After my series on the parables, I found I was drawn to look into the miracles of Jesus in the Gospels. I have never studies the mighty works of Jesus as a focused effort before and am looking forward to finding nuggets of truth that we can be encouraged by.
I have provided a general introduction, with an opportunity to download two files for your reference in my initial post Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction. I found that the format I used for the parable posts were useful to keep me on track, and will continue to use them for this series, with some minor tweaks. With that said, let’s take a look at
Jesus Heals a Gentile Woman’s Demon-Possessed Daughter
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Mark 7:24 -30
And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
Tyre specifically has had a very interesting past. Ezekiel prophesied of Tyre’s destruction in the 26th chapter of his book, with that destruction coming in waves, like the sea. A very interesting passage for another time!
Babylon, under Nebuchadnezzar besieged the island city about 600 yrs before Jesus visited. Tyre then came under attack by Alexander the Great, who eventually built the earthen causeway to the island in order to defeat the city/state.
By the time the Lord arrived, the city had been rebuilt, and the Roman dominance of the area made Tyre an influential center. Thirteen centuries after the Masters visit, the original city finally fell.
Questions to Consider
Who were the audience?
Jesus entered into a house. No mention of the house’s inhabitants are included in the telling of this miracle, but we can safely assume it had a limited audience, including the house owner’s family, the disciples and this woman, this Gentile, Syrophoenician woman. Mathew calls her “a Canaanite woman”. Jesus refers to her as a dog.
Wow Can this woman catch a break? Well, it seems she caught a break before the story closed!
When did the Lord perform this mighty work?
Where did the Lord perform this mighty work?
See Signs and Mighty Works of Jesus – Introduction for downloadable reference file.
An interesting thing to notice of Tyre (and Sidon) is that although they were considered Roman cities during the time of Jesus, these two cities were within the promised land designated to the allotment of Asher. Therefore, as Jesus entered the region of Tyre and Sidon, He was not in Roman territory, but remained in the promised allotment of Asher, one of Jacobs 12 sons. Although this region was in the promised land, the population of the area was predominantly Roman, with a small Jewish population.
To the Jewish population, Jesus was sent. To a minority within a larger population.
Why did the Lord perform this mighty work?
This Syrophoenician woman had great faith. The dogged, non-stop faith of this desperate mother earned her the honor of this positive answer. Jesus went beyond His own stated mission (of being sent to the lost sheep of Israel) in order for this miracle to be performed.
He went beyond His stated purpose, His stated mission, His word.
What was the message for the original audience?
The interaction between the Lord and this woman deserves a few moments to consider, for this woman faced a number of barriers or restrictions in getting what she desperately needed.
Restriction 1 – Seeming Indifference
Initially she had to ignore the Lord’s seeming indifference to her plea. He simply did not answer a word.
Restriction 2 – Obvious Rejection
On top of this disappointment, the disciples sought the Lord to rid themselves of her annoying crying. They actually begged Jesus to get rid of her. (At least they referred to Jesus for the decision to reject her, instead of simply getting rid of her on their own!)
Restriction 3 – Purpose of the Messiahs Mission
In response to the disciples, He reminded them of His mission to the lost sheep of Israel. He had a mission, and was focused on this mission, at least for the disciples sake.
This message must have been heard by the woman, for she did not give up. Her child was possessed and in dire need. She was desperate, and in need of the miracle workers touch. His mission was of no importance to her, and she kept pleading, begging for her daughters life, begging with a simple plea –
Matthew 15:25 ….Lord, help me
In the context of Jesus mission to the lost sheep of Israel, He responds with a somewhat shocking statement.
Matthew 15:26 ….It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs
He, in the context of the passage refers to the lost sheep of Israel as children, and that His ministry is likened to bread for their sustenance.
Throwing bread to the dogs is not right! A couple additional clarifications helps me in understanding this response.
Restriction 4 – Focus of His Mission
First off, the term “throw” refers to “casting”, “scattering” or to “let go of a thing without concern of where it lands”. Jesus has spoken of His focused ministry, and to “throw” miracles around without any care of where they land is the next wall she has to climb over to get her daughters health.
I don’t know about you, but veiled references of rejection hurt, since the comment gives an element of interpretation that forces the hearer/receiver to juggle the message around in the skull. A veiled rejection bugs me more than a straight out clear statement! But don’t worry, we may be coming up to a full on derogatory reference that is a clear rejection!
Restriction 5 – Derogatory References?
It is amazing how often I have to be corrected. Yesterday, when my wife and I were having our morning tea/coffee, we read through this short passage and I mentioned that the term “dogs” referred to the wild dogs that roamed the countryside, and that the Lord used this terminology to set up one final wall for this woman to climb over to get what she wanted. I think I am a fool. For you see, the term Jesus used was kynarion, and it is used in the New Testament four times, each of these times in this discourse with this Canaanite woman.
If Jesus had intended to refer to this woman as a wild dog (as I incorrectly thought), He may have used the term kyōn. This term, meaning “wild cur” is always reproachful, and is used five times in the New Testament. Three of these uses follow
Matthew 7:6 “Do not give dogs what is holy….
Philippians 3:2 ESV – Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers….
Revelation 22:15 ESV – Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral …
No, the Lord softened the message, and did not continue in building a wall for this woman to mentally crawl over. This message may have been in response to her plea for help in Matthew 15:25 – Help me Lord. Let me try to explain.
I think He was sending a message to her that, although she was not of the “lost sheep of Israel” she was in the house, for this term was often used to describe “little dogs”, dogs that lived in the house, that were within the household. He was setting her up, giving her a picture of children at a table with “little dogs” nearby.
Yes, it seemed He wasn’t going to intentionally divert His focus from the lost sheet of Israel by “throwing” a piece of bread to a pet. That message seemed to be caught by this woman, for her faith spoke of her request as simply a crumb falling from the table! Her humility is astounding, for she not only reduced the image of the request (from bread to merely a crumb), but also the method of delivery, (from the Lord “throwing” to simply falling from the table.)
A crumb accidentally falling from the Master’s table. She was no longer asking for a piece of bread – no – simply a crumb, a little morsel, that which wouldn’t be missed, available due to His ministry to the lost sheep of Israel, a surplus from provisions given to the children at the table.
This woman fought to get her miracle. She did not give up, she saw the opportunity the Lord provided in His response and continued with her request, modifying the understanding of the plea, but never giving up on the request. The size of the bread and the method of receiving were of no importance to the woman. It was who provided the crumb which was the core issue. This is the nature of faith that Jesus commended her for.
What is the message for us today?
I am sure there are many messages for our learning today, but the following two speak to me, and hopefully to you.
We are to have a “fighting faith”, but by speaking of a “fighting faith” I do not mean the type of faith that argues every point of doctrine that is possible. No – not at all. That is simply a sign of insecurity and immaturity.
A fighting faith refers to a determined hanging on to the faith that was delivered to us, and for us to live under. A faith that is continuous, consistent, and that it does not simply take the first answer it gets. A faith that is worked out by love.
Galatians 5:6 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.
Certainly, a desperation of circumstances plays a role in the working out of our faith, for this woman was in front of the Messiah due to her desperate circumstance, a daughter severely appressed by a demon. We must remember that as we venture through this life, emergencies, trials, difficulties, problems, adversities and hardships will be about us, sometimes seemingly everywhere, and may appear there is no overcoming of. Some of these trials may remain, some are to be climbed over. Either way, disappointments are inherent in exercising faith, for without disappointments, faith would not be required. A fighting faith will continue to look to Him for answers, even in the midst of seeming restrictions.
Catch the Message
Yet this Gentile woman teaches us to “catch a message”. She caught the implication of the Lord’s use of “little dogs”, and continued the pursuit, finding opportunity in the message she heard. Truly an amazing discussion between the Lord and a “little dog”.
Do you approach the Word looking for opportunity or restrictions? I know, as a natural pessimist, I tend to see restrictions. This woman, this “little dog”, this non-Israeli, looked for opportunity, and in the search found the request she sought.
Not only did she receive her daughter back, she provided an example to us of one who looked for an opportunity before God, and kept asking util she found it! Truly a tenacious woman in front of our Good God. Somewhat reminiscent of a non-Israelite named Abraham, fighting for his nephew Lot in the City of Gomorrah.
Those non-Israelites sure provide stellar examples of seeking and finding God!
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