Churches naturally have a members-only attitude. The systems and ministries we plan and design are meant for the members. I am not saying that is a bad thing, but it is something to think about when we wonder why outsiders are not flocking to our events.
This reality is only one challenge the church faces. We also have our insider code language and Christianese. Often this language, created over time is specific to each congregation. For example, during church when the pastor sends off the little ones tothe‘Martha Schmidt Room.’ Or invite men to come to join ‘The Sons of David’ group which meets on Wednesday mornings at our usual location. We only add another layer of exclusion. It sends a subtle message this is not for you. At the beginning of Mark chapter seven, this exclusiveness has gone so far Jewish leaders have devised a new man-made law to ceremonially wash the filth of the outsider Gentiles from them to not be corrupted by having contact with outsiders. Jesus refused to honor that law and came into direct conflict with the religious leadership.
Jesus’ response to the Jewish leaders was twofold: the leaders invalidated God’s laws in order to keep their human traditions; and sin is a matter of the heart, not the diet.
So, Jesus explains what does make us unclean.
And he (Jesus) said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” Mark 7
Jesus would explain the religious leader’s hypocrisy through the practice of “Corban.” Corban was an Aramaic term for his Gentile hearers. It was a special offering to God which could remain in place during the giver’s lifetime but could not be used for any other purpose, like caring for their needy elderly parents. This would be like an irrevocable living trust.
All of this is important because it leads us to Jesus and the two interactions in today’s text. Both Gentiles, both outsiders, both excluded from the minds of His Jewish readers.
Mark’s accounts of the events in Jesus’ ministry is telling. He shows the irony of the religious traditions and how even though well-intentioned, lead believers far from the heart and mind of God. In the miracle performed in the life of the Syrophoenician woman, Jesus tries to right the ship. The healing comes immediately after Jesus overturns the beliefs of what makes us clean and unclean. Much like the titanic shift God makes in the heart of Peter in Acts chapter 10:15-16 through a dream.
The voice spoke a second time, “Never consider unclean what God has made pure.” This happened three times, then the object was suddenly pulled back into heaven.
There is clearly a veiled parallel between the way the scribes and Pharisees approach Jesus, arrogantly (7:1–23) and the way this woman comes, with unwavering faith (7:25–26).
As Anderson’s commentary notes, the evangelist has set forth Jesus’ emphatic declaration that “the old way of the law is passé.” The story of the Syrophoenician woman “suggests that only on the basis of new insights from outside the pale of Judaism does faith arise.”
Why did Jesus Call her a Mutt?
In fact, a woman whose young daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit heard about him right away. She came and fell at his feet. The woman was Greek, Syrophoenician by birth. She begged Jesus to throw the demon out of her daughter. He responded, “The children have to be fed first. It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
But she answered, “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”
“Good answer!” he said. “Go on home. The demon has already left your daughter.” When she returned to her house, she found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone.
Why Is She an Outsider?
A woman in the text is alone without a husband. From that, we can glean that she is a widow or has never married. However, she has a little daughter with “an unclean spirit.” The woman was a “Gentile.” Which is someone of any nationality who was not Jewish? She encounters our Lord with three strikes against her. 1) she is a woman in a male dominant society and a single mother to boot. 2) She attends the wrong church is the wrong religion. And 3) she is the wrong race since “Syrophoenician” was an unsavory racial term. In addition to all those problems now she is bringing to Jesus a demon-possessed girl.
With all those factors working against her, Jesus points out what the crowd is thinking. How dare this outsider, this dog of society come and ask anything of this Rabbi?
Jesus’ response to the Syrophoenician woman has an un-Jesus like harshness that leaves us uncomfortable. You expect a compassionate savior, not a rude one. Jews used “dogs” as a derogatory term for Gentiles whom they regarded as unclean as “muts” searching streets for garbage. It is not the cute little puppy that holds the honor of a family member in many households. No, this “mut” does not share the family status of a valued child.
The Inclusive Savior
Jesus proves to those watching and listening He is a Savior for the world. Jesus stands in the gap of cultural norms, of religious exclusivity, tradition, and bridges the gap caused by sin. He is there to help us all no matter our station or position in this world. He is not surprised or intimidated by your situation. In fact, Jesus voluntarily put himself in what seemed to all a hopeless situation when he went to the cross. His victory over death made certain that there is hope for the world and that there is hope for you.
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