Sermon Summary & Discussion Questions: A Shocking Statement, A Glorious Surprise

1. Transition and Introduction (7:24-26)
2. Interaction Between Jesus and the Woman (7:27-28)
3. Pronouncement and Miracle (7:29-30)
4. Preview and Provocation Summary:



1. Transition and Introduction (7:24-26)

Following his conflict with the Jewish leaders pertaining to cleanliness and purity laws (7:1-23), Jesus withdrew to the Gentile territory of Tyre, in order to seek rest (7:24). It is in this context in which Jesus’ interaction with a Gentile woman is strategically placed in Mark’s gospel account. Just as the previous section affirmed that there are no unclean foods (7:19), now we will learn that there are no unclean people (cf. Edwards, Mark. PNTC, 216).

Jesus’ withdrawal for rest is interrupted by the visitation of a Gentile woman. Mark provides intricate details about the woman that make this interaction all the more startling. First, as a woman, she is one with whom a respectable Jewish teacher should not have associated. Secondly, her Gentile ethnicity is emphatically stated: she is a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth (7:26). Thirdly, we learn that she had a daughter, who had an “unclean spirit.” This condition would have provoked fear and disgust in others, while the mention of the “uncleanness” of a demon suggests ritual impurity (cf. France, Mark. NIGTC, 297). Despite all these oddities against her, the woman seeks out Jesus and begs him to heal her daughter.

2. Interaction Between Jesus and the Woman (7:27-28)

The heart of the story is in verses 27-28, where we are given a brief dialogue between Jesus and the woman. Upon the request to heal the woman’s daughter, Jesus’ response seems abrupt and harsh: “Allow the children to be satisfied first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (7:27; HCSB). One of the most surprising things about this domestic parable is that Jesus compares this desperate mother to a “dog.” In the ancient world, dogs were wild scavengers. Thus, Jews considered dogs to be unclean. The derogatory label “dogs” for Gentiles was used since they were considered to be unclean and impure according to Jewish customs. In contrast, it is not the Gentile dogs that should be fed first, but the children (i.e., Israel). The seemingly insensitive remark by Jesus was intended to be an invitation and provocation, probing for signs of faith. The woman likewise responds in parabolic fashion, carrying Jesus’ statement one step further: “Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs” (7:28; HCSB). Her response displays beautiful faith in Jesus’ lordship. Indeed, she understands the privileged place of Israel, but she persists, appealing to the surplus of Jesus’ generosity. Surely, the children should first “eat all they want” (cf. NIV), but even while they eat, the dogs can enjoy the crumbs that fall on the floor. Although Jesus stated that it is the children that should eat “first,” this indicates that the woman, as a gentile, is not excluded from the God’s mercy (cf. Stein, Mark. ECNT, 352). She understands she is not first, but she also understands that his mission ultimately extends beyond Jewish boundaries. With the coming of God’s kingdom, good news of salvation is for the Jew and also extended to the Gentile (cf. Rom 1:16; see Isa 2:2-4; 11:10; Mic 4:1-5; Zech 8:20-23; 14:1-21). Her request was not for an entire meal, but simply a crumb of mercy (see Lane, Mark, 263). This is a compelling example of humble faith.

3. Pronouncement and Miracle (7:29-30)

The persistence of her faith delighted Jesus. He commends her faith and grants her request: “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter” (7:29; ESV). He then tells her to return home. The command to return home after an act of healing those who display a great act of confidence is common in the Gospel of Mark (cf. 2:11; 5:34; 7:29; 10:52). The passage closes with her return home to her healed daughter.

4. Preview and Provocation

This story in Mark’s gospel applies to us by providing both a preview and provocation. First, this passage gives us a preview to the mission of the church. The good news of salvation is not constrained to ethnic boundaries, reserved only for the Jews. Rather, this story gives us a glimpse at the universal scope of redemption even for Gentiles! The mission of God is salvation for both Jew and non-Jew alike. Second, this passage gives a provocation. Though we ourselves are unworthy before a holy God (like the Gentile woman), this should not cause us to retreat from seeking out his mercy. We are often more aware of our unworthiness than his mercy and generosity. This story beckons us to persist in humble faith (like the Gentile woman) to trust in our merciful and generous Savior.

Discussion Questions:

These discussion questions follow the last two points of C.J.’s sermon: the preview and provocation:

Provocation: In Mark 7:24-30 we see the woman’s compelling example of humble faith. The Gentile woman first acknowledged her unworthiness (accepting the label as a “dog”), but she also affirms the mercy and generosity of God.

How does this challenge you in your faith?
How are you more aware of your unworthiness before God than of his abundant mercy?
How does this passage encourage you to seek his mercy despite your feelings of unworthiness?

Preview: This story gives us a preview into the scope of Jesus’ ministry. The proclamation of the kingdom of God to the Gentiles brings fulfillment to salvation history, which began with Israel.

What does this passage say about the scope of Jesus’ ministry and the mission of God?
How does this passage challenge you as you seek to live out God’s mission?