Fall at his feet

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

Mark 7:24-37

Fame has its price

Fame has its price. There might be many benefits that come with fame like fortune and favouritism, but fame also has its price. It is hard for celebrities to go anywhere without being noticed and pointed out even when they want to remain anonymous.

Once someone has acquired a certain degree of popularity with the public, lots of people think of them as public property as though their fortune and fame mean that they no longer have any right to a private life anymore. People want their autograph or want their photo taken with them or want to hear about their latest indiscretion in the tabloids or on social media. Fame for some people means that they cannot go out for a walk around the block with the dog or a jog in the park or to just pop down to the shops or to eat out at a local restaurant or go down to the beach for a swim.

Fame brings restrictions

George Clooney, the actor, once said that there were certain restrictions that came with fame. In one interview that I read he told of how for 15 years he had not been able to go for a walk in central park. I assume that he was talking about Central Park in New York and that at the time he was living close by. He explained that it wasn’t because he hadn’t wanted to walk through the park for those 15 years. It was just one of the restrictions that inevitably came with fame.

In the gospel of Mark, we’ve seen some of those restrictions or complications that come with increasing fame for the Lord Jesus. Although Jesus had tried to avoid it, his fame as a miracle worker seems to have spread more quickly than the message that he had come to preach. From early in his ministry in Galilee, wherever Jesus went he was recognised as someone who could heal the sick and cast out demons and people flocked to see him and his movement became increasing restricted by the crowds (see 1:45, 6:30-33, 53).

Withdrawal from Galilee

We are not told the reason why Jesus left Galilee and went up to the region of Tyre, but one strong possibility was that he was in the process of withdrawing from Galilee and he was seeking to go somewhere where he was not as well known, where he wouldn’t be recognised by everyone, and where he could spend some time to prepare his disciples for what was ahead of them.

The region of Tyre

The city of Tyre was on the coast and had been an ancient Phoenician port that had politically and financially dominated that surrounding countryside. The city was the centre of a coastal region that bore its name and bordered Upper Galilee.

By crossing into the region of Tyre Jesus was stepping outside the ancient borders of Israel and stepping into a more Hellenistic (=Greek) region. We don’t know exactly how far Jesus travelled into the region but somewhere there he entered a house where he was hoping that he would go unnoticed. We read…

 Mark 7:24

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret[1].

He didn’t want anyone to know

The fact that Jesus didn’t want anyone to know of his visit make the hypothesis that he was there withdrawing from the crowds in Galilee a more likely scenario than any other that I’ve heard. He certainly does not seem to have been there to start a new Gentile phase to his ministry even though his ministry in Galilee seems to have been largely over by this stage. There is no indication that he did any preaching up north in Tyre and Sidon or even later in the Decapolis.

Getting the disciples ready

I think the best suggestion is that the time had come for Jesus to withdraw from his public ministry in Galilee and spend some time teaching his disciples as Jesus was getting ready to head to Jerusalem and to the cross. A little later, in verse 30 of chapter 9, Mark tells us that later when Jesus headed back down through Galilee, on his journey to Jerusalem, that Jesus also at that time didn’t want anyone (presumably those in Galilee) to know where they were because he was teaching his disciples (see Mark 9:30).

He couldn’t keep his presence a secret

However, like many celebrities, even away from home people recognised Jesus. Even in the Hellenistic region of Tyre Mark tells us that he could not keep his presence a secret. His reputation as a miracle worker had already gone far and wide (see Mark 1:45)and so when this woman whose daughter had been possessed by an unclean spirit got wind (found out) that he was nearby she found the house where he’d gone and fell down at his feet.

A Greek Syrophoenician mother

We are told that she was a Greek and she was a Syrophoenician which meant that she wasn’t only culturally Greek (Greek speaking and educated) and hence a pagan Gentile but ethnically being a Phoenician she was part of people group that the Jews, at that time at least, hated. However, be that as it may, this woman came to Jesus begging him to drive out the demon from her daughter.

I think the response of Jesus for most of us is really a bit of shock. There are not as many details in Mark’s gospel compared to the same story in Matthew’s gospel[2]. Mark has just recorded for us the point at which things changed for this woman because this pagan Gentile mother has something to teach all of us in the way that she responded to Jesus. But, to understand her response we must go back first and better understand Jesus’ words to the woman which most of us probably found a bit shocking or at least surprising. We need to look at them in a little more detail to work out whether they are as shocking as they might first appear.

First let the children eat

Like many things that Jesus said, he talks to the woman in a parable. Often these parables were taken from the normal activities of life that went on all around them, a sower sowing seed (Mark 4:1-9) a lamp being put on a lampstand (Mark 4:21), a seed sprouting and growing and becoming ripe for harvest (Mark 4:28). In this case Jesus takes and uses what most likely would have been a familiar scene at dinner time in an Greek household with the children being feed and the dogs under the table waiting for their feed. The clue is in the word that Jesus used for “dog”. He was not talking about the savage mangy dogs that hung around on the streets and scavenged for food. The Greek word that is used refers to a little dog, and in Greek and Roman society it was common for people to keep such dogs as family pets.

In one article I read the author mentioned that as early as 600BC that dogs were being painted on vases and they were often shown as being in the house and especially under the tables”[3] The fact that this was the scene that Jesus had in mind seems to be confirmed by the woman’s response which we will look at in a moment. What he says is that any house the children would be feed first and allowed to have their fill before taking their bread and tossing it to the dogs.

What Jesus has done was to pick up a scene that would have probably been familiar to a Greek woman. He has made a point using this familiar household scene to say something about the order in which things needed to happen in his ministry. Jesus was not saying that the Gentiles would never have their turn to be fed. The use of the word “first” implies that there will be a second. If someone says that they are going to buy the first round of drinks it implies that there is going to be second round of drinks that someone else will need to buy.

A matter of timing

Jesus is talking about it being a matter of the right time. As the Jewish Messiah his priority was his mission to the lost sheep of Israel. He was to feed them before looking to other sheep to feed.  Before he would send out his disciples to the nations with the gospel, he would first have to preach the gospel to Israel and go to Jerusalem, and be rejected by the Jewish authorities and suffer, die, and be buried and raised to life. At that time he was not there to start a new ministry among Gentiles. He would have to finish the work that he had been sent to do as Israel’s Messiah, before beginning his work outside of Israel through his disciples to bring blessing to the nations.

Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs

Unlike many in Israel the woman seemed to understand the parable. Unlike the disciples who, up to this point, have shown a profound lack of understanding of the parables and have always needing further explanation, the woman did not. Unlike the Pharisees and teachers of the law or those in Jesus’ hometown, she did not take offence at his words, but she displayed a humble sort of faith. Listen to her response.

Mark 7:28

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

We are told that Jesus liked her reply and granted her request.

Mark 7:29

29 Then he told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

What was it about her reply that impressed Jesus? What caused him to say that based on what she had just said, he had granted her request. He told her to go home because the demon had left her daughter which is exactly what she did and found when she got home. What is that Mark wants us to learn from this pagan mother?

A woman of humble faith

Surely, Mark views this woman in the same way that he has regarded people like Jairus, the synagogue ruler, and the unclean woman with the bleeding, who believe if only she touched his garment she would be healed. Both fell at Jesus feet. Jesus had said to the woman with the bleeding, “Daughter your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering” (Mark 5:34). But the difference this time is that Jesus found such humble faith not within the borders of Israel, but outside of them in the region of Tyre, and not a diaspora Jew but a Hellenistic (or Greek) Syrophoenician pagan mother.

All the signs of faith were present

Mark does not mention that it was the faith of the woman that Jesus was commending, but all the signs are there. The woman came to Jesus and fell at his feet. In her response, she called him Lord which could have been just a polite term of respect but from Matthew’s gospel we know she meant more than this (see Matthew 15:22). She believed that all she needed was “a crumb of his great power” for her daughter to be healed. She had complete confidence in Jesus. She listened to him when he spoke to her using this parable and she understood what he had to say and accepted it completely. She understood that his greatness and power was such that it could not be exhausted. Mark has not mentioned it, but by now I think Mark thought that we (the readers) ought to be able to recognise the signs of faith. And, if we were in any doubt that it was her faith in Jesus that commended the woman, then we only have to flick back to the gospel of Matthew where he removes any doubt for he doesn’t leave us to put two and two together but tells us that Jesus commended her because of her great faith (Matthew 15:28). The woman had come to Jesus in faith that day and was able then to turn around and go home because she trusted Jesus. For Mark, this woman was not only an example of faith but one which promised that when the gospel would go out to the nations that there would be more like her.

We need humble faith

Mark has been showing us that the people who will be include in the kingdom of God are not those who necessarily, have the right breeding or the strong and powerful or the well born, or the rich and wealthy or even the religious who feel that they have followed all the rules, but it’s the humble who come to Jesus in their complete desperation knowing that they need him and therefore they are willing to fall down him before him and cry out to him for mercy as Lord.

What we saw in chapter 7 was that this was a problem for the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, because they really wanted to believe in themselves and their religious traditions. I also think that this is part of the reason why Jesus will also say in chapter 10 that it is so hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven because they become so used to thinking that it’s their money and wealth that provide for them what they really need in life. In chapter 10 just before we have the story of the rich man who couldn’t imagine life without his great wealth and went away sad, Jesus told his disciples that anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like little child will never enter it (Matthew 10:15). A little child is totally and brings nothing to the table.

Unless we are willing to give up the pretence of us being in control and stop believing in ourselves and humble ourselves and throw ourselves at the feet of Jesus and listen him and trust his word and his power to deliver us we won’t see the kingdom of God. In the examples that Mark has provided us with in his gospel he has been showing us that. He wants us to understand that until we are willing to humble ourselves, we are putting ourselves outside of the kingdom of God. But, the good news is that anyone who does humble themselves, no matter who they are, whether they be a wealthy tax collector or a leper or a respected synagogue ruler or an unclean Jewish woman or even a pagan Greek Phoenician mother, anyone who humbles themselves will find Jesus more than enough for all that they need in this life and the life to come.

Jesus is God come to save us

He is this because Mark want us to understand that he is God who has come into our world to restore it and rescue his people. Mark shows us this in the miracles of Jesus and again in the story of the healing of the deaf man who could hardly talk. Now I have not left much time to deal with this story and in the few minutes I have remaining I just want us to notice again how Mark makes this point and again invites the response of faith.

In verses 31 to 37 after are roundabout journey up into Sidon and then down the eastern side of the lake, Jesus ends up in the Decapolis and here again back on this more Gentile side of the lake people bring a man to Jesus who was deaf and could hardly talk and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him.

In the healing of this man, Mark again is revealing who Jesus really is for those who have got eyes to see and ears to hear and whose hearts are not hard. The Greek word (mogilalon) that our NIV Bibles have translated “could hardly talk” only occurs here and one other place in the Bible, in chapter 35 of Isaiah and verse 6. It occurs in a prophecy where the prophet Isaiah tells the people of God to be strong and to not fear because they will see the glory of God for their God will come and he will save them. After reassuring them of this, Isaiah then went on to say…

Isaiah 35:5-6

Then will the eyes of the blind be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. 6Then will the lame leap like a deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.

In Mark’s gospel we’ve already seen the lame walk, and here in this chapter we hear how Jesus opened the ears of the deaf and loosened his tongue and a little later in chapter 8 we will see how he would also open the eyes of a blind and restore his sight. Mark want us to see that Jesus fulfils this prophesy. He is God with us, the Son of God who has entered into our world as a man to reveal the glory of God and save his people and make it possible (through his death and resurrection) for people like us to enter the kingdom of God, if we are willing to humble ourselves and put our faith in him.

Jesus invites people to have faith

In this story I think we see Jesus inviting the deaf and mute man to put his faith in him. How do you communicate when someone cannot hear what you are saying? You communicate with your actions and this what we see Jesus doing. Jesus took the time, to take this man aside from the crowd and communicated with the man using actions that indicated what Jesus was about to do for the man. We read that that Jesus put his fingers in the man’s ears. And then he spat and touched the man’s tongue and then he looked up to heaven. I do not think the actions were part of what was needed to be done for the man to be healed, but to tell this man what Jesus about to do so that like others he could understand and believe. Jesus invites people have faith in him.

It’s a matter of the heart

I think Mark wants all of us to understand these things so that we might believe. He has written his gospel so that we might see and hear Jesus and understand and fall at his feet in repentance and faith. But, to do this, what we’ve seen is that it isn’t just a matter of having ears to hear and eyes to see for many saw and heard the things Jesus did and said, but did not respond. Even at this point the disciples themselves seem to have been slow to understand and respond.

But what is that blinds us and keep us from hearing and understanding and believing?

I think Mark has indicated what the problem is. It is a matter of our hearts and whether they are hardened or stubborn to the things of God. In chapter 3 Jesus was deeply distressed at the stubbornness of people’s hearts (3:5). In chapter 6 and verse 52 Mark told us that the disciples didn’t understand about the loaves, because their hearts were hardened.

What is the condition of your heart?

What is your heart like? Are you ready to humble yourself and fall at the feet of Jesus? Or are you still wanting to believe in yourself? Do you refuse to see that Jesus is more than just a great teacher or a prophet, because that would mean that you would have to stop believing in yourself and fall down at his feet and, like the woman, and call him Lord and trust him. Is our lack of understanding not an intellectual problem but really a problem of the heart? We are simply not yet ready to stop believing in ourselves and give up on what we can do ourselves and fall at the feet Jesus. For some what we need is not necessarily to know a good deal more, but a heart that is willing to humble itself. What stopping us from going further on with Jesus is that we just are not willing to fall at his feet. We have stubborn hearts!

Today, I want to ask you today whether taking that step is what you need to make today. You need to surrender and tell Jesus he is Lord and that you will trust him. Otherwise you will always be seeing but not perceiving and hearing but never understanding. No one enters the kingdom of God without humble faith.

[1] Except where otherwise indicated, all Scripture citations are taken from the New International Version. (2011). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

[2] When Mark records that she begged Jesus to drive out the demon in verse 26 he has summarised the interaction between this woman and Jesus. Matthew tell us that she had kept crying out to Jesus and he had not answered her a word and the disciples had got so tired of her begging that they eventually asked Jesus to send her away. But Jesus did not do that.

[3] http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Journals/CJ/44/4/Household_Pets*.html