[June 02]--Table Scraps

Mark 7:24-30

I have to confess, this isn't my favorite story from the Gospels. In fact, it’s one of my least favorite. But I heard someone tell me a long time ago that if a certain portion of Scripture makes you feel uncomfortable, and you find yourself skipping it whenever you can, then you need to refocus your attention on it. If you don’t find the Law of Moses very attractive, then you need to spend some time on it, just to make sure you don’t miss something important.

And yes, this story makes me feel a little uncomfortable. But if every story in the Gospels made perfect sense, and if there were no portions that left us scratching our heads, then that would be a sign that they're made up. Please keep in mind that most scholars think that Mark’s Gospel is intended for Gentiles for its main audience. If you were making up stories about Jesus and collecting them, would you include one that quotes Jesus as calling Gentiles “dogs”? And another question: Why was Jesus so reluctant to help her in the first place?

Before we head into the story, however, I'd like to remind us all of one thing: context, context, context. That one word will save you from so much confusion and nonsense. We need to look at the rest of Mark’s Gospel, and the rest of the Bible. Then we can ask ourselves some clarifying questions. Did Jesus normally present a condescending attitude towards Gentiles? Did he display the ubiquitous prejudice that Jews held towards Gentiles? Um, no. He had absolutely no problem associating with the Samaritan woman, who was considered a half-breed by the Jewish population. If you read Matthew’s Gospel (written mainly to Jews), you’ll find that one of the very few people whom Jesus praised unconditionally was a Roman Centurion. In fact, Jesus remarked in that instance that he'd not seen such a great faith as the Roman soldier’s in all Israel. I'd also like to point out that Christ also had no problem healing the Centurion’s slave.

So if he was reluctant in this instance to heal, and if he used language that seems uncharacteristic of him, then there’s a reason. Yes, he told the woman that he'd been sent to the nation of Israel. That certainly was true. His ministry was mostly among Jews, all of his twelve Apostles were Jewish, and he sent them out on a mission trip to the Jews (to the specific exclusion of the Gentiles). But he wasn’t opposed to serving and presenting God’s truth to Gentiles, as long as it didn’t interfere with his main mission. While he was on earth, he was focusing like the proverbial laser-beam on Israel. Once he rose from the dead and was about to ascend back to Heaven, the rules changed and now his followers were commanded to go to all nations and make them followers as well.

So why is this story so different? The woman was begging on her knees for his help, and he sounded like someone who had to be dragged into it. This is the most compassionate Man who ever walked the planet. And then he insults her by comparing her to a dog.

I could go into all the different explanations, but here’s the best one I’ve heard: He’s testing her faith and making sure she fully understands the grace she’s showing her. No, she doesn’t deserve his intervention. But none of us do! And her response shows that she’s willing to take any spot in his Kingdom that he finds appropriate. If that’s under the table, then that’s fine with her. If she’s not treated as an equal, then that’s fine too. As long as she’s in the door.

And this is the response he was looking for. He told her that her daughter was going to be fine, and she was. Notice that she, like the centurion, had the (unusual) faith that took Jesus at his word. If Jesus tells me that my daughter is fine, that’s good enough for me. He doesn’t need to come with me back home and be physically present.

Let me make one more point about this Jewish/Gentile divide. This isn’t the end of her story. I thoroughly believe that we’ll see this woman again someday in Glory. And now, there’s no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female at the foot of the Cross. She’s got a place in His Kingdom, and she’s happy with that.

But there are plenty of people who were born into privilege and who don’t take advantage of it. Yes, we can point at the Jews of that day who squandered their heritage as children of Abraham. And there are plenty of people today who were born into a Christian home and who were raised in church. If you don’t take advantage of the blessings God’s given you, Christ says that you’re in far worse shape than this poor lady.

As a further application, I’d like to submit that this woman’s attitude is a perfect example for us. Instead of worrying about our position and “honor,” we should imitate her: “I don’t deserve to be anywhere in the House. If I have the lowliest place under the table, that’s more than I deserve. Thank you.”

Father, none of us deserve a place at your table. And instead of treating us like the beggars we are, you welcome us as your children and your heirs. Wow.

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