Look up a map of places Jesus went in the gospels. How big is the region that he visited?
Read Mark 7:24-37
Jesus and the twelve disciples have been travelling from village to village, teaching and healing. Great crowds have gathered around Jesus and he and the disciples seem to be finding little rest.
In Mark 5 Jesus was in the Decapolis (meaning ten cities) where he cast out demons from a man and the people asked Jesus to leave them.
The theme of defiling appeared in the last section. Pharisees and teachers of the law were instructing people on how to stay clear of sin but Jesus says that sin starts from within us. All kinds of evils come from inside and defile a person. For example, contact with a non-Jew was regarded as a source of defilement but Jesus taught the truth about sin: it comes from within.
- 24-30 Jesus goes to the Gentiles
- 24-26 The Syro Phoenician
- 27-30 Begging for crumbs
- 31-37 Jesus opens ears
- 31-32 Begging for a hand
- 33-37 Be opened!
24-30 Jesus goes to the Gentiles
“Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre.” Leaving the conversation with the Jews, Jesus goes to a place at the outskirts of Israel. Jewish leaders had come from Jerusalem and talked to him about defilement (Mark 7:1). Jesus called them hypocrites because they were discarding the word of God and listening to the rules of men. These were the teachers of Israel. Jesus left them and went to Tyre. Tyre is at the northern most border of Israel, with Sidon just above it. Jesus has walked out to the boundary of the promised land (Joshua 19:29).
Being so close to Israel, Tyre has a particular history with the Jews. In the days of Joshua, they marked the boundary of Israel. In the days of Solomon, they provided wood for the building of the temple. But across the pages of the Old Testament there are warnings against Tyre. They represent the final remnant of the Philistines who were the enemies of Israel (remember Goliath!).
“…entered a house and did not want anyone to know it…” Jesus was not all about raising attention but we may ask why did he venture far north? Was it for rest? We might conclude this but it’s not clear. Who did he stay with? We don’t know. I’m reminded of the story of Elijah the prophet who stayed in the house of a widow in the same region – the region of Sidon (1 Kings 17). The faithfulness in Israel was lacking and Elijah stayed with a foreign widow and healed her son.
“…could not keep his presence secret. In fact…” The woman did not hesitate to come to Jesus when she heard about him in the region. It is like Isaiah 34:1 says, “come near, you nations, and listen; pay attention, you peoples! Let the earth hear, and all that is in it, the world, and all that comes out of it!” Sounds good doesn’t it? But Isaiah 34 goes on to talk about how God is angry at the nations. What will Jesus do in response to this woman?
“The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia.” She is not a Jew. We might like to contrast her with the men who gathered around Jesus in Mark 7:1. Jesus had called them hypocrites.
“She begged Jesus…” She did not treat Jesus as an equal or that she deserves anything from him. She humbled herself. She is desperate.
“…it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” This is a very hard thing to hear from Jesus. Is he calling her a dog!!?! Yep. Is this the Jesus you know? Well, he is speaking with her using a parable to engage with her. If the children of Israel are natural heirs, she is not an heir and so how is she represented? Jesus chooses to use a dog in his analogy.
“Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Now, before we unpack this, it would be well to remember that you and I are not biological Jews (most likely you are not). In the Anglican Prayer Book we say, “we do not presume to come to your table, merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in your abundant and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather the crumbs under your table; but you are the same Lord whose nature it is to always have mercy.” We create this prayer from the humble position of the woman in this story. The woman was shown her place in the mercies of God but she uses the parable of Jesus to be bold and reply to him.
“For such a reply…” The woman has testified to the mercy of God and that even the scraps are better than nothing.
31-37 Jesus opens ears
“Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon…” The regions at the outskirts of Israel. His stay in Tyre was brief with only one event worth recording by Mark.
“…the region of the Decapolis…” Last time Jesus was there, he drove out demons from a man and the people of that area begged Jesus to leave them (Mark 5:17) But the healed man began to tell everyone in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him (Mark 5:20).
“…they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.” The people who had driven Jesus away were now begging Jesus to heal again. They brought a man who was deaf and hardly able to speak. While this is a fact, it also resembles the spiritual state of our world. The world needs their ears opened to hear the word of God and then be able to speak it. The people of the Decapolis have benefited from the open mouth of the demon possessed man and now they are coming to Jesus in faith.
“…away from the crowd…” What follows is a very private and intimate healing. The point of which is the man being restored rather than a public spectacle.
“…fingers into the man’s ears…spit and touched the man’s tongue…deep sigh…” The healing is very earthy and tactile. When the Syro-Phoenician woman had her plea answered, Jesus did it remotely – no spectacle. But here, we have Jesus right in the man’s face. Why? Couldn’t Jesus have just healed him with the touch of his clothes or a simple word? Why take him aside and be so intimate with him? Many will answer that this shows Jesus’ tenderness toward the man who cannot hear or speak. Jesus used a method that the man could understand. Even the ‘sigh’ is a deep exhale that the deaf man would see is Jesus praying. This seems ok to me but I wonder if there is more?
Isaiah 35:4–6 “Be strong, do not fear; your God will come, he will come with vengeance; with divine retribution he will come to save you.” 5 Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6 Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.
This is why the miracle is pronounced with the words of Jesus: “Be opened!”
Our God has come. He has not remained distant and healed with him mighty hand from heaven but he has drawn near. He is opening the ears of the deaf and he is unmuting the tongue so they may shout for joy! Jesus is God come in the flesh to save us. And look what happens next:
“Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking…” Ok, they were not being obedient but how about that the mute were shouting for joy! They couldn’t stay quiet.
“He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.” Mark is making sure that we have understood this point. Jesus is the fulfillment of Isaiah.
Suggested questions for running this study.
Q1. Who had gathered around Jesus in Mark 7:1 and what was Jesus’ conclusion about them (Mark 7:6-8)?
Q2. Where is Tyre and Sidon? How is the woman described in Mark 7:26? How is she different to the people of Mark 7:1?
Q3. Who are the ‘children’ that Jesus refers to in Verse 27?
Q4. Given that Jesus shows mercy on the woman and her daughter, what is the point of Verses 24-30?
Q5. How did the people of the Decapolis treat Jesus last time he was there? (See Mark 5:17-20)
Q6. How did they respond to Jesus now?
Q7. If Jesus was able to heal from a distance or by having people touch his clothes, why the detail of Verses 33-35?
Q8. Read Isaiah 35:4-6. How is Jesus fulfilling scripture? Does this help answer Question 7?
The leaders of Israel were not teaching the word of God to the people and had no understanding of sin. The Word of God who had come to them was a mystery to them. But when Jesus goes abroad to the outskirts of Israel, he shows that the kingdom of God is being readied for the whole world to receive him. He is God come to us so that the nations will sing for joy. The world that was deaf to God’s word will be opened and the mute who are unable to speak God’s word can now rejoice that the gospel is unleashed.
Challenge#1 Must love dogs
Jesus showed mercy to the outsider. After the resurrection, the Gentiles became the focus of God’s mission in the world. Jesus had come to bring eternal life to the children of Israel but he knew that the gospel would go to the nations (Acts 1:8). God’s mission has always been global, but the Jews had failed to see that. When we stop and consider that we are the nations – not Jews – then we have received the mercy of God that we do not deserve. We are the dogs that God loves.
Challenge#2 Be opened!
The gospel message is opened for all to hear. It’s not for one race. It’s not for one gender. It’s not for the elite or the special. It is for all who will listen and be amazed at Jesus. Once the world lived in darkness and once you and I were in darkness. But the light of God has come to shine light into our hearts. The man from the Decapolis had a private encounter with Jesus and his life was forever changed. May we pray for more to come and hear the message of Jesus and have their ears opened and their tongues loosed!
Challenge#3 No longer beggars
The woman begged Jesus and the people of Decapolis begged Jesus. He has come to bring healing to the nations with generosity and joy. All are welcome to come to him and enjoy our relationship with God.