have been decent compared to other religions in the ancient world, but it seems like we can do so much better today.
How do I as a Christian respond to that? Part of me wants to answer this objection by quoting CS Lewis: “If you can’t understand books written for grown-ups, then you shouldn’t talk about them.”
But there’s much more to say than that. I want to show that this story is the opposite of what you think it is. It’s a story about crossing boarders that divide us, loving your enemies, having indomitable faith, and being transformed by the unstoppable grace of God.
This is a short passage, only 7 verses, so we’ll just walk through it one verse at a time.
v.24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret.
So far in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus and the disciples have been going non-stop, 24/7, with hardly a chance to eat or rest. They’ve been trying to get away for some R&R, but they continually get interrupted. Crowds follow them. Storms deter them. Pharisees launch smear campaigns against them.
Now, finally, Jesus and his disciples leave the region of Galilee altogether. They go to the non-Jewish city of Tyre. They go incognito. Like movie stars with their sunglasses and baseball caps on trying to avoid the press. They enter a house secretly.
Finally, a chance to rest!
You can picture the scene. Jesus enters the house. Maybe makes himself a sandwich, takes his sandals off, puts his feet up, puts his phone on do-not-disturb, turns on the game, and just as he gets ready to take a bite…there’s a knock at the door.
This woman he’s never met arrives. And this is where the story begins.
v.25-26 In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. 26 The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.
These two short verses tell you everything you need to know about this woman. She is not a neutral figure.
Imagine if Ben Shapiro were to show up at the democratic national convention. This is 100xs worse!
Right away, we notice several things about her that would make any ancient, orthodox Jew squirm uncomfortably. She’s the exact opposite of Jesus in every respect.
- Different genders.
- Different races. She is born in Syrian Phoenicia. (Modern day Lebanon). Jesus is an ethnic Jew.
- Different cultures/Different religions. Jesus is an Israelite. She’s Greek. She doesn’t believe in Israel’s God. She doesn’t care about any promised Messiah.
- Political differences: They aren’t simply different in their politics like a conservative and a liberal. She is from Tyre. Jesus is from Galilee. They are national, political enemies.
Josephus, a first century Jewish historian writes, the people from Tyre were “notoriously our bitterest enemies.”
In fact, in the OT, Tyre is repeatedly listed as one of Israel’s oppressors. The people of Tyre were much more wealthy and powerful than people from Galilee.
If there is any hierarchy or power dynamic between Jesus and this woman—she is at the top. Her people have used their position of power and privilege to oppress the Jews for hundreds of years.
The woman knows that Jesus is going to hate her.
But she’s desperate. Her daughter is sick. Possessed. It’s sometimes said, “There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes. And then there are parents.” They will do anything to save their child’s life. Race, politics, culture wars—none of it matters when your child is hurting. So she comes and falls at Jesus’ feet and begs him to help.
It’s now Jesus’ turn to respond:
v.27 “First let the children eat all they want,” he told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
This seems harsh and insensitive!
Jesus doesn’t just deny her request, he tells a parable which implies that she’s a dog.
Some scholars try to soften the blow of Jesus’ comment. They say, “He was smiling when he said it—he’s being playful!” Or they say, “Notice in the Greek that he uses the word for puppy, “small dog,” instead of full grown dog. You see, it’s really not so bad!”
But you can’t take away the sting. Gentiles called the Jews “pigs.” Jews called the Gentiles “dogs.” The names were meant to offend.
What’s Jesus doing here? Why does he say, “The children eat first; it’s not right to toss their bread to the dogs”?
- He explains his mission.
When Jesus says, “First let the children eat all they want,” he’s talking about God’s plan to save the world.
In the OT, God promised Abraham that I will bring salvation to the world through your family. The Jews.
But as the OT story moves forward, the Jews are often just as corrupt as the nations around them. How can salvation come from them if they aren’t any different?
God’s answer is, “I will restore Israel. I will recreate her and make her new. And when that happens—my salvation will go out to all the nations.”
This is why in Romans 1:16 the Apostle Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.”
Jesus didn’t come just to be nice to a bunch of people. He has a set mission. To save the world according to God’s plan.
A country must first send its soldiers to basic training before it can send them out to help the other nations.
- Jesus challenges her entire worldview.
What if Jesus were to just grant this woman her request, like a genie in a bottle. She’ll get what she wants from him and then most likely return to business as usual.
Most likely, all this woman has ever known is that Jews are subservient to her people. People from Tyre are superior.
Jesus turns the tables on her with his parable. What if things are not what they seem? What if my people have a special place at the table in God’s plan of salvation? What if you’re not as privileged and powerful as you think you are?
Jesus is challenging her to see the world with new eyes.
Several years ago, I remember watching the Movie, “Ray”—about the blind singer, Ray Charles, starring Jamie Foxx. There’s a touching scene where Ray, as a young boy who has recently lost his sight, falls on the floor in the kitchen. Lying on the floor, Ray screams to his mom for help. She hears him, but she just stands still in the kitchen. She doesn’t respond. She doesn’t want him to know she’s there. Up to this point, he’s always been dependent on her for everything. She knows that if she always immediately rescues him, he won’t grow strong. He won’t learn to see the world with a different set of eyes—the eyes of his heart and with his ears. As he cries out for help, she stands there with tears streaming down her face. He whines and cries, but then, it clicks. He starts hearing things he had never heard before. He notices everything, the whistle of the tea kettle, the fly buzzing; the cows mooing, the cars passing—even the scent of his mother. Getting up off the floor he states, “Mom I know your there, so why not help me?” But the only reason he knows she’s there is because he’s learned to see the world with a new set of eyes.
Is it a coincidence that this section in Mark ends with the story of Jesus healing a blind man in Mark 8:22-26?
Jesus is challenging this woman to see the world with a new set of eyes.
And there are times when you fall on the kitchen floor and you’re crying out to God for help and you wonder, “Why won’t you help me?” God is there with you. And he wants you to see him with new eyes.
How then does she respond to Jesus’ parable? We might expect her to say, “I knew I never should have come here. Everything I thought about you people is right. You really are pigs! How dare you treat me like that! Thanks for nothing.”
But she doesn’t. How does she respond?
v.28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” v.29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.” v.30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Jesus is impressed with her response! In Matthew’s account of this story, Jesus hears her response and say, “You have great faith!” What’s so impressive about her answer?
- She understands what Jesus is saying about “bread.”
As I’ve preached through this part of Mark, I’ve continually pointed out that Mark 6-8 is knowns as the “bread section.” Jesus repeatedly tries to teach his disciples that he is the bread of life. Meaning he is the Messiah; he will provide for you; and he will give his life for the life of the world.
But they never get it! We are repeatedly told that the disciples do not understand about the bread. (Mark 6: 52; 8:4, the disciples say, But where in this remote place can anyone get enough bread to feed them?” 17 Why are you talking about bread? Do you still not see or understand? Do you have eyes but fail to see? …Do you still not understand?)
But here, this Gentile woman gets it in one sentence. She understands what Jesus is talking about when he talks about bread. She understands who he is. His mission. And what he’s capable of.
She wants some of this bread! A piece of this salvation that he is offering.
- She understands grace.
We’re a culture that’s very in tune with our rights. Americans understand that they have unalienable rights. It’s an extremely important belief. But we can take this so far that we start believing that we deserve everything we have. And that we deserve to have everyone give us what we want them to give us and treat us just like we want them to treat us. We become entitled.
But this woman let’s all that go. She’s humble.
She says, you don’t owe me anything. I don’t deserve anything. I don’t deserve to be seated at your table. I just want to a crumb.
The Reformer, Martin Luther, preached on this passage and said it is a glimpse of the gospel.
God sends those away empty who are full of themselves. But those who recognize that they are empty, God fills.
Jesus not only gives her the gift of a healed daughter. He gives her the gift of faith.
He not only gives her a crumb from the table. He gives her a feast.
It’s no wonder that in one of the very next stories, in Mark 8, Jesus once again multiplies loaves of bread and feeds a crowd. The first time he did it in Mark 6 it was a Jewish crowd. But the second time he does it—he feeds an entire crowd of Gentiles. Not crumbs, but so much bread that there are 7 basketfuls of leftovers.
The message is clear. This woman—and all who come to Jesus for his grace—will receive a seat as children at the table.
Jesus says in Luke 6:21: Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.