Read Mark 7:24-30
24 Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre. He didn’t want anyone to know which house he was staying in, but he couldn’t keep it a secret. 25 Right away a woman who had heard about him came and fell at his feet. Her little girl was possessed by an evil spirit, 26 and she begged him to cast out the demon from her daughter.
Since she was a Gentile, born in Syrian Phoenicia, 27 Jesus told her, “First I should feed the children—my own family, the Jews. It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
28 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even the dogs under the table are allowed to eat the scraps from the children’s plates.”
29 “Good answer!” he said. “Now go home, for the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And when she arrived home, she found her little girl lying quietly in bed, and the demon was gone. (NLT)
Words on a printed page are sometimes hard to interpret. This is so because the experts tell us that much of our interpersonal communication is non-verbal. Our words form only part of the communication process.
So when we come to episodes like this, we have to realise we are only reading words, not seeing facial expressions or body postures. And so Jesus’ words might seem harsh to this needy woman. Scholars remind us that the word ‘dogs’ was sometimes used of Gentiles but even so was a reference to family pets not wild scavengers. Though it still seems an insensitive response to the woman. And scholars also rightly remind us that Jesus’ primary mission was to the Jews and only through them to non-Jews.
Above and beyond all these legitimate comments, we need to realise that we have to imagine what Jesus’ facial expression was like as he said this. We tend to assume Jesus is always solemn and serious. But he may have had a twinkle in his eye which gave an extra meaning to those words. His body language may have indicated acceptance despite those apparently harsh words.
As a perfect human being, Jesus can be trusted to speak and act appropriately to all comers. The printed page can’t reveal his full humanity. If only we had been there!