It’s amazing how we divide ourselves into insiders and outsiders. When I go to Kenya, the insider-outsider issues center on the tribal group you belong to. The city of Kakamega is the headquarters for the Luhya tribe. There are Luo’s to the south and Kalenjin to the east. Only the Kikuyus centered around Mt. Kenya in the highlands around Nairobi are more numerous. And the rivalry can get intense.
In the first century, Jews strongly considered themselves the insiders, especially when it came to having an in with the true God. And when Jesus left his homeland and made one of his few excursions outside of Israel, it looks like the pride that causes the in-group to reject and speak abusively to the out-group had infected even the Son of God.
“From the private home discussion he had with his disciples exposing the evil that came out of the human heart, Jesus set out and arrived in the region of Tyre. He entered into a home, not wanting anyone to know where he was, but he couldn’t escape notice. Right away, when a woman having a daughter possessed by an evil spirit heard about him, she came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman, a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia, urged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Jesus responded, ‘First allow the children to be filled and satisfied. Is it right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs?’ But she answered and said to him, ‘Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the crumbs dropped by the children.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Based on what you just said, go. The demon has come out of your little girl.’ She went home to her house and found her daughter lying in bed and the demon gone.” Mark 7:24-30
If ever it was important to follow what’s going on in a text, this is a passage that screams—track the story. From one point of view we can read this passage as an exclusive Jew who was upset because a Greek woman, born in Lebanon, had interrupted what was supposed to be a private time, so he rebuked her and called her a “dog.” But this point of view fails to notice that the woman reverently falls at Jesus’ feet. She displays respect for him and passionate love for her little girl suffering with demonic oppression.
The point of view that paints Jesus as a racial bigot fails to hear the “first allow the children to be filled.” Jesus insinuated there would be seconds. If the precious mom would have gotten all uptight about the “dog” comment, she would have stood up, cursed Jesus for his bigotry and stomped out of the house. Instead, she heard the hope in the “first” and Jesus gave her far more than just the crumbs from his table.
The meaning is in the text and we have to put aside our own bias to open our hearts to what this episode is actually telling us about Jesus’ heart. If you still have doubts about Jesus’ love for outsiders, then check out how he reminded his hometown folks in Nazareth about how God fed the widow of Zarephath in Sidon (just down the road from Tyre) in the days of Elijah and healed Namaan, the Syrian leper.
LORD, help me remember that you didn’t die for some special insider group of people. You died for all. Protect me from creating any insider-outsider thing, especially in your family that is supposed to be the place where folks know we are Christians by our love.
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