Mark 7: “Those” people


We’ve all seen them. We all know who they are. We may even know their names, if only so that we can be sure to cast them a condescending sneer every now and again. They’re the ones that look different, act different, smell different, are different. They’re the ones that we go out of our way to not be around. They’re the ones that we do everything in our power to make sure they understand that we want nothing to do with them. They’re “those” people.

In Mark 7, after returning from what was supposed to be a private retreat with his disciples but ended up being a speaking engagement and meal for 5,000+ of Jesus “closest friends” (yes, that’s sarcasm there), and healing a throng of sick people in Gennesaret, Jesus was confronted by some Pharisees who took exception to his disciples eating with unwashed hands. When his disciples were reluctant to grasp the notion that no external force could make a person unclean – spiritual uncleanness wells up from within – he decided that it was time to spend some much needed time alone with his chosen twelve. So in vs 24, they retired to the vicinity of Tyre and holed up in a house, hoping that no one would find them there.¬†Unfortunately, news that the miracle worker from Galilee had dared come to Tyre wasn’t exactly easy to contain, and within short order the entire town was abuzz.

Enter “a woman.” Really, just about all that we know about this woman is that she was Syrian by birth, and she lived in the region of Phoenicia (i.e., the area to the northwest of Palestine along the Mediterranean Sea, including the city of Tyre, from which the Phoenicians hailed). Immediately, we know that this poor woman had two strikes against her. First, she looked different than the native of Tyre. And second, she probably talked a little different than most of the inhabitants of Tyre. More, there were more than a few Jews living in Tyre in those days, and it would have been well known that Jews wanted nothing to do with Gentiles, much less Gentile women. But even that wasn’t all that this woman had going on.

Why was she the one who came to Jesus? In every cultural context we could put this encounter, this would have been more than a little unusual. Syrian, Phoenician, Roman and Jewish cultures were all almost exclusively patriarchal societies, meaning that they all revolved around men. For a woman to approach and address a man without invitation would have been extremely uncharacteristic. She should have sent her husband, the father of her little girl.

Unless there wasn’t a husband or father to send.

Suddenly, we have not just a desperate mother, but a desperate, different, single mother who was grasping for whatever hope for her daughter she could possibly find. Maybe she was a widow. Probably more likely, she was a prostitute in a pagan temple or something. At any rate, we have one of “those” people.

One of those people that no one ever failed to sneer at. One of those people that was just different. One of those people that people would avoid at virtually any cost.

And after spending years as one of “those” people, this woman, like every one of “those” on the face of the planet, knew it. In fact, if it hadn’t been for her daughter’s desperate situation, she likely never would have dared approach anyone, let alone Jesus, whose name was well-known even among the Gentiles of Tyre. Desperate situations, though, compel people to do desperate things, and so as soon as she heard that Jesus had come to town, she went on a quest to find him.

When she knocked on the door that night, I suspect that this woman immediately shrank back. Thoughts of running and hiding probably ran through her mind. After all, who was she to be knocking without invitation on any door, let alone the door of the home where Jesus, the miracle worker, was staying. As soon as those thoughts came, though, she pushed them aside and straightened as best she could. This wasn’t about her. It was about her daughter. And she would do anything – even invite the condescension and ridicule – for her little girl.

When the door opened, and light shone on her face, there was no hiding who she was. Whoever it was that stood in that doorway saw immediately her fancy hair and provocative attire. He may have even recognized her as one of the women posed around the pagan temple up the street if she hadn’t stepped and looked away so quickly. And I suspect that, when she mumbled something about looking for Jesus, he was surely tempted to simply shut the door and reset the lock, but Jesus’ strong and weathered arm jammed suddenly against it and held it firm.

Stunned, the host stepped aside, and Jesus stepped into view and out to meet the woman who suddenly felt even smaller than before. What was she doing here? What was she thinking coming to Jesus, the Jewish miracle man, for help? But again, the image of her little girl suffering at home compelled her forward, and she fell at his feet and began to plead.

In the past, whenever I read this, I imagined that Jesus’ response was made in a strong and manly tone while he stood over her. As I read it now, though, I wonder if that was really the case. Rather, I imagine him now kneeling down beside her and, in a soft tone that was anything but condescending, repeating what both he and she knew he was supposed to say: “Let the children eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Had it been anyone else, it would have been him equating her to a dog, but somehow, in that moment, coming from Jesus, it was anything but. And for the first time, she dared look up and meet his eyes.

Instead of finding a sneer of condescension, though, she found a concerned brow over eyes filled with compassion. Confused, she managed to say the remark she had been practicing the whole way over here: “But even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

And then an even stranger thing happened. Jesus nodded. And he reached out and placed his hand on her arm and even helped her up. And then, when he spoke, it was with a tenderness which conveyed an absolutely revolutionary message to this woman. For her reply, which demonstrated a clear and bold faith in Jesus’ power and character, “the demon has left your daughter.”

It was more than she had ever hoped for. In fact, she had never expected a cure; just a little relief. But Jesus’ tone, his mannerisms, and now his miracle could not be overlooked. This wasn’t a crumb, some leftover that the Jews had let fall to the ground. This was a full-blown steak of a miracle.

And she was no dog.

There are no “those” people when it comes to Jesus. There are only His people. He created each of us. He knows each of us more intimately than we know ourselves. Our gifts and strengths. Our weaknesses, faults, and outright sin. And He still loves each of us so much that he spared nothing when it came to meeting our needs. He healed the little girl, and He went to the cross for our sins. No, there was nothing “left over” about any of this.

So here’s what I want you to take from all this rambling. If you’re like the woman, thinking that you’re no better than a dog, not worth Jesus’ attention or grace, I want you to know that Jesus couldn’t disagree more. He loves you more than words could ever say, and He will spare nothing for you. You are worth it to Him.

And if you’re like the host who very nearly shut the door when he saw one of “those” people at his door, I want you to know that Jesus is holding that door open. You may turn away and choose to ignore her, but that would be utterly un-Christlike. Get over yourself. And get over the stigma of “those” people. Your Lord spared nothing when it came to ministering to them; you better not, either.


  • (1-8) It is interesting how the Pharisees asked about the disciples’ failure to wash their hands as a way of poking at Jesus, but Jesus never really answered their question. Instead, he sliced right to the heart of the matter: their hearts were far from God, and so they focused on rules and rites.
  • (9-13) Jesus’ indictment of the Pharisees is point-blank. They had accused His disciples of some horrible sin (aka failing to wash their hands before a meal) which was never actually laid out in Scripture. Jesus turned the tables and challenged them on an area that was laid out in Scripture.
  • (14-23) Here is the bottom line: no external force can make you unclean. It is a matter of what you choose to do. E.g., a pic of a naked woman that appears on spam in your inbox does not constitute sin, but if you requested the email or went out surfing for it on the web, that’s a totally different story.
  • (19) Here is the scriptural basis for pork chops in my refrigerator!
  • (24-30) It is interesting how the woman didn’t even flinch at the notion of being compared to a dog. Surely, she understood that the Jews considered Gentiles no better than dogs. The fact that she came alone suggests that she may have been a single mom; she very well may have thought herself no better than a dog. And yet, when she responded with hope that Jesus may heal her daughter – and clear faith that He could – Jesus didn’t hesitate to respond to her need. We must not hesitate to minister, even to “those” people who are supposedly less than us.
  • (31-37) It occurs to me that Jesus clearly had no qualms ministering among and even to Gentiles. The demoniac in chapter 5 would have probably been a Gentile. The girl in Tyre was clearly a Gentile. And now he has traveled through – and is not ministering in – Gentile-dominated territory.
  • (36-37) Again, I must wonder if Jesus really expected these people to not tell anyone. It occurs to me that His primary concern must have been that they would focus on the miracles rather than the message, and it would seem that they likely did. But how could they not talk about the most amazing thing that had ever happened to them! Is the gospel so amazing, in my life, that I can’t not tell someone what Jesus has done for me?

1 Response to “Mark 7: “Those” people”

  1. 1 Keith April 2, 2010 at 9:35 pm

    I love this. Thanks for putting this in such a vivid word picture. It makes me think about myself and those around me.

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