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“Even The Dogs…”
September 10, 2006
The Syrophoenician Woman
[Mk 7:24 NASB] Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.  But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet.  Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  And He was saying to her, Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.  But she answered and *said to Him, Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.  And He said to her, Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.  And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.
 Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis.  They *brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they *implored Him to lay His hand on him.  Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva;  and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He *said to him, Ephphatha! that is, Be opened!  And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly.  And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it.  They were utterly astonished, saying, He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.
[Mk 7:24 NASB] Jesus got up and went away from there to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.
He could not escape notice
Jesus had taken the disciples out of Israel and into modern-day Lebanon to buy some space and provide some teaching time with his apostles. In Israel, the Pharisees were following him everywhere trying to disrupt and undermine his message. In most situations, this only helped to clarify our Lord’s message and further revealed the bias and weaknesses of those who attacked Jesus. We can learn a great deal from this situation for though people can argue endlessly over theology and doctrine, no one will ever be able successfully argue against a life of peace and compassion.
Yet, Jesus obviously realized that his followers needed space too. For now, the religious leaders—realizing they could not win in a direct confrontation with Jesus—began to attack our Lord’s disciples on the fringes.
What an indication of how Satan works. If direct confrontation doesn’t work, he doesn’t rest, he doesn’t stop, he goes after those around us, dealing in rumors and half-truths, trying to create internal dissension within our communities.
For that reason, Jesus sought to retreat and strengthen his inner core of followers. He went to Tyre, the land of the Syrophoenician’s, hated among the Jews. Yet, another group of people the Jews called “Sons of Dogs.”
The region of Tyre
This week (July, 2006), Tyre is being demolished by the Israeli army. My government (the United States) stands on the side supplying weapons and moral support as the Israelis bomb Lebanese citizens to root out the terrorist group, Hezbollah. The irony is too pronounced to be ignored. Two thousand years ago in that city a mother cried out on deaf ears to apostle’s that only ignored her cries, indeed, in their prejudice, they tried to chase her away.
The fact that the disciples themselves were seeking respite from the religious persecution back home in their own country has no impact on them. They have no problem with turning right around treating this grieving, pleading mother with absolute disgust.
In Tyre, this week, a woman still cries out for her daughter. She was not part of the hatred and politics that turned southern Lebanon into a disaster zone. Yet, that woman still cannot find a voice in an area torn asunder by religion and politics.
In a government (the U.S.) that has framed itself as conservative Christian, the irony is that no one has asked; “What did Jesus do when he was in Tyre?”
In fact, the mood of the country would suggest that this would be a naïve question in today’s world. I wonder if the disciples also considered the love and compassion of Jesus “naïve?”
We pray to Jesus for victory, for our plan to work, but we consider his ways and his words naïve. “What Would Jesus Do” in Tyre? We already know. The same thing he did 2,000 years ago in that ancient city. He would find the most ignored, most forgotten, most desperate person in the city, and he would heal her daughter.
 But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately came and fell at His feet.  Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.  And He was saying to her, Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.  But she answered and *said to Him, Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.  And He said to her, Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.  And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having left.
Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs.
So was Jesus showing the prejudices of his time (and ours) by virtually calling this woman and her child “dogs?” Before we formulate that answer, let’s look at a fuller version of the story from Matthew’s perspective.
[Mt 15:22 NASB] And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.  But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.  But He answered and said, I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.  But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, Lord, help me!
In this fuller version of the reading we find the woman completely ignored (if not harassed) by the disciples. They will not listen to a word she says and it is doubtful they are gracious in the process. In essence, the Apostle’s treat this woman like the Pharisee’s had treated them.
This is the primary focus of the entire journey Jesus took with his disciples. It is unquestionably the lesson that Jesus sought to teach his followers (then and now). How easy it is to pass the evil done to us on to someone else instead of ending the cycle ourselves. This is what Jesus came to do and what he intended to teach in this lesson. Evil stops with Jesus and needs to stop with us if we claim his name. He absorbed it, he reshaped it, and he took it to the cross, but evil stopped with Jesus.
Because of this answer go; the demon has gone out of your daughter.
To Mark’s recollection of Peter’s gospel, Jesus tells this woman that her “answer” healed her daughter. Let’s look at her incredible answer; “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children’s crumbs [v28].”
In Matthew’s recollection, Jesus stated: “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish. And her daughter was healed at once. [Mt 15:28 NASB]”
In either case, what this woman learns is that the healing comes from the faith within her, not just from the presence of Jesus. A daughter of a foreign country and a foreigner’s faith is not going to have much opportunity to run to Jerusalem for sacrifice, nor would she be accepted if she did.
Yet, Jesus shows her that the power to trade joy for suffering is as close as her prayers, regardless of her religious affiliation or geographic/political position.
It may come as a shock to most Christians today, but we would do better to use this woman as a model of faith even more than the disciples. After all, we are neither Jewish nor Galilean; we have no familial claim or geographical claim to Jesus.
While the woman learns that the power of faith lies internally, the disciples learn that faith can’t be measured by proximity to Jesus. They are right next to the Lord and yet they see the woman as a bother. They don’t lead her to Jesus or attempt to heal her daughter, her faith does that. They are too blinded by their social and religious prejudice to offer miracles to anyone.
Jesus words are obviously not meant to cut down the woman (her compassion runs too deep to care if she is insulted). The words of Christ are meant to reprimand the disciples—and us—when our politics and religious agenda blind us to compassion.
Which faith most resembles mine? Am I like the cocksure disciples steeped in religious and cultural prejudice, deeply self-assured of my proximity to Jesus? Or, am I like the outcast woman of Lebanon, indentured by compassion and uncaring of insults if I can just save one soul?
 Again He went out from the region of Tyre, and came through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee, within the region of Decapolis.  They *brought to Him one who was deaf and spoke with difficulty, and they *implored Him to lay His hand on him.  Jesus took him aside from the crowd, by himself, and put His fingers into his ears, and after spitting, He touched his tongue with the saliva;  and looking up to heaven with a deep sigh, He *said to him, Ephphatha! that is, Be opened!  And his ears were opened, and the impediment of his tongue was removed, and he began speaking plainly.
He touched his tongue with the saliva
It may seem strange that Jesus heals the demoniac girl in Tyre without even seeing her and yet uses spittle, mud, and touch to heal the deaf man in the Decapolis region. Why the different approaches?
Jesus is obviously less concerned about ceremony than he is about healing. He uses what is necessary for the seeker to experience healing.
In the case of the Decapolis mute, it was widely believed that the saliva (or some part of a spiritual leader’s body) held great powers. A lock of hair, a piece of bone or fingernail from the venerated deceased or the spittle of a living one; all of these were viewed as a connection to the holy.
Clearly, Jesus didn’t need spit and mud to heal; he didn’t even need physical closeness. However the deaf man needed these actions while woman from Tyre did not. Jesus used what worked to buoy the believer’s faith as long as it wasn’t a core distraction from ultimate unity from God.
In my work with the incarcerated, I can’t afford to rely on a lot of externals. Normally, all I can take into an initial meeting with an adult or juvenile are the clothes on my back. That means no bible, cross, degree, or other accoutrement. Just Jesus in my heart.
Nine times out of ten that is what most people take to work or school anyway. To adapt a contemporary commercial to our circumstances, we might ask, “What do you need in your wallet?”
Still, if the person that I am meeting with needs a priest, a host, or a bible, I’ll get “whatever it takes” to bring Jesus into their cell. I’m not so proud as to consider my way as the only way. Whatever way leads to Jesus’ healing power; that’s the way I’ll use.
What do the disciples learn from all this? Jesus shows them that healing is not a technique rooted in ritual. Healing is love “flat out” pouring forth in compassion.
We often cannot heal others because we are too reliant on rituals and techniques and not on simply being a conduit; a vessel of God’s compassion. If it were up to the disciple’s there would have been no healing in Tyre and no healing in Sidon. Prejudice would have blocked their compassion and prevented them from being a conduit of God. To become a conduit, I must rid myself of my prejudice and my self-righteousness. I must be healed too. Healing flows from humility, humility flows from gratitude, the kind of gratitude I receive when I can admit that I am just a sinner adopted by Jesus too.
 And He gave them orders not to tell anyone; but the more He ordered them, the more widely they continued to proclaim it.  They were utterly astonished, saying, He has done all things well; He makes even the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.
He gave them orders not to tell anyone
We have studied multiple occasions when Jesus told those he healed not to tell others about his works. Each situation has something in common:
1. People come to Jesus only to relieve their physical distress;
2. The Lord heals that distress and people run out to tell others about how Jesus can heal their distress too;
3. Others come to Jesus solely to be relieved of their physical distresses;
4. Jesus is flooded by crowds wanting only one thing, relief from distress.
Jesus healed for compassion but never for promotion and the result of much of his healing proved to be a distraction from his true work of earth; salvation. It was not compassion that was the distraction; indeed compassion for those in need was central to the Christ’s mission. The distraction was the throngs that came only to have Jesus meet their physical needs—for food or healing—and never wanted the “living bread” or the “living water.”
Am I a distraction to Christ? Am I one of those to whom he would command; “Don’t tell anyone you met me!” Am I seeking Jesus to rid myself of personal discomfort or just to meet my needs? Or, have I truly understood the healing power of Jesus?
In previous studies we examined the word “healing [2323. therapeu].” Healing has three meanings that compiled make it whole:
1. To be healed of discomfort;
2. To be filled with gratitude; and
3. To become a menial servant.
Relieving our discomfort is not total healing. We are not fully healed until we are also a) overwhelmed with gratitude and b) running out to menially serve others with the same compassion Jesus had for us.
When we have been fully healed we don’t see anyone as “dogs.” We see everyone as bearing the dignity of God who longs for nothing but fullness in their life. We see only the compassion that Jesus the Savior had for us and we long with all of our heart and all of our actions to give that love to others.
Am I totally healed? Healed enough to serve others in radical gratitude? Jesus is willing, not only to give me an attitude of graciousness and a heart for service in my life, he is also willing to free me of the prejudices and self-righteousness that would keep me from the faith of the woman who cried; “Lord, even the dogs.”
Copyright © 2005 Jerry Goebel. All Rights Reserved. This study may be freely distributed, as long as it bears the following attribution: Source: Jerry Goebel: 2005 © http://onefamilyoutreach.com.
Scripture taken from God’s Word to the Nations Bible Society original work copyright © 1995.
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