So Jesus admonishes the Pharisees for being more faithful to their traditions than to God, and reveals that it is what is coming out of their hearts , what is coming out from the inside, that defiles, not the other way around. This theme of “clean/unclean” is thick through the Book of Mark and it kind of comes to a head here. Immediately following this encounter with the Pharisees, Jesus takes his words and lives them out. He heads to the “region of Tyre”. This is a gentile region, an “out of Israel region”. From the religious leaders’ perspective, this is one of those outside things that defiles Israel. But that’s where Jesus goes. He’s living out his words that it’s not what’s on the outside that defiles, but what’s on the inside.
As soon as he gets there he has this strange encounter with a “greek” woman. Her daughter had an “unclean spirit” and needed to be freed of it. And Jesus’ response seems to contradict everything he had just said to the Pharisees previously: “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” This seems harsh, out of character, and inconsistent with what Jesus has been doing and saying, and it is. He’s saying (and we can see this more clearly if we match it up with this story in Matthew 15) that his work is for Israel, not for the “dogs”. Suddenly he seems to be saying that the outsiders don’t even count. But the woman presses in and says, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She calls out the injustice. And Jesus quickly relents.
1) If Jesus really meant what he said about the gentiles being the dogs in this scenario, he wouldn’t give in so easily. There must be something more going on with his statement. I wonder if what he’s doing is seeing if she thinks she belongs. Like he’s thinking, “let me give her what she’s expecting, and see how she responds.” We don’t know what Jesus would’ve done if she had given in an walked away, but I imagine he still might’ve liberated her daughter from that unclean spirit. Which leads to point number 2….
2) She doesn’t relent. She presses into Jesus, even challenges him. She will not back down on what is right and good. That’s the kind of faith that God is looking for here. She is living out the pure heart for God that Jesus was previously admonishing the Pharisees for not having in 7:1-23. She is simply laying her whole self out there saying, “even if I am a dog, can I not lick up the crumbs?” But she is not a dog. She’s a human.
This story is not about settling for bread crumbs. God doesn’t want that. God is a God of abundance. This is a story about standing up to injustice. This is a story about demanding human rights. Not even Jesus I immune to being challenged when justice is withheld. May we all capture the spirit of this Syrophonecian woman, stand up to power when Justice is denied and delayed, and demand what is right and good: Which is something far more than mere bread crumbs.