Mark 7:24-30 tells the story of Jesus as he travels north out of Galilee into the seacoast area of Tyre and Sidon. The text tells us that he did not want anyone to know where he was staying. Exactly why we don’t know. Perhaps for a time of rest or perhaps because God the Father had planned that he meet a certain Syrophoenician woman whose daughter was demon possessed. In any case, when she rushed to him pleading mercy for her daughter, he “gave her no answer, not a single word.” A most unsuspected response for the one who had been spending so much time and energy doing that very thing.
The disciples, disturbed by the woman and the racket she was making asked Jesus to get rid of her. He, however, turning to the woman explained that he had come to “help the lost sheep of Israel and no one else.” She paid no attention but fell at his feet and begged him to drive the evil spirit out of her daughter. Once again Jesus explained that his priority was to feed his own children, the Jews. He said, “It wouldn’t be fair to take their bread and throw it to the dogs, the Gentiles.”
Ouch! But she came back with, “But even the little dogs get to eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus couldn’t help but respond to her remarkable faith, so he told her to return home where she would find her daughter healed. An unusual encounter! What can we possibly see in Jesus’ actions and attitude that would help us to live a more Christ-like life?
What stands out for me is how focused Jesus was on his primary responsibility, that is, to tell his own people of the coming kingdom. Mark 1:5 records the first words of Jesus as he began his ministry — “The time has come. The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news.” Yet at the close of the story he acknowledged the “even the Gentiles” get to eat the scraps that fall from the table. Here we see the importance of maintaining focus while not neglecting the needs of others. Granted, that is hard to apply in life today. Obviously we know that our major responsibility as believers is to spread the message of salvation around the world (Matt 28:19). What we can learn from Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman is that in this task we are not to overlook the practical needs of others along the way.