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.
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.
Jesus has just fed the 5,000 – and by “the 5,000” the gospel writer means the 5,000 Jewish men in attendance. There were most assuredly more, including women, children, and the elderly. He’s also just been in a dispute with some of the Jewish leadership over the interpretation of certain laws. If I am to embrace the doctrine of the incarnation and the “two natures” of Christ in “one being” (full divinity and full humanity without division or separation) then I must also embrace the idea that Jesus was susceptible to the same kinds of exhaustion and frustration that all humans experience. As I read the beginnings of this text, I see very clearly that “he [Jesus] did not want anyone to know he was there [Tyre].” If I go somewhere and want no one to know where I am going, it is because I do not wish to be contacted. It is logical to assume that this, too, was the case for Jesus. In fact, he wanted not to be contacted so much that he travelled 100 miles north. This is the only time that Jesus leaves the region of Galilee for a predominately Gentile area. Now for the sixth grade arithmetic word problem:
If Jesus is travelling 1 mile per hour (mph) for 100 miles, and must also take an average of 1 hour per day for eating and drinking, less than 1 hour per day for passing what he ate and drank, and stopped at every sundown, beginning again before the next sunrise (approximately 8 hours), then how long did it take Jesus to walk from Jerusalem to Tyre?
Answer: Approximately 6 days to get there, an unknown amount of time spent in Tyre, 6 days back to Jerusalem, and unknown variables that would change the average of 1 mph. So I’m going with as little as 2 weeks and as long as one month or more if he continued to receive the hospitality of the house he was in.
A woman approached Jesus and requested healing for her daughter, who was troubled by an “unclean spirit.” From the text, we can conclude that knowledge of Jesus’ works preceded him in the territory north of the region of Galilee, because she immediately heard of his presence and found him. This word – “immediately” – is the Greek word euthus and is used some thirty-six times in the Gospel of Mark. There is a sense of urgency and immediacy in Mark’s gospel because of the emphasis on this word. “The kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe the Gospel.” These are the words that begin Jesus’ adult ministry in Galilee.
There are three acts to this play that we need to pay attention to: The Resistance, The Riposte, and The Revelation
There are three incredibly important things we need to know about this woman. I believe that this woman changed the short-term course of Jesus’ ministry. I believe this woman challenged Jesus in such a way that Jesus reconsidered who salvation was for. These three things are:
1) She is a Gentile. In other words, she is a non-Jew
2) She is of Syrophoenician origin. In other words, she is Greek. Her daughter has a bed that is not just straw with a cloak covering it- she may or may not have wealth.
3) She is denied the healing of her daughter by Jesus, and in the text that follows her description, Jesus adds that she is a dog.
There are some scholars and preachers who “spin” the text. They claim that Jesus is using the “diminutive” form of the word. This is true. However, calling someone a dog in the Mediterranean was a custom already established to be an insult. The same is true still today. We all remember the words of Muntadar al-Zaidi, the journalist who threw his shoes at President George W. Bush, calling him a dog.
We must also combat the current idea of the diminutive “lap dog,” which has a very different connotation today. Even then, however, I am not convinced that there was a whole lot of love in what Jesus said. He was escaping from ministry for some rest. He didn’t want to be seen or recognized. I’m not trying to turn Jesus’ reprieve into a union break, but I am trying to say that Jesus, and the writer of the book, are conveying the traditional Jewish idea that a Jewish messiah would come from a Jewish God to the Jews first.
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.’ It is in these two verses that we see Jesus’ thrust, and the woman’s parry and riposte. To parry your weapon must receive the blow. As I read this passage I feel that the woman own’s Jesus’ statement whole-heartedly. “I’m a dog? Okay, then – I’m a dog. But even a dog gets the children’s crumbs.” She bore the force of the blow, parried the statement, and thrust back with the sharp point of her wit and wisdom. This is not new. Moses, Abraham, Joshua, Job, Jacob … all have tangled with the Divine in an attempt to change a statement or a decision.
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. 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.
Jesus changes his mind and heals the woman’s daughter. Again, not new theologically. If Jesus is humanity and divinity in one substance without division or confusion, and if the God of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament has an established tradition of hearing out humanity on certain issues, then Jesus is not doing anything that should cause us to shudder.
This is the most fascinating piece of the story. Jesus returns to Galilee and goes to the region of the Decapolis. The Decapolis is a group of ten cities that are predominately made up of a non-Jewish population. When he gets there he repeats the feeding miracle! Jesus, having fed the 5,000+ Jewish people gathered before he left for Tyre comes back and does the same for the 4,000+ Gentiles. I can’t dismiss that this is repeated, and I can’t help but think the Syrophoenician woman had something to do with this.