Study Notes: Mark 7

The story of the gentile woman’s encounter with Jesus in Mark 7:24-30 has been called one of the most difficult biblical passages about the life of Christ. Recently, while reading and re-reading chapter 7, I realized that the story of the gentile woman stands starkly against the immediately preceding story of Jesus’ confrontation with some Pharisees (Mark 7:1-23).

It is a study in contrasts:

A study in contrasts

The two episodes are back-to-back, and they are almost perfectly mirrored:

The pharisees spend days traveling to get to Jesus. In contrast, Jesus spends days traveling and gets to the gentile woman.

The pharisees come from Jerusalem, religious elites from the epicenter of first-century hebrew elitism. In contrast, Jesus goes to the outskirts, the territory of the outsider, Tyre and Sidon, largely inhabited by gentiles.

The pharisees purpose is to correct Jesus on the finer points of religious ceremony. In contrast, the gentile woman’s purpose is to plead with Jesus for the life of her daughter.

Borrowing Jesus’ illustration of a family meal, the pharisees’ presume themselves sons at God’s table. In contrast, the gentile woman presumes herself lowly before Jesus.

The pharisees receive unequivocal rebuke. In contrast, the gentile woman receives everything she asked for – bread from God’s table.

These contrasts demonstrate some of the fundamentals of the Christian good news:

  • Humans are universally needy: Everyone is needy before the God, whether they know it or not. In fact, “knowing it” repeatedly appears to be prerequisite to one’s need being satisfied.1
  • Being good enough is a fairy tale: Adhering to a code of conduct – be it ceremonial washings or sharing your ice cream – is not enough and will never be enough merit a place at the King’s table. Or stated differently, anyone approaching Jesus is like the poor begging for bread. Asking for what you don’t have is categorically different than laying claim to what you’ve earned.
  • Jesus’ generosity knows no favoritism: In Jesus’ household, the “children” and the “dogs” alike eat the best food.2
  • Jesus’ goodness is prodigious Jesus’ table is so abundant that even crumbs satisfy the most desperate appetite.3

  1. Mark 2:17

  2. Reminds me of the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 20:1-16.

  3. Jesus’ satisfying work is so absolute that leftovers are commonplace. C.f. Mark 8:19, John 10:10, Psalm 23:5