Saturday, May 14, 2016

Insight: The Faith of a "Puppy”?

The Faith of a "Puppy"?
Any honest student of the Bible must admit that certain biblical stories seem problematic, especially when encountered for the first time. Yet, upon further investigation, the apparent difficulties vanish and the meanings become increasingly evident. One episode in Jesus' life that has historically been misunderstood by some believers and misrepresented by skeptics is Jesus' encounter with the Syro-Phoenician woman. Mark records the episode as follows:
For a woman whose young daughter had an unclean spirit heard about Him [Jesus], and she came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth, and she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, "Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she answered and said to Him, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children's crumbs." Then He said to her, "For this saying go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter." And when she had come to her house, she found the demon gone out, and her daughter lying on the bed (Mark 7:25-30; cf Matthew 15:21-28).
When the Gentile woman addressed Jesus, she called Him, "Son of David." Her manner of addressing Him indicated both her familiarity with Jewish Scripture as well as her belief in them; this was something that the Jews had a hard time doing (believing).  
Up to this point in our story, Jesus had been speaking directly to His disciples. Now, He talked to the woman and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." By "children" He meant Israelites (Acts 10:36); while "dogs" were symbols of unclean Gentiles, a proverbial expression used by the Jews to represent their sense of national superiority over the nations. Jesus Himself did not call the Gentiles "dogs." He merely used the term here to point out the traditional antipathy between Jews and Gentiles, which His disciples echoed. The word Jesus used for "dogs" actually meant "little dogs" or, "puppies" versus the large, wild dogs native to the area. In fact, what Jesus was really alluding to was the family pet puppy that could often be found under the table at dinnertime, begging for scraps.
To construe Jesus' statement as unkind or wrong, we would need to prove that the illustration or idiom He used to refer to the Gentiles as "little dogs", is indeed derogatory. But, there is nothing to prove that conclusion. In fact, as mentioned above, the term Jesus used for "little dogs" could easily be taken in an illustrative way without any unkind insinuation. In a commentary on Mark, a renowned commentator (R.C.H. Lenski)  the Greek term used by Jesus (kunaria) as "little pet dogs." This scholar further noted concerning Jesus' statement: "In the Orient, dogs have no owners but run wild and serve as scavengers for all garbage and offal.... It is an entirely different conception when Jesus speaks of 'little pet dogs' in referring to the Gentiles. These have owners who keep them even in the house and feed them by throwing them bits from the table" (1961, p. 304). The Commentator goes on to state: "All that Jesus does is to ask the disciples and the woman to accept the divine plan that Jesus must work out his mission among the Jews.... Any share of Gentile individuals, in any of these blessings, can only be incidental during Jesus' ministry in Israel" (ibid, pp. 304-305). Regarding the non-derogatory nature of Jesus' comment to the Gentile woman, another commentator (Allen Black): "The form of his statement is proverbial. And the basis of the proverb is not an antipathy for Gentiles, but the necessary Jewish focus of Jesus' earthly ministry" (1995, p. 137).
Because of her faith and humility, this mother did not take offense at Jesus' comments. Desperate, His words didn't discourage her. Because of her knowledge of His compassion and ability to heal, she was filled with hope and faith. Feeling deeply unworthy, she accepted her place among the dogs, and merely asked for spiritual crumbs; a little crumb for her daughter is all she sought.
Impressed with this mother's answer, Jesus told her to return home and upon doing so, she found her daughter healed. Notice, Jesus did not touch or come near the possessed girl. He merely healed her by His word. This distal healing is one of the few mentioned in the New Testament, and the only one recorded by Mark. (One other such distal healing is also on behalf of a Gentile -- Cornelius, the Roman Centurian. He too also felt unworthy. "Speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed," he said. Jesus commended the faith of these two Gentiles, and held them up as paragons of faith for the Jews, and for us.).
According to Galatians 3:26, truly we are all the children of God by the faith of Jesus Christ. And God Himself does not show partiality, for the benefits of the gospel are for all. Regarding the Syro-Phoenician woman, she counted herself a "puppy," and faithfully looked forward to being counted by God as His child. Although she stood outside of the elect family of Israel, she trusted that Jesus' goodness would impart a blessing. By intervening on behalf of her and of her daughter, Jesus showed that the Gentiles' potential for salvation was no less than that of Israelites.
Ellen White's statement elaborates on this concept effectively.  Let us read it,
"Christ … received this representative of a despised race as the Jews would have done.... The woman urged her case with increased earnestness, bowing at Christ's feet, and crying, 'Lord, help me.'
She yields at once to the divine influence of Christ, and has implicit faith in His ability to grant the favor she asks. She begs for the crumbs that fall from the Master's table. If she may have the privilege of a dog, she is willing to be regarded as a dog. She has no national or religious prejudice or pride to influence her course, and she immediately acknowledges Jesus as the Redeemer, and as being able to do all that she asks of Him… The Saviour is satisfied.
In faith the woman of Phoenicia flung herself against the barriers that had been piled up between Jew and Gentile. Against discouragement, regardless of appearances that might have led her to doubt, she trusted the Saviour's love. It is thus that Christ desires us to trust in Him. The blessings of salvation are for every soul. Nothing but his own choice can prevent any man from becoming a partaker of the promise in Christ by the gospel. 
Caste is hateful to God. He ignores everything of this character. In His sight the souls of all men are of equal value. 'For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved' (Romans 10:12, 13)." {Conflict and Courage, 297}
Are we unwittingly discouraging the faith of a puppy? Lord help us!

~Raul Diaz

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