Mark 7:24-30 Faith of the Syrophoenician Woman

We are told that (Mark 7:24) Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre…  Jesus has been in Bethsaida (6:45), a town on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  Bethsaida is a place firmly located in Jewish culture.  To work and minister in Bethsaida fits perfectly with the ministry of the Messiah to the Jewish people.  For Jesus was going to travel from one village to another and preach the gospel of the Kingdom of God. (Mark 1:38-39) Jesus replied, “Let us go somewhere else — to the nearby villages — so I can preach there also. That is why I have come.” So he traveled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.


But Tyre is anything but a Jewish city.  Tyre is a gentile city, full of pagan idolatry.  Tyre is a city that has been on both good and bad terms with the Jews.  During the reign of David and his son Solomon, Tyre was an ally, and the place where Israel purchased cedar logs for the building of the temple and the building of the king’s palace (2Sam 5:11, 2Chron 2:3).  The King of Tyre even told Solomon, (2Chr. 2:11) “Because the LORD loves his people, he has made you their king.”  But not long after these blissful days of peaceful relation, Tyre became a place in competition with the Jewish nation and under the curse and punishment of God.


Isaiah prophesies concerning Tyre’s destruction in Isaiah 23:1.  But so does Ezekiel, who declares, (Ezek. 26:2-3) “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I will prosper,’ 3 therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.”  And this happened when Alexander the Great conquered the city that thought it was invincible, because of us separation from the land as an island stronghold. And in Nehemiah’s day a few hundred years later, it is the (Neh. 13:16) Men from Tyre who lived in Jerusalem [who] were bringing in fish and all kinds of merchandise and selling them in Jerusalem on the Sabbath to the people of Judah.   These gentiles are actively leading the people of God, recently returned from exile, into the very actions that they had been punished for previously. 


So why is Jesus withdrawing to a place that has been antagonistic to the Jewish people?  Why especially is he withdrawing to this region in light of his statement to the woman that the dogs shouldn’t get anything until the people have first had their fill.  I believe the answer to this conundrum lies in Psalm 87:4 “I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me — Philistia too, and Tyre, along with Cush — and will say, ‘This one was born in Zion.’” The Old Testament is full of prophesies that foreshadow the bringing in of the gentiles into the people of God and though Jesus came first for the Jew and then for the Gentile, his ministry was never fully limited to Jew alone.  From it’s beginning in the Gospel of Mark the ministry of Jesus has touched the lives of Gentiles.  Capernaum was a city of Jewish and Gentile inhabitants, all of which gathered at his door.  The fourth chapter of the gospel speaks of the parables of growth and how the Kingdom of God will expand.  The fifth chapter has Christ healing a demoniac in the Gerasenes whose inhabitants ranched pigs.  Certainly this is not a Jewish culture in which Jesus ministers only. So why had Jesus withdrawn to the region of Tyre?  Though certainly tired, in the plan of God, the withdrawal of Jesus to Tyre was part of the grand expansion of the Kingdom, a Kingdom that was to encompass people from every nation and tribe and language and culture.


Mark is painting a picture of a Messiah who has come to seek and to save the lost, even the lost Gentiles.  And so as we read on in our story this morning, we need to not read with indignation at the way Jesus responds to this woman, but we should read with delight to see that our Lord is testing her, like he tested so many others to see if the roots of faith are alive and well and when he sees that faith in her life, he grants her request, just as he has granted every other request in the gospel.  For truly there is no Jew or Gentile, male or female, slave or free in Christ Jesus (Col 3:11).


So when the Greek woman comes and begs Jesus to heal her daughter, she is expressing a certain amount of faith that Jesus has the power to cast out demons.  But Jesus replies to this faith with a glass of cold water.  He essentially tosses a verbal hand grenade at her that is meant to disarm her and send her running, if in fact, she is merely looking for a miracle instead of truly believing in the Kingdom of God and its reign in her life.


This is one of those statements in the Scriptures, which a disciple of Jesus living in an age of tolerance and culture would love to excise.  Jesus’ words are demeaning and derogatory at best.  He calls the woman a dog and tells her that she has no claim on the kingdom until the legitimate children have exhausted their claim.  And yet this doesn’t deter the woman, she is the only person in Scripture who is recorded as having “bested Jesus in verbal repartee.”[1]   She accepts the designation that she is not a legitimate child of the Kingdom, that designation belongs to the Jews, and yet, she understands that the reason the Jews existed was to be a blessing to the nations.  Abraham had been told that all the peoples of the earth would be blessed through him (Gen 12:3b).    This woman is submitting herself in faith to the messianic mission of the Kingdom of God.  She is honoring the primacy of Israel in being the people of God who were to bring forth the Messiah and who should eat of the first fruits of the Kingdom and yet she knew that the Kingdom couldn’t be limited in geographic or ethnic scope and so she asks for her part.  She claims her rightful place as a participant in the household of God.


If we want to talk about faith, this woman has exercised the greatest amount of faith so far recorded in the gospel of Mark.  She has understood more about the Kingdom of God than anyone in Israel, and Jesus recognizes it and honors her reply and her request.


So what does a passage like this say to us today?  How are we to apply the words of the woman and the words of Christ to our lives and the life of the Church?


First, we must recognize the extent of the Kingdom.  Our salvation, our relationship with Jesus, it isn’t just for us.  The Kingdom has a scope that is so much larger than our individual lives. The Kingdom of God exists to touch the lives of people, even those who are technically not part of the Kingdom yet.  Like the nation of Israel in the Old Testament, the Church today exists as the people of God, called to take the message of God’s reign to the world.  The Church exists to be a blessing to the world.  And how can we be that blessing?  By seeking the welfare of the cities in which we live and by praying for our nations.  Whenever we seek to improve education, to lower crime, to create jobs, to honor those in authority, to care for the needy, to feed the hungry; to heal the sick then the people of God are being a blessing to the nations.  The members of the church must care about the things of life.  The members of the church must volunteer time.  The members of the church must meet the needs of the needy, and all of that must be done in the name of Christ, praying for his kingdom to be extended even to those beyond the kingdom right now.


Second, we must realize that there is never anyone who is too far-gone to become a member of the house of God.  Even the little dogs, those scruffy little animals that hang out around us but aren’t too clean or behaved; even they have a place in the Church.  They come because of the care and compassion that is extended to them and though they might not realize why they stay, we know that they stay because the Kingdom is beckoning them.


Third, we learn that faith changes everything.  It is by faith that healing occurs; that one is able to participate in the Kingdom of God and it is by faith that one receives divine approval.  Faith is the key to all of life.  But what is faith?  The Heidelberg Catechism defines true faith as not only a knowledge and conviction that everything God reveals in his Word is true; it is also a deep-rooted assurance, created in me by the Holy Spirit through the gospel that, out of sheer grace earned for us by Christ, not only others, but I too, have had my sins forgiven, have been made forever right with God, and have been granted salvation (Q/A21).  Faith is the knowledge and conviction that God rules and that his reign affects my life.  This is what the woman from Tyre believed and she was granted her request.  When we find ourselves willingly living under the reign of God, we will experience the miraculous in life.  For the Lord will forgive our sins, he will use us to perform miracles, to see the spiritually dead raised to life, and to watch the sick be healed.  But faith is the key – an earnest belief and trust that God is at work, even through me.


Are we willing to live a life of faith?  Trusting the word of God for what it says, being obedient and pressing into it even when the situation and circumstances seem to be discouraging and less than ideal?  Will we cry out Lord I believe, help my unbelief! (John 9:38). Since we trust that God is the author and perfecter of our faith.


Fourth, we can learn and recognize that there is only one household of faith which everyone who is to be saved must participate in. (Gal. 3:28) There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  Christ has only one body, composed of those who are grafted into his life, death and resurrection.  Romans 11 speaks about this grafting in of the gentiles into the true Jewish branch of the promises of God.  Practically this means that all the churches in Whatcom county and the world that confess Christ as the Son of God, the only source and way to the forgiveness of sins and eternal life, all of these churches are united under the banner of the Kingdom.  We aren’t competitors, or enemies.  Rather we should rejoice when a sister church is succeeding and we should mourn when a sister church is struggling.  We should be ready to aid our brothers and sisters; we should be cooperating in ministry and life, praying for one another and being prayed for.  We should recognize that regardless of ethnicity, culture, age, musical preference, social status or economic ability that we are all one in the kingdom.


Finally, this story should serve to remind each of us of our place in the kingdom of God.  We all have a place in the household of God from which we can be fed from the table of the Lord.  Simply being a member of the household grants us immense status whether we are the dogs or the children.  What matters is that God has willingly invited us into his home and he cares for us. If you wonder if you belong in the Kingdom, simply remember this story and take heart.  Even the most insignificant person can eat from the table of the King if they understand that they too are a recipient of the blessings of God through Christ.


So in this short story we learn much about the Christian life and the Kingdom of God.  The Christian life is a life of faith, living and dining at the table of God.  And the Kingdom of God is an ever expanding rule that is meant to bless those it touches by drawing out true faith in those who hear of its wonder and power and by uniting them into a single household of which Christ is the head.  So let us never forget the wonder of the woman’s response – a response that declared even I am part of your household.  Feed me too!  And it is with that statement that we will end and look forward to next week’s passage where Jesus declares that he is the Bread of Life.

[1] Sacra Pagina, Gospel of Mark, p.234

About Scott Roberts

pastor of Hope in Christ Church, Bellingham, WA
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