In the Beginning….
God created a beautiful, wonderful universe, majestic in its galaxies, all of this out of nothing. He created a place called earth which teamed with life. God saw this world and said ‘Its good, very good’, he delighted in it. In this world he placed humanity, who although made from dust was also made with the breath of God. This ‘animal’ was also an image bearer.
However, humanity messed it up. The world in its beauty became marred. Evil, ugliness and pain replacing goodness, beauty and delight.
God doesn’t just destroy the world, but he embarks on a major rescue plan. A plan by which he would call a people to himself, who would be in his image bearers. A people who would build a community who would be a light to the nations, a people who would bring healing to this broken world. They were, to steal a Tom Wright phrase, called to be a doctor to the world. These people were the covenant family, Israel.
Rescue Plan Gone Wrong
God’s covenant people, who he showered with his grace, the people he called as his servant to be a blessing, abused their position of privilege. They forsook there allegiance to YHWH and their vocation to be a blessing. Instead of being a light to the nations, they put up the walls and pronolunced judgeemnt on the outsider. God punishes Israel and sends them into exile.
Rescue Plan Redeemed
God does not give up on his rescue plan for the world. He calls Jesus, who was filled with the Spirit of God, to reconstitute Israel around himself. The exile is over, the covenant promises are being fulfilled in the ministry of Jesus. Sin is being removed, the enemy being defeated, and the Spirit of YHWH is at work to build the kingdom, restore the covenanat. Jesus followers are called, in line with the ministry of Jesus, to be a blessign to the nations.
Mark 7:24-30 we see Jesus reaches out to the outsider, to those who are classed as irrelevant or enemies of the Kingdom of God.
1) She is a gentile (note the double emphasis on this in v26)
2) She is a woman (In the cultural context women were often despised)
3) Her daughter has a demon (She is unclean)
Gentiles were often seen as being ‘dogs’. v27
To refer to a human being as a ‘dog’ is deliberately offensive or dismissive (cf. 2 Sa. 16:9; Ps. 22:16; Phil. 3:2); Jews typically referred to Gentiles as dogs. The diminutive form (used in biblical literature only in this pericope), perhaps indicates the status of the dogs in Jesus’ image as dogs of the house rather than of the yard, but it does not remove the harshness of picturing Gentiles en masse as ‘dogs’ as opposed to ‘children’. It is the sort of language a Gentile might expect from a Jew, but to find it in a saying of Jesus is shocking.
France, R. T.: The Gospel of Mark : A Commentary on the Greek Text. Grand Rapids, Mich.; Carlisle : W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 2002, S. 298
Although Jesus appears to buy into the ethnocentric racism of the day- he doesn’t. He gives priority to the mission for Israel (Is 49:6) but offers healing and restoration of this gentile outsider. In Mark Jesus’ parables are often misunderstood but she understands it, even responding in way which carries on the parable.
This woman’s contending with Jesus is a fulfillment of Israel’s vocation; she, a Gentile, is a true Israelite. Martin Luther, who himself contended much with God, found in the story of the Syrophoenician woman a great wonder and comfort. She, said Luther, asked for no more than her due. “She took Christ at his own words. He then treated her not as a dog but as a child of Israel.”
Edwards, James R.: The Gospel According to Mark. Grand Rapids, Mich; Leicester, England : Eerdmans; Apollos, 2002 (The Pillar New Testament Commentary), S. 222
As a church we are united to Christ, and share with him the vocation to be a light to the nations. Like Jesus though, the story of the gospel, is tied in the the story of Israel. To lose the story of ‘Israel’ in our presentation of the gospel is to distort it.