Today's Reading – Mark 7:24-8:10 – More than crumbs from the table
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The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman is simply wonderful. The woman had a daughter who was suffering with some form of disabling condition, believed to be caused by demon possession. Hearing that Jesus was in the area she came to find him. Falling at his feet she asks Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus seems to dismiss her request with sharp words; "First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs" (Mark 7:27). But she immediately responds, "Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs" (7:28). Jesus is pleased with her response and sends her away with the assurance that her daughter is healed.
The quick and playful response of this woman not only pleased Jesus, it evidently delighted and amused the disciples who later recalled what she had said. But why did Jesus seem reluctant to help this woman? Maybe his words were intended to test the woman's faith; was she sufficiently convinced of Jesus' ability to heal that she would not be willing to be turned aside from her purpose of gaining healing for her daughter?
But there may also be a clue in the opening words of Jesus, "First let the children eat ..." These words express the priority of Jesus' ministry while also leaving the door open to the possibility that others may also gain a blessing from him – a door which is eagerly pushed wide open by this needy mother. During his earthly ministry, Jesus is concerned to bring the message of the kingdom to the lost sheep of Israel. He does this not because he lacks concern for those outside the bounds of his own people, but precisely because he is concerned for the whole world. It is from these sons of Abraham that, in due course, the gospel will be taken to the nations.
Paul expresses this same priority when he writes, "I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile" (Romans 1:17). The same theme is to be found at the beginning of John's Gospel, "He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:11-12).
The priority in Jesus' ministry was with the Jews; he comes as their promised Messiah. But, praise God, it does not end there; he is the Saviour of the world. The blessings Jesus brings are for whoever will come to him. Indeed, he gives us more than the crumbs that drop from his table, he bids us welcome to a feast of delights:
Come, all you who are thirsty,
come to the waters;
and you who have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread,
and your labour on what does not satisfy?
Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and you will delight in the richest of fare. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
In Christ we enjoy a feast of blessings that are beyond all expectation and deserving: sins forgiven; adoption into God’s family; the gift of the Spirit; the freedom to come before the Creator of the universe in prayer and know that we are heard; being part of the fellowship of God’s people; the promise of eternal life and the renewal of all creation – and much more besides. What a feast of good things!
Father, I readily confess that I am not worthy to receive so much as the crumbs that fall from your table, yet you have given me a place in the marriage supper of the Lamb. I feast with joy on the Lord Jesus Christ and on all the blessings I have in him. Help me to encourage others to come to the banquet and share in the feast.