The Queen's “family update” every Christmas afternoon makes its way into millions of homes across the country. But none of those watching expect to be extended the same kind of invite into Buckingham Palace. The palace is the reserve of the royal family – you don't get in unless you've got a special invite.
This idea of being excluded isn't unfamiliar to us. We often find ourselves or others without an invite to that special occasion, wedding or birthday party; and it's awkward. But not nearly as awkward as when that person turns up anyway. Don't they know their place? They weren't invited. It's as simple as that. They may all want to be there, but only certain people were invited.
It's surprising, then, that we so rarely remember that most of us were originally “uninvited” to Christianity. When we looked at Mark 7:24-8:10 this week, we were reminded that those who are not Jews were not originally recipients of the promise of God. God had chosen a people for His own possession (e.g. Exodus 19:5), and they were separated from the nations (Leviticus 20:26). Gentiles were without an invite.
But this week we see a woman who knew that the “bread” Jesus had to offer was exactly what she wanted. The bread of Jesus' salvation was worth everything to her, and so she begged Him for it. Jesus' response (“it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to he dogs”) comes as a shock. Why was Jesus calling her a dog, and why was He refusing to give her His salvation? The answer is simple – she was not invited. She was not Jewish. She was not 'one of the children', but part of the uninvited Gentile race.
She was determined to get the bread nonetheless, knowing she was unworthy, but pleading for “crumbs”. So when she gets the bread, it's a great moment. She's been saved! A Gentile got in! But if we're looking at the party as Gentiles, it's not particularly encouraging that there's one Gentile amongst a sea of Jewish people. What hope is there for the rest of us?
The answer: lots of hope. By the end of the passage, we've seen a miraculous feeding all over again, and most of the details are exactly the same as in Mark 6:30-44. Why does Mark tell us about it? Because he wants us to see that the message of the gospel isn't just for Jews – it's for Gentiles too. They weren't originally counted as part of God's chosen nation, but now the message of Exodus-type rescue is going out to the whole world, Jews and Gentiles.
Questions to ponder
- When the Queen ended her speech this Christmas with a prayer that all of us would make room in our lives for Jesus, it wasn't because we're a Christian country. On the contrary, we're a Gentile country. The Christian faith was for Israel; but now it's available to us too. How should that make us feel?
- In what ways is the Syrophoenician woman of Mark 7:24-30 an example to us? What would it look like for you to have her faith?
- In what ways do we, as Christians, take our inclusion in God's people for granted? How would our Friday morning be different if we realised how privileged we are?