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Ask the Pastor

† Theological musings and answers to selected questions by a confessional Lutheran pastor.

01 October 2005

Crumbs to the Dogs

Q: In Mark 7:24-30, a Syrophoenician woman wanted Jesus to heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon. He told her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” She replied, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Then Jesus said, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” And of course, it had.

What does this parable mean? I don’t understand about the children and the dogs and how that pertains to the woman’s faith, or anything for that matter.

A: This isn’t a parable (loosely defined as “an earthly story with a spiritual meaning”), although Jesus spoke to the woman in a roundabout way. Rather, it is an historical event from the life of our Lord.

What Jesus did was prove the woman’s faith (“prove” both in the sense of “test” and of “certify”) by first answering with what she may well have expected from a Jewish man receiving such a request from a Gentile woman. Yet she persisted, showing both a deep love for her daughter and a strong belief that this Man could help, if He chose to do so. She acknowledged that Israel was God’s chosen people in her reply but also showed that even those who are not of the Covenant people still receive their blessings from the Lord. Even the “crumbs” that come from God are better than great gifts from this earth and its inhabitants.

So what Jesus basically did was compare Israel, the children of Abraham and thus God’s chosen children, with the others who surrounded them (the “dogs”). And this “dog” then showed greater belief than did many in Israel — a belief that met with earthly reward as Jesus cast out the daughter’s demon. Perhaps it was only a divine “crumb,” but it was a rich banquet for the woman starving for an answer to her prayers.

Scripture quoted from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles.

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Walter Snyder is the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Emma, Missouri and coauthor of the book What Do Lutherans Believe.


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