24 Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. NIV
Many Greek MSS add Sidon with Tyre, as it is found throughout the NT. But this may be the lone exception because many of the oldest texts leave Sidon off.
The reading above does make more sense not to include Sidon because Jesus enters a house. Since the two towns are some 15 miles apart, it is not likely that he found a house halfway between them.
But neither of these details is important. It is important that Jesus chose to leave Galilee and go north into Phoenicia (modern Lebanon) to avoid the crowds. Why not have the fishermen take him across the lake?
Probably because Jesus had that run-in with Jerusalem-based legal experts who challenged him about hand washing. You may recall from last week’s reading that he unloaded on them, even suggesting that pork may not be banned any more.
Getting out of Dodge was the plan.
25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. ESV
If Jesus hoped to travel incognito, the plan failed. We tend to think of Jesus only being famous to the Jewish people, but clearly, the healing powers of Jesus knew no boundaries.
Did you wonder how Jesus knew which house to enter? As far as we know, he had never been to Tyre before. As you will notice in the photo above, Tyre was an important port city with ships from the Mediterranean stopping all year round. Many who could afford it added rooms to their houses to rent to travelers. Don’t forget that there were probably a couple of dozen people with Jesus. Unless the text states that Jesus went alone, we must assume that his disciples were always with him. In those days, disciples lived 24/7 with the master. That makes it hard for Jesus to hide. It’s like the circus has arrived.
Tyre was not always a peninsula. In 333 BCE, it was mostly an island city heavily fortified when Alexander’s army demanded they surrender. Tyre refused and over the span of 10 months, the ocean was filled in from the mainland to the island until Alexander lead his troops into the city.
A Syrophoenician comes from the northern part of Phoenicia. Some people read that and assume it means she was an outcast, but no, she just moved from north Phoenicia to south Phoenicia.
27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” ESV
This passage is listed as one of the Hard Statements made by Jesus. When we look at it, we see a woman giving her all for her child, and Jesus calls her a dog. That seems cold to us. But we see the words from a 21st Century American prospective.
First, small dogs were common household pets and they lived on table scraps, as did American dogs until a century+ ago. They were small to keep the expense low. [Americans spend about $1.2b a year on dogs alone.] The dogs were also mousers. Cats were not yet common outside of North Africa and China. The Greek word used is different from the word for the dogs that roamed the streets and country sides.
Second, Jesus knew the woman and her child. The advantage he had over all other humans was his constant contact with God. As he walked through a crowd, God fed him information about those he, Jesus, would need to know. If you doubt that, read this.
46“Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Nathanael asked. “Come and see,” said Philip. 47 When Jesus saw Nathanael approaching, he said of him, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.” 48 “How do you know me?” Nathanael asked. Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” NIV John 1
Jesus was never surprised.
Third, Jesus always said his ministry was to Israel and that his disciples would go to the rest of the world. Feed the children first.
Yes, Jesus’ dog comment was a bit ragged, but he needed to be sure that she had the faith needed to save her daughter. Or, more to the point, he needed her to know she had the faith.
Allow me to steal from the best. The Gospel According to St. Mark by Vincent Taylor, 1959. This is a narrative proper containing details which stamp it as primitive. Among these details are the locating of the incident, the vain quest for privacy, the woman’s witty reply, the pleasure it gave Jesus, the passing reference to the cure, and signs of Aramaic tradition reflected by the vocabulary and style.
28 But she replied, “Yes, Lord, I know, but even the dogs under the table eat what the children leave.” 29 “If you can answer like that,” Jesus said to her, “you can go home! The evil spirit has left your daughter.” 30 And she went back home and found the child lying quietly on her bed, and the evil spirit gone. Phillips
I believe Jesus was smiling at that exchange.
31 Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. NIV
If you see the route on a map, Jesus had to walk north to Sidon, then follow a small river through the mountain range to get to the mouth of the Jordan River. That river runs south between two great mountain ranges before emptying into the Sea of Galilee. He would have then walked along the northern shore, then south to enter the Decapolis (often called Ten Cities in Aramaic). I don’t know if there were established trails along the rivers, but it seems likely. Still, this was likely a three-day hike…if no one asked him for a healing, etc.
32 There some people brought to him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place his hand on him. NIV
Too often we fix our thoughts on the miracle and miss other important details. Some people brought the man. Jesus and his disciples had just traveled through a foreign country, arriving unannounced in another country where few Jews lived. Yet, Some people knew him and they knew what he could do.
33 Taking him off alone, away from the crowd, Yeshua put his fingers into the man’s ears, spat, and touched his tongue; 34 then, looking up to heaven, he gave a deep groan and said to him, “Hippatach!” (that is, “Be opened!”). 35 His ears were opened, his tongue was freed, and he began speaking clearly. CJB
At once you can see this healing as very different from the demon possession. Both miracles, but the first was done at a distance with what appeared to be little effort by Jesus, and the second involved a complex set of moves and words.
Notice in both cases that Jesus did his thing without the presence of crowds (though probably by at least some of the disciples). Most miracles were witnessed by many. This was likely done to avoid too much notoriety outside of Israel before the Twelve began their work.
36 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more he did so, the more they kept talking about it. NIV
We should never forget that Jesus did miracles because it came with the job description. The Messiah was expected to do the kinds of things done by Moses and the Prophets. We Christians tend to forget that the OT is filled with miracles—Exodus 14:21-22.
Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the Lord drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left. NIV
But just because it was expected doesn’t mean Jesus didn’t want to heal people. He did and he does.
Be righteous and do good.