October 27, 2004
“Eating with the Dogs!”
Dr. Derek W. H. Thomas
Now turn with me to the Gospel of Mark, and we’re in
chapter seven. The Gospel of Mark, and chapter seven, and we pick up the
reading this evening at verse twenty-four, and reading down to verse thirty.
Before we read the passage together, let’s come
before God in prayer.
Father, again we bow in Your presence. We thank
You for this time of prayer and supplication and the assurance that our risen
High Priest, our Savior Jesus Christ, cleanses and purifies all of our prayers
as they are presented before You. Now bless the reading of Your word to us.
Hide it within our hearts that we might not sin against You, and hear us for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.
“And from there He arose and went away to the region of Tyre. And
when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not
escape notice. But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an
unclean spirit, immediately came and fell at His feet. Now the woman was a
Gentile, of the Syropheonician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon
out of her daughter. And He was saying to her, “Let the children be satisfied
first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the
dogs.” But she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under
the table feed on the children’s crumbs!” And He said to her, “Because of this
answer go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter.” And going back to
her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having departed.”
May the Lord add His blessing to the reading of His holy
and inerrant word.
Now, this is an extraordinary story. Jesus, in the
region of Tyre–northwest, a good journey away from where He had been ministering
in Galatia–and in the parallel passage in
Matthew 15, Matthew fills in a few details with regard to
this incident that Mark does not. Matthew tells us that this is a story about
great faith. Jesus says to this woman, “Great is your faith.”
And I wonder, before we begin to look at this story
together, is this something that you want? Is that one of your chief desires
this evening, that you would have great faith? Not a faith that wavers; not a
small faith; not a timid faith–but great faith. I wonder how much you desire
that this evening.
Now there are two things that are distinctive
about this story. Before we look at it in detail, there are two issues that we
need to explore together.
The first is that Jesus is in Gentile territory.
He’s no longer in Galilee where He has been for the last number of
chapters. He has gone northwest to the coast, Mediterranean coast–Gentile
territory, the region of Tyre and Sidon. And this marks now the end of Jesus’
fairly lengthy Galilean ministry.
And the story is going to be all the more remarkable
because it isn’t one of the covenant people of God that is going to demonstrate
this extraordinary great faith; not someone to whom has been given the promises,
the covenants, the law; but to a Gentile. A Gentile.
And a second feature that makes this story so
remarkable is that it’s a woman. Yes, a woman. And to Jewish readers, when
this narrative first came to light, it would have been extraordinary that Jesus
chose to demonstrate great faith in the profession not just of a Gentile, but of
a Gentile woman. And the story seems to be exacerbating the point by telling us
that this woman is concerned not about her son but about her daughter. One of
the tremendous things that Jesus did in the course of His ministry was to
elevate the importance and the social and religious status of women in the first
century. No matter what we may think with regard to what the rest of the New
Testament teaches about the biblical role and distinctive roles of men and
women, the sheer fact is that Jesus in contrast to the rabbis of His day
elevated the social and religious importance and status of women. This is a
story about a woman of extraordinary faith, of great faith.
Now, this story tells us how Jesus brings out
this great faith, teases it out, as it were, from this woman. And I want us to
see a few things.
I. Jesus makes it difficult for
And the first thing I want us to see is this:
that Jesus makes it very difficult for this woman. He makes it very difficult
for this woman. Mark doesn’t tell us this, but we need to pick the story up
from Matthew, in Matthew 15:21-28. And Matthew says that this woman comes to
Jesus, falls at His feet; she’s in tears, she’s crying, she’s begging Him to
help her with her daughter who is possessed of a demon. And Matthew tells us in
verse 23, in the parallel account of this story, that Jesus said to her not a
word. He ignored her. He ignored her pleas, her cries. It’s extraordinary.
Maybe you’ve been accused of doing this–I know that I’ve been accused of doing
this, when my head’s been in the clouds and somebody has, you know, said
something; and I’ve been accused of ignoring them, and they’ve taken umbrage and
so on…and you’ve got to go back and undo a whole lot of difficulties, and
sometimes it can be an extraordinary situation that can develop out of a context
just like this. We won’t dwell on that now, because Mark doesn’t actually tell
us this, but we need to know that background. He ignored her. He ignored her
for a reason. He ignored her, as we shall see, in order to bring out her faith,
but the sheer fact is that He made it difficult for her.
The silence of God: isn’t that one of the things
that we often wrestle with? Isn’t that what Job often wrestles with in the
great narrative of the story of Job? The silence of God: it can produce all
kinds of reactions with us–anger and frustration, and disappointment and
There’s that story, isn’t there, of Martin Luther as
he’s leaving one morning and he’s discouraged and cast down and forlorn, and his
wife says to him, you know, “What’s wrong?” (Katie, his wife…) and he says to
her, “I think God is dead.” And when he comes back that evening he finds the
house is …curtains are drawn, everything is black, Katie is going around from
head to toe in black. And he says to her, “Katie, who died?” And she says,
“Well, you said God had died!” There’s a wife for you!
There’s another feature of this story that Mark
actually doesn’t tell us, and that is the reaction of the apostles. When this
woman came to Jesus, the apostles apparently said to Jesus, “Send her away.
Send her away.” Now again, we won’t dwell on that, because Mark doesn’t tell us
that, but it’s part of the background to the story. Jesus makes it difficult
for this woman to come to Him.
Now what is it that Mark particularly
dwells on? Well, she came to Jesus even though you and I might perceive that He
had spoken about a doctrine of privilege. He talks about–this is
what he says to her–that it is not right to take the children’s bread and to
give it to the dogs. Now, he talks about the children’s bread: that is to say,
the bread that belongs to the people of God, the bread that by right belongs to
those who are the covenant people of God, the people of Israel, the Jews. And
she is not a Jew. She’s a Gentile. Here’s Jesus raising a barrier. He’s
raising an obstacle for this woman, that there’s such a thing as children’s
bread that she is not entitled to. It’s distancing her. The remarkable thing
about this woman’s faith and the energy of this woman’s faith is that it
persevered despite the fact that Jesus is making it difficult for her to come,
and He’s underlining the fact that God had appeared and given promises and made
covenants with His people, and she is outside of that. And He’s saying that
it’s not right to take the children’s bread and to give it to the dogs. And she
perseveres, despite what seems to be a doctrine of privilege.
It’s like as though Jesus had said to her–in a
different context, you understand–but it’s like as though here’s a woman who is
coming to Jesus wanting to believe and trust in Jesus, and He had raised the
issue of election and predestination. It’s that kind of thing that’s before us
here. There’s an obstacle, there’s a barrier. There’s children’s bread, and
she’s not entitled to it.
And in addition to that, there’s this use of the
word “dog.” It’s not right, He says, to take the children’s bread
and to give it, to throw it, to the dogs. Now you can do all of the fine
exegesis that you want to do on that statement. It’s never going to come out
pretty. You can explain all kinds of contexts and nuances, and you can say that
the word that Jesus employs here doesn’t refer to the scavengers that prowled
the city streets and carried all kinds of diseases and so on and so forth; that
this is a softer word, and that this is a Greek word that may apply to the
custom that was just about beginning to occur in Jesus’ day, to pet dogs, and
that this word is not referring, you know, to the scavengers that are prowling
out there that you’re terrified of, but that this is a word that applies to
Well, that may be true. But you know, if you refer
to a woman and call her by the name of a household pet, you’re still not going
to make any great favors! And however you interpret this, this is a harsh
statement. This is a difficult statement. Jesus is saying it’s not right to
take the children’s bread and to cast it to the dogs. It’s extraordinary, isn’t
it, that Jesus is making it hard for this woman? He’s putting up obstacles,
barriers in the way of this woman coming to Jesus. He’s underlining how
unworthy she is. She has no entitlement, because she’s outside of the covenant
people of God and she’s a Gentile. And Gentiles, as far as Jews were concerned,
were dogs. Unclean. Unfit. You don’t have any social contact with them, or
you try and avoid that as much as possible. Or if you must do so, there’s a
ritual of cleansing that you have to go through. She’s a sinner, and a member
of a community to which God has given no promise.
What is Jesus doing? He’s bringing her to the
end of herself so that the only thing that she can plead is mercy. She
can’t plead entitlement, she can only plead mercy. He makes it difficult for
her to come.
II. The woman makes it difficult
But secondly, she makes it difficult for Jesus, and
that’s the extraordinary thing, too. She makes it difficult for Jesus. I put it
that way, because it seems to me that’s exactly what she’s doing. Her response
is quite overwhelming. She doesn’t say like Abner says in II Samuel, “Am I a
dog?” and walks away. She says, “Truth, Lord. And yet…” She goes on. She
agrees with the assessment. She doesn’t fly off the handle and get all bent out
of shape by this remark that Jesus makes. She catches Jesus in His own words.
She employs a wonderful example of argumentum ad hominem. All you
lawyers know all about that. Luther says she ensnares Him in His own words.
If I am a dog, she says, give me the dog’s portion. Just give me the leftovers.
Give me crumbs, crumbs that fall from the master’s table. Isn’t that
beautiful? Isn’t that an extraordinary thing for this woman to say? She agrees
with the assessment entirely, and she says, ‘Right. If I am a dog, just give me
the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.’ It’s a beautiful expression of
the simplicity of her faith. This woman is a New Testament Jacob. It’s as
though she’s taking hold of Jesus and she’s saying ‘I will not let You go until
You bless me.’ She’s arguing with Jesus.
You know, there’s a statement somewhere–I believe
it’s Cyril of Alexandria who says it–and he’s saying it about the parable that
Jesus tells of the importunate widow who comes to the judge at midnight and
knocks on the door, and won’t stop knocking on the door until the judge
answers. And Cyril says “there is a sense in which in prayer that we should
pray in such a way so as to make God ashamed if He does not grant our request.”
To pray in such a way as to make Him ashamed if He doesn’t grant our
request…that’s exactly what this woman is doing.
She could have done a number of things. She could
have wallowed in self-pity at the fact that she was barely noticed, and ignored;
and that the disciples wanted to send her away, and that Jesus didn’t say a word
She could have become angry and thrown a wobbly.
She could have begun to cry, and uncontrollably sob. She could have done a
number of things. But instead, she believed.
She took God at His word. She took Jesus at His
word. She latches onto this word “dog.” It’s as though she’s put her foot in
the door. It’s like an unwanted salesman who comes knocking at your door, or
somebody canvassing for the wrong political party! And they’re at your door,
and you want to close the door, but they put their foot in the door. And that’s
what she’s doing. That’s what we are to do, you and I, in prayer. We take the
words of Jesus and we, as it were, take them back to Him.
You know, the Puritans–Matthew Henry, for example,
in Method for Prayer; William Gurnall, when he’s expounding that verse
“praying with all prayer and all supplication in the Spirit”–that’s exactly what
we should be doing in prayer: taking God’s word and taking that word and taking
it back to God; praying God’s word back to Him.
And that’s what we see this woman doing. That’s the
measure of the greatness of her faith. She takes Jesus’ word, and she takes it
back to Him. You see the greatness of her faith. It has knowledge; she calls
Him “Lord.” It assents to the voracity of what He’s saying. She’s saying,
“Yes, Lord, that’s true,” she says.
And this trust here, she falls down at Jesus’ feet.
You know, I don’t know how much she knew about Jesus, whether she’d ever seen
Jesus before, whether she’d ever seen any miracles before–probably not. Away up
in Tyre, all that she had heard was probably rumor–bits and pieces of
information that had been passed to her by oral tradition. She knows very little
about Jesus, and yet she trusts Him. She didn’t have a fraction of the benefits
that you and I have tonight, and yet her reliance is completely and utterly in
Jesus. She will not let Him go until He blesses her.
III. How does Jesus respond?
Now let’s ask in closing, what is it that
Jesus did in response to her faith? And Jesus commends her. Matthew says
He says about her that she had “great faith.” She had great faith. She had
great faith. Now what does Jesus give her? Crumbs? Crumbs that fall from the
master’s table? Is that what Jesus gives her? No. He gives her a hot,
steaming loaf of bread. Her daughter, for whom she had come in the first place,
is immediately healed and restored in response to her faith.
Now, does this have something to say to you
and to me tonight about persisting in prayer, even when there are obstacles,
even when there are difficulties, even when it seems as though Jesus is shutting
the door in our face? Then stick your foot in the door. Stick your
foot in the door. Maybe you come tonight, just as this woman came, with another
on your heart. You’re not coming about yourself, you’re coming about another.
And you know, that must have been all the more difficult. You know, it’s one
thing for people to say something and to be negative towards us; it’s quite
another thing to say something about our children, isn’t it? And we can react in
a wholly different way when it’s our children that are at stake. And here is
this woman; she’s concerned about her daughter.
And maybe that’s how you’ve come tonight, and you’re
burdened about a son; you’re burdened about a daughter; you’re burdened about a
mother, a father, a brother, a sister. And it looks as though God isn’t
listening to you. It looks as though God is ignoring your prayers. It looks as
though the heavens are echoing with the sound of your prayers, but nothing is
happening. Then do what this woman did, because she’s put here as an example
for you and for me of persistence in prayer, of not letting Jesus go until He
I ask you tonight, do you know anything about this
kind of determination? Ah, many of us know what it is to give up. Many of us
know what it is to wallow in self-pity. Many of us know what it is to give in
to ourselves and to our circumstances. And I’m saying, let this woman be, as it
were, a beacon that shines in a dark place that says to you and says to me, keep
on praying. Keep on praying. Keep on bringing this petition, this laudable
petition; this petition that isn’t about yourself, it’s about another, and it’s
for a good and noble and righteous cause. It may be for the salvation of a
loved one. Well, don’t stop praying. Never, never give up.
James Fraser, one of the great Covenanters of the
seventeenth century, once wrote, “Prayers may be suspended when they are not
rejected. Your case,” he says, “is in dependence not overthrown. God may give
you that which will cover your expenses till the decision is given.”
Have you been praying, and your efforts seem to have
been repulsed? Have you sought the Lord and come away disappointed? Then trust
Him still. Trust Him still. Lay hold of Him. And if the earth sinks beneath
you, cling on! If storms should howl round about you, don’t give up an inch!
Let this woman, this godly, godly mother, be an example to you of heroic and
courageous and persevering faith in Jesus.
May God so write it upon our hearts, for His name’s
sake. Let’s pray together.
Our Father in heaven, we are truly rebuked by the
greatness of this dear woman’s faith. We pray, Lord God Almighty, so kindle in
us such a faith that will not let You go. We pray for those amongst us whose
hearts are weary and torn and sad. We pray, give them perseverance; give them
strength; give them stick-ability in the midst of the storm; to lay hold upon
You and not to let You go. Grow us in our faith, we pray, and then we will see
the trial to have been for a good end and a good cause. So bless us, we pray for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.
Please stand and receive the Lord’s
Grace, mercy and peace from God our Father, and
the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
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