Jesus Changed the Lowly—not the Legalists (Mark 7:1-37; 8:22-26)
Calling someone a dog is not really a nice thing to do. I mean, it’s bad enough when you meet a person and tell them your name and they say, “Oh, my dog has that same name!” Great. I knew I shouldn’t have named my child “Fido.”
But did you know Jesus called someone a dog? Yep. Look at Mark 7. He’s trying again to get some vacation time with His disciples after their last getaway turned into a giveaway. So He goes outside the Jewish lands north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And there meets a Gentile woman—a native of that land who had a problem. Her little daughter was possessed by a demon. Those evil spirits show no mercy to the innocent. And this poor mother could do nothing to help her pitiful daughter. But she heard a Jewish Healer had come to town. So she went to Him and begged for help. He responded,
“Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Ouch. He was calling this woman a dog. He was saying He was supposed to focus on the “children” of Israel and their needs. That was His main mission. But don’t get freaked out here. Jesus is still sinless. He was not calling this woman a mangy street-scavenger dog—though many of His fellow Jews would probably have done so. No, He was calling her a household pet. Doesn’t sound much better to us, but in those days, it was. He was testing the woman. And she came through with a statement of great lowliness:
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” She was begging for a crumb of Jesus’ power…just to heal her poor daughter. She was desperate and she knew He could help. She believed.
Jesus smiled at her.
“For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.”
The great humility of this Gentile woman is exactly what God wants. You see, we’re all dogs in many ways. Maybe some of us are a little “better” than others and can be the household pets. But we’re still all dogs. We still all drink out of the toilet of sin and eat our own vomit. We’re all sinners.
But in the passage before, certain people—Jews—didn’t think that was true. They had come up with all sorts of rules they thought were “biblical” and applied them with utter strictness. We’d call them legalists. And when these guys saw Jesus’ disciples eating without washing their hands, their loins got all girded up! Now, they weren’t concerned about germs. They were focused on their man-made rule that said no eating without washing hands. Sounds like my mother (now, don’t try telling your mother that it’s legalistic to have you wash your hands before dinner!).
Jesus tells them some controversial stuff. He accuses them of teaching as doctrine their own made-up, man-made commandments. They were so focused on cleaning their cups and pots and even couches (apparently they ate too many chips while watching TV). Outwardly, they wanted it all to be clean, when inwardly, they were as dirty as the scavenging dog outside. Jesus told them plainly,
“There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.”
What He meant was that the outward rules, like making sure to only eat certain things—those things didn’t make a person clean. Your cleanliness is judged by what comes out. And Jesus has a whole list of dirty stuff that comes out of us—lusts, pride, foolishness. No doubt every single one of those legalists was defiled according to that list.
The Changemaker changes people who see themselves as dirty. Who see themselves like dogs—needy and desperate. Like that Gentile woman. Like the deaf man later in the chapter who is healed in a disgusting way involving fingers in ears, spit, and sighing. Or the blind man who was also healed with some of Jesus’ spit. Sounds disgusting. But these men didn’t care. They didn’t care about getting outwardly dirty. They cared about getting healed!
And that must be our attitude. We must come to God, not in our Sunday best, saying, “I’ve done pretty good this week, God!” That’s not the person God wants to speak to. Rather, we come to God on our faces, like that woman, begging for healing for our great sinfulness. Calling ourselves what we truly are—unclean, mangy dogs, unworthy of His grace.
That’s the dog—er, person—that the Changemaker can change.