Read Mark 7:24-30
24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice, 25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your daughter.” 30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone. (NRSV)
Jesus says some things that seem harsh, and given he was God in human form, we rightly try to explain those apparently harsh statements. This text has one such statement: referring to a needy woman as a dog. Not a recommended response in today’s pastoral care best practice!
In fact, it wasn’t such an insult. The word he uses is descriptive of household pets, not wild scavengers. And his whole approach was designed to draw out the woman’s faith. Jesus is reminding her he has a strategy, which is first to reach the Jewish people. The Gentiles do matter, but his own followers will take on that task in reaching out to the whole world. Jesus has limited time.
Jesus is delighted with the woman’s quick-witted response and her request is granted. We might legitimately speculate that Jesus had a twinkle in his eye as he responded to her. Words on a printed page can’t convey this.
And it is a lesson for all those who talk much of church strategies. They are good and necessary but must make allowances for individuals. Jesus had a plan, but the plan allowed for a change of plan. In the end, our plans are meant to serve people, not the other way around.