8) The Approach (Mark 7:24-37)

Chap 1: The Dance (Trinity) (Mark 1:9-11): Do you expect others to dance around you?
Chap 2: The Gospel, The Call (Mark 1:14-20): Is your gospel good news or good advice?
Chap 3: The Healing (Mark 2:1-5): Are your sins against God or people (Ps 51:4)?
Chap 4: The Rest (Mark 2:23-3:6): Are you trying to rest in your efforts for significance?
Chap 5: The Power (Mark 4:35-41): Do you enjoy goodness and calm in a storm?
Chap 6: The Waiting (Mark 5:21-43): Do you have peace when God delays?
Chap 7: The Stain (Mark 7:1-23): Do you feel unclean, insignificant?


"Jesus always gives you what you need, and he knows better than you what that is. He's the Wonderful Counselor." (93)

"There are cowards, there are regular people, there are heroes, and then there are parents." (86)

"In Western cultures we don't have anything like this (woman's) kind of assertiveness. We only have assertion of our rights." (88) "We do not know how to contend unless we're standing up for our rights, standing on our dignity and our goodness and saying, 'This is what I'm owed.'" (88)

"Jesus' response to the woman's request to heal her daughter is enigmatic (hard to interpret), cryptic, even astringent (sour, bitter). With the deaf-mute he's melt-in-your-mouth sweet." (92)

How do you approach God
A Greek woman born in Syrian Phoenicia came to Jesus in the vicinity of Tyre to beg and plead with him to drive an evil spirit out of her daughter (Mark 7:24-26). She knows that she--a Phoenician, Gentile, pagan woman--has none of the religious, moral, and cultural credentials necessary to approach a Jewish rabbi, and that according to the standards of the day, she is unclean and disqualified to approach any devout Jew, let alone a rabbi. But she doesn't care.

How did Jesus respond? On the surface, Jesus appears to insult her by insinuating that she's a dog (Mark 7:26,27). In N.T. times most dogs were wild, dirty, uncouth scavengers, unlike our canine loving society today. But Jesus wasn't insulting her; he was using a parable--a "metaphor" or "likeness." Jesus used a very unusual word for "dogs" here; he uses a diminutive form, a word that really means "puppies." Jesus was saying that it's not right to violate the order by allowing puppies and house pets to eat at the table until the family and children finish eating. In Matthew's gospel, Jesus said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel" (Matt 15:24) to show Israel that he was the fulfillment of all Scripture's promises, the fulfillment of all the prophets, priests, and kings, the fulfillment of the temple. But after his resurrection, he said to his disciples, "Go to all the nations" (Matt 28:19; Mark 16:15). Jesus wasn't insulting her, but saying, "Please understand this order: Israel first, then the Gentiles."

How did the woman respond? Basically, she said "Yes, Lord..." (Mark 7:28-30), "as a puppy, I'm here for mine." Jesus told her a parable with a combination of challenge and offer, and she gets it. She doesn't take offense; she doesn't insist upon her rights. Rather, she accepts that since she is not from Israel, she doesn't have a place at the table. Yet, there's more than enough on the table for everyone in the world, including me. She is wrestling with Jesus in the most respectful way, and she will not take no for an answer.


This woman is not demanding her rights. She's not saying, "Lord, give me what I deserve on the basis of my goodness." She's saying, "Give me what I don't deserve on the basis of your goodness--and I need it now." This is rightless assertiveness.

Jesus' response to her rightless assertiveness is to basically say, "Wonderful answer, incredible answer," which he did not say to his own disciples. Biblical scholar James Edwards says, "What an irony! Jesus seeks desperately to teach his chosen disciples--yet they are dull and uncomprehending; Jesus is reluctant to even speak to a walk-on pagan woman--and after 1 sentence she understands his mission and receives his unambiguous commendation." Similarly, Martin Luther saw the gospel in this encounter. This woman saw the gospel--that you're more wicked than you ever believed, but at the same time more loved and accepted than you ever dared to hope. She was not too proud to accept what the gospel says about her unworthiness, and retort, "How dare you. I don't have to take this!" (Wow! How often do I feel this way.)

2 Ways to Fail to Let Jesus be your Savior

  1. By being too proud, having a superiority complex--not to accept his assessment (dog) and his challenge (you can't have the children's bread).

  2. By despairing, having an inferiority complex--being so self-absorbed in self-pity.
Thus, we reject Jesus through our pride (I deserve better), or despair (I'm no good).

Jesus' Hand's On Approach (instead of Challenge)

Jesus challenged the woman through an ambiguous parable about the gospel that seemingly insulted her in public. Yet she was both humble enough and bold/confident/assertive enough to win Jesus' commendation (Mark 7:29). But when Jesus meets a deaf and mute man, his approach was the complete opposite (Mark 7:31-37): he takes him away from the crowd, points to his ears, takes his saliva and touches the man's tongue, looks up, sighs and says, "Be opened!" Why? Not because he needs to, but because the man needs it.

Why "a deep sigh"?

Why did Jesus utter "a deep sigh" when he was about to heal him? (Mark 7:39) Why didn't he grin and say, "Wait till you see what I'm going to do for you"? The word in Greek for "deaf and could hardly talk" (Mark 7:32) is moglilalos--a very rare word that is used no where else in the Bible except Isa 35:5. By referencing Isa 35:4-6, Mark is saying, "God has come, just as Isaiah 35 promised--to open blind eyes, unstop deaf ears, enable the lame to leap. God has come to save you. Jesus Christ is God coming to save us. Jesus is the King."

Isaiah says that the Messiah will come to save us "with divine retribution" (NIV), "with the recompense of God" (ESV) (Isa 35:4). But Jesus wasn't smiting anyone. He wasn't taking out the sword. He's not taking power; he's giving it away. He's not taking over the world; he's serving it.

Where's the divine retribution? The answer is that he didn't come to bring divine retribution; he came to bear it. On the cross, Jesus would identify with us totally. On the cross, the Child of God was thrown away, cast away from the table without a crumb, so that those of us who are not children of God could be adopted and brought in.

  • The Child had to become a dog so that we could become sons and daughters at the table.
  • The Son became a dog so that we dogs could be brought to the table.
  • Jesus became mute so that our tongues can be loosed to call him King.
Don't be too proud to accept what the gospel says about your unworthiness. Don't be too despondent to accept what the gospel says about how loved you are.

Question: Do you feel as worthless as a dog? As loved as a most beloved child?

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