This being the case, I sometimes wonder why the gospel writers chose to include certain miracles and not others. They had many to choose from, but selected only a few. What was it that they were trying to communicate to us? Such is the case with me when I read the seventh chapter of Mark.
The miracles that Mark writes about in that chapter are two: that of a Gentile woman imploring Jesus to heal her daughter, and of some people who begged Jesus to heal a deaf and mute man.
Opposition at Every Turn
Previous to the
events of these two miracles, Jesus had been in Jerusalem. During most of his
time in that city, he faced almost constant opposition and challenges by the
Pharisees and other religious leaders. Jesus was very often required to defend
his own actions before hostile individuals. He was even criticized when he was
simply helping people.
The writer Mark
tells about one instance where Jesus healed a man with a withered hand. It
happened on the Sabbath day, a day when the Pharisees taught that such things as
healings were forbidden. They said that to heal someone would be considered
work, and work was prohibited on the Sabbath.
Before Jesus helped
the man, he knew that it would get him into trouble with the established
religious leaders of the day. Of course he healed the man anyway. But from that
point on, the Pharisees began to plot how to best put Jesus to death (Mark 3:1-6).
These types of
experiences often required Jesus to confront the Pharisees with their own
hypocrisy. He later said to them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you
hypocrites, as it is written: ‘These people honor Me with their lips, but their
hearts are far from Me. They worship Me in vain; they teach as doctrine the
precepts of men.’”
words of the prophet to the Pharisees, Jesus told them, “You have disregarded
the commandment of God to keep the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8 BSB).
confrontations between Jesus and those who opposed him was not an uncommon
experience for him. When these types of confrontations come, one is required to
defend himself at every turn and with every action. Make no mistake, this type
of atmosphere drains a person of energy. I think it drained Jesus of energy.
Come Apart and Rest
Of the four
Gospel writers, Mark, more than any of the others, talks about the grueling
pace that Jesus and the disciples often had. Twice he mentions times when Jesus
and the disciples were so busy with the crowds that followed them that they did
not even have time to eat a meal (Mark
3:20; 6:31). There were several times when Jesus wanted nothing more
than to be alone, or at least alone with only his twelve disciples.
So it was at
this time after these disputes with the Pharisees in Jerusalem. After his
confrontation in the synagogue with the religious leaders, Jesus left the city
to go to the region of Tyre. Tyre was a town on the coast of the Mediterranean
Sea and a place populated mostly by the Phoenician people, a people who did not
believe in the God of the Jews. They had their own pagan deities and were predominantly
polytheistic and animistic.
I think that Jesus went there because he wanted to get away from controversy with the Pharisees. He was looking for rest. In that city, away from Jerusalem and the Jewish homeland, Jesus would not be followed by thousands of people wherever he went. He entered a house in the city and tried to do so undetected. I think that Jesus just wanted a little quiet time. He was not so much unlike us in that way. At least I sometimes just want to get away and have a time of quiet, and I do not think that I am so unusual in that way.
The Syro-phoenician Woman of Tyre
The efforts of Jesus
to enter the house without anyone noticing were not completely successful. Not
only had he been seen, but even in this Gentile city, people recognized
him. Word spread that he was in town and
even told of the house in which he was staying.
In that town
was a woman with a little daughter with an unclean spirit. The girl is
described to us as having a demon. This brings up to us all sorts of questions
about the nature of the daughter’s condition, whether physical, psychological,
or truly spiritual. Actually, we have very little information about the
daughter, so perhaps it is best to leave it as described to us.
The subject of the story, after all, is not really the daughter, but it is the mother. As soon as the woman heard that Jesus was in the city, she came and fell at his feet. She kept imploring Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter. After previous stories of Jesus healing anyone who came to him, it might surprise you that he repeatedly refused her request.
The Infamous Remark about the Dogs
Jesus is quoted
as saying to the woman, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not
good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27).
We might think
that this sounds very rude. It is as if Jesus were calling this woman and her
I myself do not
look at it in this way. Anyone who has learned another language and has lived
in other cultures understands that sometimes expressions and idioms do not
transfer well from one language or culture to another.
For example, if
you are an American (at least one of my generation), you very likely know what
I mean if I should say, “You’re pulling my leg!”
But to a person
from overseas and perhaps even to a younger person in our own country, that
expression is ludicrous. It may serve well with certain people, but not with
I think that
this expression throwing the children’s bread to the dogs was simply an
expression of that day. It perhaps made reference to the fact that actions
intended for one purpose should not be used for another. Of course it is also possible that the meaning may be a little stronger than that, since there is a
sense of misusing or wasting one’s efforts.
The “Attesting Miracles”
tend to think that Jesus was simply saying that his purpose in coming into the
world was to bring the message of the Messiah to the Jewish people. That was
one of the major reasons also for his miracles. One of the important purposes
for which Jesus healed people and performed other miracles was that these
actions were to be “signs,” or evidence to the people that Jesus was the
Promised One spoken of in the Old Testament prophecies. The Apostle John
especially emphasizes the prophetic fulfillment aspect of the miracles of
reference to the children, Jesus was telling the woman that the aspect of signs was an important purpose in
healing people. He performed miracles so that people would recognize him as the
But the woman
was asking Jesus to perform a miracle that would not necessarily act as a sign
that pointed to him as the Messiah. It would not be so since the people in that
Gentile city did not know the scriptures and would not recognize the connection
of the miracle to the Hebrew Scriptures.
In telling the
woman what he did, Jesus was saying to her that at this time, his efforts were
to be signs to indicate to others the fulfillment of scripture. To those who
knew the scriptures, his miracles would validate the claims of Jesus that he
was the promised One.
The Persistence of the Woman
But the woman
would not be deterred. “Yes, Lord,” she agreed. “But even the dogs under the
table feed on the children’s crumbs.”
The woman was
clearly in a desperate situation. Even if you do not accept my explanation that
the expression that Jesus used concerning the “dogs” was an idiom, and even if
that reference to dogs was actually an offense to her, the condition of her
daughter was hopeless apart from a miracle. The woman knew that her only help
could come from Jesus.
Her answer was
actually one of great faith. She recognized that the “children,” that is the
Jewish people, were not utilizing the full power of Jesus as he walked among
them. Why should not she receive some benefit that they were not using? She was
appealing to another motive in Jesus for the healing—one that did not have
anything to do with fulfillment of prophecy. She simply had nowhere else to
turn. She was appealing to his compassion.
her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish. Because of
this answer go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter” (Matthew
15:28; Mark 7:29).
At that moment,
her daughter was healed.
We do not know
how long Jesus stayed in Tyre, but some time after the healing of the daughter
of the Phoenician woman, he returned to the area around the Sea of Galilee. There
again he was involved with healing people.
Matthew, in his gospel, mention these healings. He writes that a “great multitude” came to Jesus (Matthew 15:30), bringing those in need of healing. Jesus healed them, and the multitude marveled. The healings were signs for the people. When the people witnessed these miracles, they “glorified the God of Israel.”
But Mark does not mention all of these healings when he wrote about the same occasion, as did Matthew. Mark instead chooses to tell of only one, and it is one that Jesus tried to keep private. Why did Mark ignore all of the other “multitude” of healings and focus only on this one?
brought to Jesus a man who was deaf, and could speak only with great
difficulty. We do not know if his speech impediment was because, being deaf, he
could never hear how the words sounded that he tried to form, or if it was
something that was physically wrong. Whatever was the case, the people brought
the man to Jesus to be healed. Like the woman of Tyre, these people had nowhere
else to turn. They begged Jesus to lay his hands upon the man.
healing the man on the spot, Jesus took him aside from the multitude so that
they would not witness this healing. There, in private, Jesus healed the man.
Then, after the man was healed, Jesus gave him and his friends “orders” not to
tell anyone about this. He did not want this one to be publicly known.
This was not to
be an “attesting miracle,” but one that was only for the benefit of the man in
need. In many of his miracles, Jesus wanted the people to see the connection of
what he did with the fulfillment of scripture. But this one, and the miracle in
the healing of the woman’s daughter, were motivated by something other than
But of course, even with this attempt to keep the event silent, word leaked out about the miracle. The people spread the news widely. They could not help themselves. They said, “He has done all things well; he makes even the deaf to hear and the dumb to speak” (Mark 7:37).
Feeding of Four Thousand
And there were
many people to tell about this healing, for the large crowd that had gathered was
still there. There were more than four thousand people.
In our own day,
it might be difficult to imagine the situation, but this multitude of people
were there without any accommodations. There were no food trucks and no hotel
rooms. People did not come in pickups pulling their campers. And this was not a
one-day event. Three days they stayed. When night came, the people simply found
a place to lie down on the ground to try to get some sleep. When the morning again
came, they stayed. And so they did the next night and the next day.
On the third day,
Jesus called his disciples to him. “I feel compassion for this multitude,” he
told them. “They have remained here with me three days and have had nothing to
eat. If I send them away to their homes now, they will faint on the way. Some
of these have come great distances” (Mark 8:2-3)
To his disciples, this seemed like an insurmountable problem. “Where will anyone be able to find enough food for these people in this desolate place?” they asked Jesus.
It could not
have been too many weeks before this that Jesus had put a similar need before
the disciples. At that time, the congregation numbered more than five thousand,
and similarly, the disciples could not see how it was possible to find food to
feed such a multitude of people.
That was the
time that we know of as the feeding of the five thousand. You may know the
story well. There was a small boy there who had with him a lunch of five fish
and two small barley loaves. Jesus took that meagre meal, gave thanks for it,
and began dividing it into pieces to be distributed to the multitude. His
dividing it did not diminish the quantity in his hands. Rather than that, the
amount of the bread and the fish was multiplied so that the entire mass of
people ate as much as they could hold.
Give Them Something to Eat
Now, back to
this present instance with the four thousand, Jesus again told the disciples
that they should give the people something to eat. The disciples only saw the
difficulties in this. How could they possibly find enough food for all these people?
surprised at that—that they doubted? They had seen Jesus supply in this manner
just weeks before. I am a little surprised that they did not remember. But then
again, perhaps I should not be surprised.
In all honesty,
I also see the same short-term memory in myself. In my life, I have seen God do
wonderful things to supply a seemingly insurmountable need that I was facing.
It had been to my great relief to see this need fulfilled by some working of
when faced with another need, whether financial, physical or even emotional, I somehow
forgot what God had done before. Again, I began fretting over what I should do.
How shall I handle this? Where will I ever find the strength and the resources?
Perhaps I should not be so critical of the disciples.
At this point,
similar to the way that Jesus fed the five thousand, some bread was found.
Seven loaves this time. They also found a few fish. Again, Jesus took the
bread, gave thanks, and began to divide the loaves and handing the pieces to
the disciples to be distributed to the crowd.
The four thousand ate until they were satisfied. When the meal was over, Jesus sent the people home on the strength of the food that they had eaten.
Seven Baskets Full
Again, as before
in the feeding of the five thousand, after the crowd had left, Jesus sent the
disciples around the area to pick up the morsels of bread still found lying
around. They recovered seven baskets full. This time the baskets were larger ones
than at the feeding of the five thousand, or so I have been told, but the actual quantity
does not matter so much. What does matter was that the provision of Jesus was
more than sufficient for the need. There had been an overabundance of provision.
They were like crumbs that had fallen from the children’s table.
Baskets Full of Compassion
Think again of
the conversation that Jesus had with the Syro-phoenician woman in the Gentile
city of Tyre. Jesus had told her that his ministry was to the Jewish people. He
said to her, “Let the children be satisfied first, for it is not good to take
the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
woman answered, “Yes Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the
To this, Jesus
replied, “O woman, your faith is great. Because of this answer go your way. It
is done for you as you wish.”
this woman not because it would be a demonstration of fulfillment of Old
Testament prophecies. That was not his reason. These prophecies meant nothing
to this woman. Jesus healed her daughter simply on the basis of her faith. He
had been moved with compassion by the fact that she came to him with her need
because she had nowhere else to turn.
Likewise in the
healing of the deaf-mute, Jesus did this in private. This healing was simply a
response to a need. It was not a sign. It was not an attesting miracle. It was
a crumb left over from the children’s table.
the telling of the feeding of the four thousand by these two miracles that show
Jesus healing out of pure compassion. In these miracles, Jesus was not
fulfilling prophecies concerning the Messiah. He was moved from within to do
it. They were healings of compassion
Then, notice that when Jesus was with the crowd of the four thousand, most of whom had not eaten for three days, he said that he felt compassion for the people. Again, this feeding was not one done to fulfill prophecy; Jesus simply fed them out of his compassion for them.
You know what
compassion is. It is when you feel a desire to help. It is a feeling than
originates from deep within yourself—even from the very center of your being.
This is not the same as doing something out of a sense of commitment or honor.
You do not do it because of your work
ethic or your sense of duty.
Compassion is a
motivation to help that arises from your very depths. In fact, the Greek word
for compassion actually alludes to something deep within. Compassion is not an
incentive of the mind. Compassion a deep-seated motivation. It is one that we
cannot reason away. Compassion moves us to act.
Mark wrote of the
Syro-phoenician woman and of the deaf-mute, and of the miracle of the
compassionate feeding of the four thousand, to show that God is a compassionate
God. Not everything Jesus did was to fulfill scripture. Much of what he did was
motivated by compassion—nothing more.
Our God is a
compassionate God. As we saw in these two miracles with the individuals in
Mark’s gospel, and with the statement of Jesus when he said he felt compassion
for the four thousand hungry people who had not eaten for three days, God is
moved by compassion when we come to him in desperation.
is that we often pray to God, but then we instead expect people to do
something. That is not desperation. We are looking to other people. But when
our situation is hopeless and when there is no
one else to help, that is when we are desperate. That is when we turn only
to God and hope that he will act out of compassion.
compassion for this crowd, because they have already been with Me three days
and have nothing to eat,” Jesus said of the four thousand.
At another time, seeing the multitude of people distressed and downcast, he told his disciples, “I feel compassion for them, for they are like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36).
Jesus Hears Your Cries of Desperation
If you are
looking for your insurance plan to help you in your situation, you are not yet
If you are
hoping that the doctors can perform a “miracle” cure, you are not yet
If you are
hoping that a relative or some other person will help you out, you are not yet
If you are
looking for a government bail-out or some other form of government aid to help you, you
are not yet desperate.
If you hope
that you can get a bank loan, or a loan from a friend, you are not yet
We might often
say that we are in a desperate situation, but all the while we are looking at
some option that we hope will help us out. But it is only when there is nothing
left, only when you are alone in the world with no one to help, it is only then, like the Syro-phoenician woman, that we cry to God for some crumbs. Like the
friends of the deaf-mute man, we beg Jesus to help.
It is only then
that you will touch the heart of compassion of our God.