Jesus Is In the House! Reflections on Mark 7:24-37
"And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter" (Mk. 7:26).
She had a crumb of confidence and that was enough to make her persist. Even when it seemed like he was disrespecting her, since he was a Jew and a rabbi and a man and she was a three-strikes-you're-out kind of person: a Gentile, a woman, and a woman with a daughter who had a demon. In Jesus' day, her daughter's debilitating illness or seizures, which the text calls demon possession, would be viewed by some as a punishment for sin. He called her a dog, using the term of derision commonly used by Jews to refer to Gentiles as unclean. In her desperation, she comes back at him with a wise retort that revealed she was not a dog, but a lioness: "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs" (7:28).
Was he disrespecting her? Or was he using a rabbinic method of matching wits to teach those standing around that his message was for Gentiles as well as Jews? We have no clues as to his affect. But three things come to mind for me:
- He went to Tyre where he knew there would be Gentiles.
- If he is dissing her, it contradicts his usual patterns of saving his rudeness for those in religious and political power and treating with tenderness the supplicants.
- Right before this he teaches that it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles. Would he then turn right around and spew such sewage as he does at this woman with a straight face? Some questions remain in the shadows in this picture. Others catch the light—like her determined face.
So strong was her desire for her daughter's healing that she dared to match wits with Jesus. "Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."
"Then he said to her 'For saying that, you may go—the demon has left your child'" (Mk. 7:29).
But she still has the trip home, step by step, praying something like, "I believe, help my unbelief. I believe, help my unbelief."
She still has the trip home toward the final scene that would never have happened if Jesus had not gone to Tyre, if someone had not let her know Jesus was in the house, and if she had not had just a crumb of faith to persist in making her request.
But Jesus had come to Tyre, and Jesus was in this house, and someone did bring him to her attention, and she did have faith enough to persist, and he did grant her request.
And so she opens the door, almost afraid to push it open, tempted to stay on the stoop. If this homecoming is like every other one, she knows what to expect before she even enters the dark, cool house from the heat of the day.
Yet, so far no slashes, no shards, no screams. She steps slowly into the bedroom, pushes the curtain aside—no sound of limbs thrashing on the bed. She steps in to stand next to the bed. There lies her little daughter, her eyes closed, her little face finally peaceful, and her body at rest. She opens her eyes and smiles up at her mother who, as she sits down next to her daughter on the bed, and sees that the demon is gone.
"She went home, found the child lying on the bed and the demon gone" (Mk. 7:30).
Condensed and adapted from a sermon delivered in Perkins Chapel September 30, 2009.
Kenneth Collins, John Wesley: A Theological Journey (Abingdon Press, 2003)
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.