Insult or Invitation?
The Gospel of Mark tells a tale of true woe. A Gentile woman, Syrophoenician by birth, seeks out Jesus who has “entered a house and did not want anyone to know” (Mark 7:24). Yet this woman finds him and falls down at his feet. Her small daughter had an unclean spirit, and she begs him to cast the demon out of her daughter (Mark 7:24–26). But he puts her off with these words: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). Such a jarring response! This doesn’t sound like the Jesus who was so frequently moved with compassion when he saw those in need.
What did Jesus mean by this response? Well, from his own mouth we hear him telling her that he had come for the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 15:24). His mission was first to feed the Jewish people, not the Gentile people. If we put on a mindset that’s quick to be wounded or lusts for flattery, we would read that with shock and horror. He called the woman and her small daughter “dogs”! How could he? The little girl was suffering and the mother was in anguish! We might quickly start to tinker with the text or make excuses for Jesus to make it all a bit less offensive to our ears.
But let’s take off that wounded mindset and put on the mindset of humility, the mindset that this Gentile woman brought with her to Jesus. This woman knew something very precious and valuable. She knew that Jesus could help her. She knew he was able to heal her daughter. When she begs him for help, she isn’t concerned about what anyone thinks of her. She isn’t hurt or downcast when Jesus acknowledges the significant difference between them as Jew and Gentile. She knows the two most important things: she is in need of help, and he is able to give it. That’s why she is so bold as to say in response to him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27). She agrees with his assessment of her. She enters his metaphor without offense—she is no more than a dog under the table. It is her humility and faith that give her the eyes to see the blessing of being included in any scene where the Lord Jesus is present, even if as a dog. Oh, for faith like hers! Lord grant us the humility of this dear sister!
Humble Hearts Seek Help, Not Flattery
When we have come to the end of our own resources and truly sense our total lack of ability to save ourselves, when we come face to face with our own need, we are in the only place where we can rightly come to Jesus. We bring nothing but our poverty, our sickness, our uncleanness, and our awful hunger. He brings everything to meet that need. And he stoops so low that even the dogs like us can receive his mercy.
Desperation is a terribly wonderful gift. It’s when we’re desperate that we stop caring about how we look. Desperation can even strip away our lust for flattery and make us unoffendable when in the presence of God and his people. But desperation doesn’t always work to our spiritual advantage—it can also drive us further into ourselves and our sinfulness. It’s only when desperation drives us to the scraps under the Lord’s table that it produces the fruit of humility and the healing found in the crumbs from Jesus’s hand.
There is strength and joy and salvation in those crumbs. There is more power in the tiniest morsel of belief and trust in Jesus than in all the food of flattery to be found in the world. The world simply doesn’t give life. It is serving up feasts of flattery. It is frequently the fuel for the engine called “marketing.” It laces advertisements and commercials. It infects friendships and blinds them to any experience of real, Christlike love. We must not gorge ourselves on flattery—either as a flatterer or as one eager to be fed by it. It will give us something—something that tastes quite delicious in the moment—but what it gives does not last and ultimately leads to destruction.
Instead, receive the hard, unflattering words of Jesus when he says, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). Become like the Syrophoenician woman who kneels before him begging for help and saying, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27). Humility is the only way to delight yourself in the Lord—whether as a dog or a doorkeeper in his house. And most importantly, hear his response: “Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire’” (Matt. 15:28).
Are we humble enough to enter as unworthy characters in his story, humble enough to beg for crumbs?
Her faith was not misplaced. She did not lust for flattery but sought help that could be found only in the Savior. A humble heart does not always receive physical healing the way the Syrophoenician woman’s daughter did, but it does always receive true help. Our son’s disability remains. But would that our faith be such that it knows the real prize is Jesus, not merely different circumstances. The real treasure is in calling him Master and Lord and having it be true. He is ours. We are his. His crumbs sustain to the end if we are desperate enough to have them. The reward for that sort of humility is nothing less than full inclusion in his family. It is the inheritance of a son, not a slave; of a daughter, not a dog.
The Gentile woman was humble enough to enter Jesus’s metaphor as an unworthy dog, but she departed as a daughter by faith in Christ, “for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 14:11). The Lord has a storehouse of blessing and honor for his people—the question is, are we humble enough to enter as unworthy characters in his story, humble enough to beg for crumbs? Will we insist on our own worthiness or will we receive from the hand of the only worthy person to ever walk the earth? It is a damnable “gospel” that tells women that Jesus’s love for them—his life, death, and resurrection—is the proof of their worthiness. Heaven help us! It is the proof of his worthiness, not ours. That he would take thought for us! It is the way we come to walk in a manner worthy of him.
Oh, sisters, the world, the flesh, and the devil are all conspiring to flatter you right out of God’s kingdom. They want you puffed up with high thoughts of your worthiness—but I beg you to take the narrow, low road. Even lower still. He brings us low because we cannot have him any other way. “Stoop, stoop! It is a low entry to go in at heaven’s gates.”1
- Samuel Rutherford and Ellen S. Lister, The Loveliness of Christ: Extracts from the Letters of Samuel Rutherford (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth, 2007).
This article is adapted from Bread of Life: Savoring the All-Satisfying Goodness of Jesus through the Art of Bread Making by Abigail Dodds.
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