Emmitsburg Council of Churches


The Holy Gospel according to Mark 7:24-37:

7:24 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, 7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 7:27 He 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." 7:28 But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 7:29 Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go the demon has left your daughter." 7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. 7:31  

Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis. 7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him. 7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue. 7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, "Ephphatha," that is,

"Be opened." 7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly. 7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it. 7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, "He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak."

The Gospel of the Lord . . .

 "Begging Jesus for a Miracle"

In this morning's Gospel lesson we hear of Many People Begging Jesus to Help Them . . . . and yet one of the overarching themes contained in these two stories is that Jesus begins to minister to the Gentiles, the Gospel will not be constrained to the Jewish people only, but will go forth to all those who live around Israel . . . .

The Miracle is that the Salvation of God now becomes available to the Gentiles -- Jesus Ministry will now touch All People!

Another interesting part of the lesson is that Jesus provides deliverance for people who begged him to act on behalf of others. We heard about the woman who forcefully seeks out Jesus to deliver her daughter from an unclean spirit (a demon). And then there is the group of people (the "THEY") who bring their companion to Jesus in order that he might be delivered from Deafness and unclear speech.

Hearing these stories about people who were very specific and intentional about getting Jesus' attention can also cause us to become more aware of the effort that is necessary on our part when we desire for Jesus to intervene in a critical area of our lives or the life of another. Let us examine for a moment the role of the Syrophoenician woman. We don't know her by name but she stands out in scripture as one of the most profoundly faithful persons in the Gospels.

Note that in the beginning of the lesson -- Jesus was not wanting to be around any people, he had withdrawn from the Jewish territory of Galilee and went to the northern Gentile area of Syria. He did this in order to escape the crowds who were continuously following after him. Perhaps he needed time to rest and to instruct the disciples in the next phase of their missionary work. But as soon as Jesus has gone into hiding, we learn that this woman finds out where Jesus is and she will not be deterred in her mission to plead with Jesus to deliver and to heal her little daughter who suffers from an illness, described as an unclean spirit.

In considering her actions we must remember that she is violating multiple rules of social engagement for that time and place.

Most obviously, she is a Gentile, a Greek, she is considered to be an unclean person in view of Jesus and the disciples, who are just a day or so away from Jesus' argument with the Pharisees about what is clean and unclean (remember last Sunday?!). Jews could not associate with Greeks because these people were ritually impure!

Also, as we learn more in depth about this story we need to recognize that She should not approach Jesus because she is of Syrophoenician origin -- (a Canaanite) and the Jews of the Galilean countryside had not only held an age-old grudge against her people, but there was a present hatred because there was a kind of "food war" going on.

As it turns out, Galilean stomachs were grumbling because certain agricultural trade rules had been put into effect during this time. The Jewish farmers in Galilee had to grow and supply a certain percentage of their produce to the region around Tyre, a seaport town. Because of the quota that was established and possibly enforced by Roman political and military authority, there would be times when the Galilean farm families themselves would not have enough to eat!! (Does this sound familiar in light of today's World Trade rules and our farmer neighbors who struggle to remain on their farms?)

Back to our story . . .

So there is animosity to say the least between the Jewish people where Jesus is from and the people from the area where this woman is from and therefore, she should not be expecting a warm reception as she boldly enters into the house where Jesus is staying. But enter she does, and the text indicates that she 'throws herself down' at Jesus feet, begging him to deliver her daughter from the demon. Let us pause here for a moment in order to consider how we visualize this woman's appearance:

It seems to me that our image of her is one that includes her being poorly dressed--wearing drab clothing, she has scraggly hair, an unkept appearance . . . she's not much to look at; she must be poor and illiterate. . . . But, as we learn by her actions and presentation with Jesus . . . perhaps we should picture her with a different image?

How does it feel to change our image of her to a woman who is well dressed in a colorful gown-- her hair is not scraggly, but "smartly groomed" for the period. She is not illiterate, but she speaks Greek, the language of trade and commerce during those times. She has a 'keen sense' of what is happening in the social and religious culture where she lives -- and because she is informed, she has been inspired to seek out Jesus. She has determined that He is the only one who can deliver her daughter. Obviously, she is a concerned parent, and her actions demonstrate a high level of concern for the little girl -- the same kind of protective love that any of us can appreciate.

Let us consider her actions:

She knows that it is a "double" risk to enter into the house where these Jesus is lodging . . . so?? Does she knock on the door? NO! . . . , for she does not wish to be told to go away. Instead, she throws herself into the presence of Christ -- he cannot simply tell her to leave, but he must now deal with her and the object of her design -- the deliverance of her daughter.

To be honest, I continue to have difficulty imagining her as a sophisticated woman -- throwing herself into a submissive position at the feet of the Lord, and yet if you consider Mark's Gospel teachings up to this point you may recall that the Synagogue Ruler, a man of authority, Jairus, has also fallen at the feet of Jesus and pleaded for healing for his daughter who was deathly ill.

One of the lessons that we should gain by this text is that there is grace and mercy extended to ALL at the feet of Jesus -- although there is not an automatic answer from God, a degree of faith, genuine conviction and a depth of character are required.

In both stories from the Gospel lesson we heard of people begging Jesus for what they hoped for -- this action required the getting-down on one's knees before the Lord. It Is Humbling!! And it is not an easy position for most of us to assume, neither physically nor spiritually. Few of us have had to beg for the "things" we've needed or have desired in this life. Nevertheless, this woman has cast herself at Jesus feet . . . not in a pathetic begging, instead, her actions are calculated: She has heard about Jesus, of all of the wondrous things and miraculous healings he has done for the Jewish people in and around Galilee. She must have thought to herself, "He could do the same for me in delivering my little girl from this terrible demon--this dreadful illness."

She must have been able to read through Jesus' actions of compassion and love amongst the people of Israel -- and she must have reasoned to herself, "Christ the Healer will not ultimately discriminate against me, even though I am a 'Greek lady,' but his mercy and power will work for me -- on behalf of my daughter." As she thinks these thoughts --

She must have considered that Christ, the one who delivered people and healed them, would not play a part in the religious segregation established in that day and would not deny her request because of hatred between the two peoples caused by unjust agricultural trade policies.

As we know from the outcome of the Story, Jesus grants her request because she has demonstrated her own wise thought. Remember the exchange: "He 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." 7:28 But she answered him, "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 7:29 Then he said to her, "For saying that, you may go the demon has left your daughter."

Institutions of hatred and discrimination that have always so easily divided people groups cannot remain valid when the ministry of Christ's salvation and deliverance --The Gospel -- are to be spread throughout the world!

Indeed, this woman's interaction with Jesus seems to have been the "catalyst of opportunity" that opens up Jesus' ministry to the Gentiles and indeed this new outreach of Christ to the NON-Jewish population is confirmed by His healing of the deaf and mute man that also takes place outside of Jesus' ministry to the Jewish people.

Finally, we must address the difficulty of this passage: Jesus frankly insults this woman . . . how should we think about this? Is this the Jesus we have always known?

Or perhaps we can view this story in another way, Both participants, Jesus and the Woman, play equally important roles in teaching us How to interact with people we have not been accustomed to being with. Jesus does not deny the social and religious realities of the time and place. Neither does the woman, but in the end we are drawn to her persistence:

When at first it seems that Jesus will not speak with her, and that her request is about to go unfulfilled -- because Jesus is sent "first" to serve the Jewish people, she does not give up!. . . but instead, she enlists her intelligence, her faith, and she invests her character! "Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs from the children's table." Her's is a faith that triumphs in the midst of God's challenge. She is like Jacob who wrestled with God all night. The testing times do come and we are forced to wrest an answer from God!

You and I have known these times . . . when it seems that God is not answering our prayers, when it seems that things are not going the way that we thought that they should and discouragement sets in. This is the time when we must enter into the house where Jesus is present, these are the times when we must fall on our knees and pour out our needs and prayers on behalf of others . . . these are the times when we should go with the strength of Character that God has given us . . . even as did the Syrophoenician Woman and the unnamed "THEY" who brought the deaf and mute man to Jesus.

When we commit ourselves to Beg Jesus on behalf of others' Welfare, Righteousness, and Justice -- then we shall know the full measure of his power working in and through us, both now and forevermore, Amen.

Let us pray:

Lord Jesus, we come to you at various times in our lives with great needs for ourselves and for our loved ones. Give us faith like this woman whom you conversed with so long ago, and may we also remember that we must welcome strangers into our midst and extend to them the Gospel, for the Church is your eternal family. In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen

Read more writings of Pastor Jon