And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon,
and entered into an house, and would have no man know it:
but he could not be hid.
For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit,
heard of him, and came and fell at his feet:
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation;
and she besought him that he would
cast forth the devil out of her daughter.
But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled:
for it is not meet to take the children's bread,
and to cast it unto the dogs.
And she answered and said unto him,
Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table
eat of the children's crumbs.
And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way;
the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
And when she was come to her house,
she found the devil gone out,
and her daughter laid upon the bed.
I confess that no matter how often I read this story, it always unsettles me. Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, who comes to save the entire world from sin, death, hell, and the power of the devil, because He is the eternal Creator and Savior of all the world, in this story seems to have a bias for the Jewish people over others. And more than a bias, He used insulting language to respond to a Greek woman who pleaded with Him to rescue her daughter from possession by a demon. Anyone who has been up close and personal with a demon knows how vile, dangerous, and malevolent they are, how bent upon the desecration and destruction of the human race they show themselves to be. This mother, having watched a demon wreak devastation upon her child, sought out Jesus and begged Him to save her precious little girl. How then could a just, loving, and saving God brush her aside with a racial slur, inferring that His gifts were primarily intended for His own people?
It is first important to note that the text does not reveal what was in this woman’s heart, nor in the hearts of His disciples and those around Him. We might assume this woman is motivated by love of her daughter, but we do not know what other mixtures of pride and wickedness also flow out of her fallen heart, as Mark’s earlier recording of Jesus’ teaching in this chapter describe— for it’s not anything from the outside going in which defiles a person, but that which flows out of a person’s fallen and twisted nature which defiles him. The reader is tempted to judge Jesus harshly for His treatment of this woman, but only He really knew this woman’s heart. Perhaps our discomfort in reading Jesus’ words to the desperate woman reveal something about us that we are uncomfortable acknowledging.
For both Jews and Greeks, and every other race of people under the sun, there is a temptation to entitlement before God. Such a sense of entitlement shows up as a manifestation of pride, demanding of God what we think we are due by virtue of our own dignity and self-worth. What this pride fails to recognize is that before God we deserve nothing but death and hell. Our fall into sin and depravity was not God’s doing but our own, choosing evil over good, hatred over love, destruction over life. As a whole human race, we are fallen from our Creator’s design, with a twisted nature which pride goads into judging ourselves as righteous and God as unjust. Pride seeks to make God our servant and bend Him to our will, resulting in a delusional sense of entitlement that manifests in all sorts of bizarre pagan religious trappings. For the Jews who thought themselves specially entitled to God’s favor by virtue of their birth and nation, or the Greeks who thought themselves entitled by virtue of their own special peculiarities, the problem is the same: pride is a dangerous delusion, an idolatry which presumes the mantle of divinity, casting ourselves as our own impotent gods who have no ability to rescue from our impending death and hell.
The truth is that every man, woman, and child, regardless of race, affiliation, nation, or peculiarity, is the filthy little dog underneath the Master’s table, unworthy of any good thing set upon it. When the Greek mother of a hopelessly possessed child realized that she was entitled to nothing from Jesus, but rather begged Him of His mercy to grant her what she knew she did not deserve, she and everyone around her learned something critically important about their God. In addition to His justice and truth, His power and His righteousness, He is also merciful and gracious. His love does not come to us based upon our worthiness, but upon His unfathomable compassion. Jesus knew that so long as anyone approached God in a vain pride pride of seeking justice for what we feel entitled, we could only receive the just reward of the Law which strips every delusion bare, and reveals the fate of every evil creature before a perfect Judge. But in a faith and repentance which seeks grace and mercy, our Saving God is quick to respond with forgiveness, life, and salvation in this world and the next. While according to the Law we stand condemned for the sake of our own most grievous fault, in the Gospel of Jesus’ vicarious atonement for our sins through His life, death, and resurrection on our behalf, we receive all the gifts of His grace by a humble, repentant faith in Him.
Pride is always uncomfortable in the glaring light of humiliation, but such divine light is the beginning of our healing and restoration before God. To know that we are the little dogs who are unworthy to be sustained by the crumbs which fall from our Master’s table, is to know that we are unworthy by own merits of the grand feast He has set before us. But in a living faith which trusts in God’s promises of mercy and love, we find that we are not merely left to scrounge for scraps, but invited to sit at the table for the sake of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, clothed with His righteousness in place of our own fallenness. For it is not God’s desire to give us what we deserve according to His justice, nor to validate our deadly delusions of pride and entitlement. Rather, it is His desire to pour out His riches of grace and life without measure upon all who will repent and believe in Him.
If the story of Jesus’ encounter with the Greek mother of a possessed child makes you uncomfortable, it is the antiseptic of God’s Word and Spirit reaching your heart’s font of pride which resists knowing who you are, and who your Creator really is. Let the Law break your prideful heart so that you might know the truth of your condition, that together with the whole human race, there is none who can rightly demand any good thing from our Maker. But in this realization, hear your Savior’s gracious Word of forgiveness and life, receiving from Him a saving faith which trusts His promises and turns from the delusions of evil. Hear the Word of the Lord which seeks not to give you the scraps you don’t deserve, but the fullness of His eternal banquet, where grace upon grace abounds unto you in eternal life, and joy, and peace. Amen.