The teaching, healing, and feeding of thousands by Jesus serve as signs that with him the Kingdom of God is present here on Earth. They serve as signs that Jesus indeed is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel; that is, he is the man picked by God to save God’s people from all that troubles them.
Unfortunately, the Pharisees fail to affirm this (Mark 7:1-21). Who are these Pharisees? They are the religious establishment of their day. Today they are the church leaders who act as authorities on what it means to be a good Christian. Today they also represent what we might call the conventional church. This is the church which is Christian in name but Olympian in mind, heart, and spirit. As such it is the church which speaks of Jesus but proves unwilling to hear the fresh words spoken to it by him.
After a brief but intense public argument with these enforcers of conventional thought and practice, Jesus temporarily leaves the land of Israel. Even our long-suffering savior needs an occasional break. To get it, he travels to Gentile territory; that is, territory outside the land of Israel. This would be like you and me traveling to an Islamic country; that is, a land with a religious tradition quite different from our own. Even there, however, the peace Jesus seeks eludes him.
A woman comes to him. She’s heard about him, about how he’s the man: God’s man. She has a daughter who needs salvation in a way only God’s man can give. She does not intend to leave the presence of Jesus until she gets it.
At first, Jesus declines to get involved: “‘Led the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs’” (7:27, English Standard Version). Father sent Jesus to his people Israel. His ministry to them will not have its universal impact, and so include Gentiles, until after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.
Our mom on a mission doesn’t even bother to challenge the allusion by Jesus to her as a dog. She’s right back at him: “‘Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs’” (v. 28). She’s not asking Jesus to be Savior of the whole world before Pentecost. Right now, she’s asking him only to save her daughter. Done!
Today you and I face this same kind of reluctance from Jesus. Rebuffed one too many times by the religious establishment and conventional church, he’s gone someplace else. Still, we know he’s God’s man. It’s up to you and me to press him until he again acts like it. We too need signs of his vital dynamic presence. The question is: do we have the same sense of mission as that mom?
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