Damariscotta Baptist Church
Saturday, October 20, 2018
Growing personal relationships with God and community

02/01/15 Sermon - In Desperate Need

In Desperate Need

Mark 7:24-37


I wonder if any of you caught something in today’s Scripture that was disconcerting?  That upon first hearing, would make you question whether Jesus was losing his divine touch and becoming more like the religious leaders?

For those of you that were here last week, you may remember I talked about when Jesus was explaining that it is not what we see on the outside or what we eat or how we eat that makes us clean or unclean, but what comes from the heart that reveals our cleanliness.  I also told you we would meet a particular unlikely person, this week, who would show us what a clean heart looks like.

If you remember, Jesus went into detail on how it was the things that come out of one’s heart that defiled a person, not what people did with the outside of their body or what they put into their bodies. God was interested in the contrite heart, not on the color of their skin, or whether they followed any particular laws, set up by humans.

According to what we read last week, we learned that we can be religious, like the Pharisees, and do everything just right, and make sure everyone else does too and possibly ostracize them in the process.

Or we can be like Jesus and manifest love for others, take time to get to know their hearts, and not judge them, immediately with our prejudices.

Immediately following Jesus’ comments on judging, we find Jesus, seemingly doing the very thing He just convicted the Pharisees of doing.


Basically this narrative with the Syrophoenician woman has two elements:

1-      We have Jesus appearing to behave like a narrow-minded Jew, who has joined the religious leaders of his day and made the Jews elite and all others, less than

2-      There seems to be a battle of the wits between Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman, and Jesus loses!


Upon my initial reading of the text and my preliminary study of various commentaries, there seemed to be an either/or stance.


Either Jesus is God and when he calls the woman a dog, he was using the Greek word for “little dog” which would have been a term of endearment –


Or, Jesus was demonstrating his “human” side and was showing how as a human we too should be open to being corrected.


The theologians who argued each side, I must say, did so convincingly, that originally I was prepared to give both sides, until I read a paper written by Holly J. Carey, which was published in the Pepperdine Digital Commons, in 2011.

Her paper helped me to remember, there are few black and white situations, and that most of the time things that seem that way, are really “gray” and are best viewed, by taking a step back and coming at it from outside the box. Holly Carey argues that the observations of this narrative may not be all they seem on the surface.

I agree, so I am going to ask you to step out of the box with me and let’s look at the story from various angles.


We will begin with the text itself.


Mark writes that Jesus left the place where he was confronted by the Pharisees and went to the vicinity of Tyre.


Tyre is a Gentile village, in fact, Jesus remains in Gentile cities in the narrative after this where He heals the deaf and dumb man. We are not told whether his disciples are with him or not, but we are told He has gone to a particular house and wants to be left alone and doesn’t want people to know where He is.


Jesus has tried to find a place of solitude before in the Book of Mark, and like before, he is not able to remain secluded. Because there was a Greek woman, who was born in Syrian Phoenicia who heard he was in town, found him and upon seeing him, falls down at his feet and begs him to drive the demon out of her daughter.


Jesus’ response goes like this,

“First let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”



Without even batting an eyelash, the woman responds,

“Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”


Jesus then tells her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”


The woman goes home and finds her daughter, lying on her bed, and the demon gone.


At first glance, the dialogue between Jesus and this Syrophoenecian woman sounds degrading, at worse, and she at least gets what she wants, at best.


When looking solely at the conversation, I can understand why there is a concern on the part of theologians as to what one should do with the statement Jesus made, when, on the surface it certainly does look like he is being racist and is not prepared to heal a Gentile, little girl and has lost his compassion.


But something inside me kept saying there must be more, because that doesn’t sound like the Jesus we have been reading about so far in the book of Mark. So when I read Holly Carey’s paper I was encouraged to step out of the conversation and look at the encounter with the view of the entire context of Mark, not just this one incident.


How does this woman compare with the people we have already met in Mark’s narrative?


This woman is a Gentile and has the gumption to track down Jesus, a Jewish male, while he is trying to seclude himself, and then beg him to give her a miracle. 


We have met other women, who are similar, women who have been strong, despite their sufferings and have been determined to seek out Jesus so He can do something about it.


Do you remember the hemorrhaging woman?


What about the time Jesus feeds thousands with just a “crumb” to start with, and yet ends up with an overflow?


Those who would have been listening to Mark’s account as it was been read to them, from city to city, would have come to a conclusion about Jesus, up to this point. They would expect Jesus to teach with authority, speak against the views of the religious leaders and heal freely.


Can’t you picture it?


The letter of Mark as written, is being read to the believing churches in the first century and up to this point, chapter 7, Jesus has demonstrated his love and mercy for the underdog. The religious leaders are being put in their place and Jesus is victorious. You see, up to this point, there has been nothing in Mark’s narrative that would prepare the readers or listeners for this type of reaction from Jesus.


And then…..What a shock!



The key lies in the use of Jesus’ riddle and its ability to shock the reader or listener. Just when the reader may have become complacent and have thought they had Jesus all figured out, Mark is using a riddle to shake them up and make them think.


Is Mark revealing Jesus’ personal views on how low the Gentiles are seen in the Kingdom or the reflection of how the Jewish religious leaders believed?


The answer is in the encounter Jesus just had with the religious authorities.

Jesus has been at odds with the Jewish religious authorities from the beginning.


Do you think Jesus suddenly changes his views just because he is residing in Gentile territory?




Mark uses the narrative technique of a riddle to make the reader pause and ask, “Why would he say that?”


to be answered by the preceeding context as: “He wouldn’t!”


This pretense of Jesus playing the devil’s advocate through a riddle is confirmed when His mind is quickly changed by the woman’s retort.


Let’s face it, the woman’s response is not so clever or powerful to change a deeply held belief, had she said this to Pharisee or Sadducee.


Mark demonstrates how Jesus again, attacks the stance of the religious authorities, in a more subtle fashion. Jesus’s riddle allows the Syrophoenician woman, who was low as you could go in the Hebrew culture, to utter the truth to which heaven holds. Jesus’ encounter gives not only a miracle to this woman, but also empowers her by rewarding her diligence to seek God, regardless the hurdles to be overcome. We should look at this woman’s example and give thanks, for in it we should be able to see, clearly, the character of God’s tenacious commitment and love for each of us.



What about that? How many of us here today have ever been in a place of desperate need? Like the Syrophoenecian woman, you have been at the end of your rope, you have nowhere left to turn. You have tried everything, everyone, in fact, you are so exhausted in trying you have no energy left. If we are honest, each of us is on a continuum of need. Some of us need more than others, but each of us needs the grace of God to lift us up, some more than others, but all of us need God’s help.


I am going to recommend we drop to the feet of Jesus. And the best place to do that is at the Lord’s Table.