Red Letter Year: 1/30

Mark 7:24-37

24 Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret. 25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter. Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

28 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.”

29 “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone.

31 Jesus left Tyre and went up to Sidon before going back to the Sea of Galilee and the region of the Ten Towns. 32 A deaf man with a speech impediment was brought to him, and the people begged Jesus to lay his hands on the man to heal him. 33 Jesus led him away from the crowd so they could be alone. He put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then, spitting on his own fingers, he touched the man’s tongue. 34 Looking up to heaven, he sighed and said, “Ephphatha,” which means, “Be opened!” 35 Instantly the man could hear perfectly, and his tongue was freed so he could speak plainly!

36 Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone, but the more he told them not to, the more they spread the news. 37 They were completely amazed and said again and again, “Everything he does is wonderful. He even makes the deaf to hear and gives speech to those who cannot speak.”


Here we see Jesus trying to get away from the hustle and bustle, the press of the crowds, by crossing over into what we now call Lebanon. Even there people know who he is, so it turns into a busy getaway, and results in two of the stranger stories in all the Gospels. The first follows an established pattern: desperate, unclean person comes to Jesus and receives healing. We’ve seen this before. This woman has three things that mean she shouldn’t even be talking to Jesus: her gender, her Gentile-ness, and the demon living in her also-a-Gentile-and-female daughter. Jesus delivers her daughter just as she asked, but not before calling her a dog. Some commentators note that the Greek word here means “house pet dog,” not the “mangy, street dog” term used so often as a racial slur. Still, he calls her a dog, which rubs the wrong way when we read it. Was Jesus feeling grumpy (again? – remember the boat nap that was interrupted)? Was he testing this woman (he has not done that so far)? Was he echoing what someone else either said or was thinking (maybe some of his disciples, who are more conspicuous in Matthew’s telling)? I like the last one myself, but honestly, we aren’t told.

What is definite is that this episode drives home the argument Jesus was making yesterday about what is unclean. Jesus does talk to this woman, he praises her faith, and he heals her daughter. Whatever Jesus’ motive was in calling her a dog, it in no way dissuaded her. She came to Jesus because no one else could help. Her daughter needed deliverance. A little name calling was not about to get in her way. Do we have that kind of tenacity? Job said, “Even if God slays me, I will trust in him.” (Job 13.15) This Lebanese woman felt the same way.

The second story is a bit strange too, with the spitting, touching the man’s tongue, putting fingers in his ears (wet willies?), speaking Aramaic and sighing deeply. It is true that (much like our own day) back then faith healers went around doing their thing, which incudes spit, touching the affected organ, saying foreign words (like a magic incantation), looking up to heaven, and sighing. But so far, Jesus has not done this sort of thing at all. His has not shown a flair for the dramatic when healing people. He might have been trying to communicate what he was doing to the man in terms he could understand (like a sign language of sorts).

Let one or both of these scenes sit with you today. Let the faith of the woman and the joy of the crowd fill your heart. Everything he does is wonderful.

New Living Translation (NLT)

Holy Bible. New Living Translation copyright© 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

4 thoughts on “Red Letter Year: 1/30

  1. Mark’s arrangement of the text seems to obviously favour your choice of explanation. Contextually we have the dialogue with the Pharisees about purity and Jesus’ saying, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you.” Mark immediately follows this with an encounter wherein Jesus plays the Pharisee and demonstrates relationally the truth he’s just expounded to the disciples and Pharisees. No doubt still an issue when Mark writes his Gospel, Mark makes it clear that it is faith and not DNA that makes someone part of God’s tribe. Or so it seems to me.

    1. The only thing I don’t like about my explanation is it in no way helps the woman in the moment. Unless we try to read in gestures, looks, or expressions between Jesus and the disciples that she could have picked up on, we’re left with just her having the isolated experience of Jesus calling her a dog.

  2. The first thing I noticed was that Jesus didn’t touch the girl and she was healed. He wasn’t even near her. Clear indication that the healing powers of Jesus go far beyond his presence

    1. Excellent point Keith. You’re right, this is the first time Mark tells us about Jesus healing someone he was not physically present with. Good news for all of us who became followers after the ascension. 🙂

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