24 From there he set out and went away 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, 25but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 28But she answered him, ‘Sir,* even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ 29Then he said to her, ‘For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.’ 30So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.
Have you ever read this passage and thought, how could Jesus be so mean to this woman? Doesn’t that seem uncharacteristic? But, let’s look at the text, and see what we can find:
Jesus had been searching for a place to get away for a time, yet everywhere he went the crowd followed. Now he leaves Galilee and goes to the region of Tyre, a Phoenician city on the Mediterranean. The Jezreel Valley goes through the mountains, a natural route from Galilee to the Mediterranean coastal region. Once there, Jesus went into a house and did not tell the surrounding community that he was there. Still, word got out.
A woman, whose little daughter was suffering with an unclean spirit came to him, and bowed down. It is not surprising that she was a Gentile; Jesus had left Galilee and gone into a Gentile area. The woman asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her child – she has likely sought everywhere for help for the child; she is desperate. She does not know the Jewish God; she is “Greek”, in other words, a worshipper of the Greek gods. At first, Jesus says no. What? that is uncharacteristic! Not only does Jesus say no, he says no with an insult attached – the children (Israel) should be fed before the dogs (Gentiles). His message, and his healing, is for Israel first. Actually, he says, “little dogs” or “puppies”, if you translate the Greek with its meaning. Maybe “puppies” is a little less insulting – not much. Still, the woman takes the insult, and turns it around. She is the only person in Mark to win an argument with Jesus! She says that even the puppies under the table eat the children’s crumbs. She is willing to accept whatever crumbs Jesus has to offer her; she believes he can heal her child even with a small amount of his power. She believes. And the child is saved; Jesus tells her to go home – because of the way she showed her faith by her words, her willingness to accept – the demon was cast out of her daughter.
So – what is going on? This story is another example of faith – connecting it to what we have seen in previous passages. This woman’s faith is so strong that she is willing to accept a rebuff, willing to accept whatever Jesus offers. It seems odd that one who does not worship God would have that much faith in Jesus, and we can only imagine that after this she does turn to the worship of God.
The woman is a Gentile – a foreigner. And yet, she has heard of Jesus, and she believes. Jesus begins with the argument that the message is for the children, Israel. But she argues successfully that even the least are worthy of the message.
The story is also an example to the disciples. There are those who say, what if Jesus is intentionally behaving this way to prove a point to them? to show them that his message is for all the world, not just the Jews? This story is important to the early church, as it does provide some of the basis for taking the message of Jesus to the world.
The message of love that Jesus brings is meant for everyone. That is the point of this story.