A woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him, and she came and fell at His feet...But Jesus said to her, "Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." (Mark 7:25, 27).
Did Jesus really just call that woman a dog? A close examination of the text will reveal that the answer to that question is yes and no. Yes, he did just call her a dog, but not only her, he implied that anyone outside of Israel was a dog. The word is "dogs," not "dog."
Some commentators have tried to soften the blow by pointing out that the word traslated dog is dimunitive, which means that it refers to small dogs or puppies. Gee, thanks Mr. Scholar. That makes is far easier to take. The fact is that Jesus called this woman a dog and indicated that Israel had a privelged place amongst the nations.
So why did the gentle Jesus, Savior of All-Mankind, the non-Respector of Persons, call this woman a dog? Dear Sunday School Teacher, dear Pastor, how will you present this text to your people? Will you soften the blow by dismissing the insult? How will you portray Jesus who makes such a comment?
I have long wondered about this passage, and I do not have a definite answer as to why Jesus spoke this way to this woman. But I have made a few observations about this that have proven helpful in the endeavor to kill the sin of pride.
This woman's daughter has an "unclean spirit." Demons torment people in various ways throughout the New Testament. This doesn't necessarily mean that the woman's daughter's head spun around and that she spewed forth obscenities like the girl on the exorcist. Remember that Jesus once healed a woman who had "a spirit of infirmity" which made her a severe hunchback (Luke13:11-12). This could have manifested itself as a physical problem or a psychological one. The point is that this woman was desperate and feared for the life of her daughter. Jesus Christ was the only one who could help her.
When a person is at the end of their rope, when they are desperate for cure or help, pride takes a backseat to need. The proudest man who goes without bread may beg for it with humility. In the hour of desperation, the proud will overlook insult from one who can provide for the need. If my son were desperately ill, and there were only one person who could save him, that person could call me far worse than "dog" and I would take it with a smile. I would grovel at their feet for help. Whatever it took to arouse their compassion, I would be willing to debase myself to that extent.
Secondly, I know that Jesus spoke no falsehood to this woman. She was far worse than a dog, and so am I. Since when is truth and insult? Should my pride say, "Am I a dog that the Lord should treat me this way?" and thereby refuse the grace that flows from Christ? I am a dog, and I am not worthy to be counted amongst the people of God, and I should be contented even with the crumbs that roll off of Abraham's table.
So I take this passage as an example to remind me to whom I pray and how I ought to ask for the Sovereign King's mercy. I come as one unworthy of attention. I come as one who is desperate and pitiful. I can make no demands from Christ Jesus; I can only trust to His compassion towards sinners. I pray to Him as if my son's life depends upon it, for it does. I pray to Him as if my world would stop, my wife would leave, my church would fail, my friends would perish, and my life might depart if He forgot this dog for even a moment.
I do not know why the Lord spoke to this woman in this way. It could be the exact words she needed to her to bring her to faith. It could have been as an example to His disciples of the faith and humility of those outside Israel. I am not privy to the Lord's motivation and secret will. I only know that when I, the sinful dog that I am, entreat my Master for crumbs He gives me a whole loaf; that this sojourner and illegitimate son has been given a name and a home; that instead of watching the feast as an outsider, I sit in the heavenly places at the right hand of God as a son and co-heir of glory.
If only I were a dog and not a sinful man, my guilt before the Lord would not have been so great and the Christ would not have had to give His back to the scoffers for my sake. Yet He chose to bear the iniquity of one worse than any mongrel when He suffered for me. I say with Isaac Watts (In his original words):
Alas! And did my Savior bleed? And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?
(Modern hymnbooks exchanged "worm" for "sinner," ironically, it is worse to be sinner than worm. It will be more tolerable for worms in the judgment than for wicked, unrepentant sinners.) I am not, in the end, insulted as Jesus' words to this woman. I rejoice. I rejoice that His words brought about this response, and I rejoice in the truth that He cared for the dogs of this world enough to make them Sons and Daughters of God.
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