Mark 7 Reflection by Harriet
Mark 7 has 3 distinct stories to it. The first being Jesus schooling the Pharisees telling them that it isn’t the food they eat that makes them unclean, it is the posture of their heart. In the process Jesus also makes all food clean which is pretty epic. The third story is an amazing healing of a deaf and mute man. It’s pretty epic that our Jesus heals! There are loads of things to get from both of these stories.
However, the second story in this chapter of Mark is actually the one I felt I should focus on. Mainly because it is a story that has never sat well with me. The Jesus that we meet in Mark 7:24-30 is not a Jesus that I am comfortable with. a) He throws an insult at a woman, calling her a dog, who only wants her daughter freed of a demon, something Jesus has done before. b) Jesus refuses to do this until she convinces him to do it.
There are multiple background threads to this story that help understand the language and Jesus’ intention
1)Jesus is in Gentile territory - Mark states that Jesus is in the vicinity of Tyre. Tyre was not a Jewish province and contained people who knew of Jewish customs due to proximity to Judah but they themselves were Gentiles.
2)The woman was about as “unclean” as you could get - For a start she was a woman, on top of this she was not Jewish, probably pagan, and had a daughter who was possessed by a demon.
3)The woman was so courageous - This woman would have known she shouldn’t approach a devout Jew, let alone approach a Rabbi. Yet she does anyway and begs him to help. This isn’t just a one off ask, the word behind “begged” in the passage states that it is a continuous unrelenting begging. She has so much devotion to her daughter and faith in Jesus that she begs and begs and refuses to take no for an answer
4)Jesus doesn’t actually call her a dog - Well sort of. The word behind “dogs” is better translated as puppies. So he describes her as a puppy. Still not great but better that dog right?
This background initially still doesn’t help the passage sit right with me. But it is still important to know this as you delve deeper.
The main thing I struggle with is this line (vs 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.” I hated that in this line Jesus appears to be calling the Jews children and the gentiles dogs (puppies), after all aren’t we all welcomed in to be God’s children?
There is a hidden reality to this line, he doesn’t actually say no to removing the demon, what he says is not yet. Jesus is very clear in his ministry that he is teaching to the Jews. He doesn’t leave the Jewish provinces very often. This line is almost mirroring the idea of the great commissioning, Judea, Samaria, then to the ends of the earth. Jesus has set his ministry to be for the Jews at this time. This is who he is discipling and then ultimately who he will send out to tell the whole world about him. Jesus knows this, so his statement is not a refusal, or saying that she isn’t a child of God. He is saying that right now this is not God’s plan or his ministry. Not the easiest thing to sit with. I personally think it is significant that Jesus refers to Gentiles as puppies. If he referred to them as dogs, in that culture most dogs were wild scavengers, then he is almost saying that they are big enough to look after themselves they don’t need me. Puppies shows that Jesus knows there is an innocence there and something that needs to be protected. It just isn’t time yet.
The woman, however, understands who Jesus is and use this in response. She would have heard the stories, why else would she have approached him. She knows he can heal, that he is good and generous. So, this is where her response comes from. At no point does she question Jesus ministry she has understood his message. She knows that she doesn’t deserve what she asks for, but asks anyway because Jesus is good. We have all received what we don’t deserve because of Jesus’ goodness, he died on the cross and rose for us. Here we see one of the first people to recognise that if Jesus heals someone, it isn’t because that person is good or because of what they have done, it is because Jesus is good, and she is an unclean gentile woman. She understood the gospel in a way that no one before her had quite got. Jesus’ generosity to his “children” had overflowed to her and was able to transform her life.
Jesus knew his ministry and stuck by it. However, when there was genuine need, even if didn’t quite fit at that time, but was part of the overarching God mission, his goodness and generosity meant that his love poured out and changed the world of those around him.
This got me thinking, what is our ministry both as a team and individually? What are our yes’? What are our no’s? Are we Good at sticking to these? Do we stick to our call to be youth workers too fiercely and not move where we see a need or God moving? Do we let God’s love and generosity overflow from us and our ministries to change the lives, not just of those who we are called to, but those around them too?