In this installment of our “Marching Thru Mark” series, let’s consider Jesus’ first and only recorded visit to the twin cities of Tyre and Sidon, an event reported in the seventh chapter of Mark and in the fifteenth chapter of Matthew.
Tyre and Sidon, the birthplace of evil queen Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31), had a dark and evil history. Located on the Mediterranean Sea, Tyre and Sidon were wealthy and proud maritime cities. Ezekiel’s twenty-eighth chapter is devoted to the city’s condemnation and makes a stunning comparison of Tyre’s king to Satan himself. Ezekiel, inspired by the Holy Spirit, wrote a “lament for the king of Tyre … ‘You were the seal of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God … You were an anointed guardian cherub, for I had appointed you. You were on the holy mountain of God; you walked among the fiery stones. From the day you were created you were blameless in your ways until wickedness was found in you. You were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I expelled you in disgrace from the mountain of God, and banished you…’ ” (Ezekiel 28:12-16). Satan was cast out of God’s presence much like Tyre’s king was punished for his pride.
Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities, foreign cities. Jesus visited there in a quest to find rest and quiet, away from His usual hectic schedule. Upon His arrival, “He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it, but he could not escape notice” (Mark 7:24). Jesus’ reputation for miracles, mercy, and majesty preceded Him.
The interruption, an urgent inquiry, came from a woman, “a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she was asking him to cast the demon out of her daughter” (Mark 7:26). The broken-hearted momma “kept crying out, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon’ ” (Matthew 15:22). The Syrophoenician “fell at his feet” (Mark 7:25), much like Jairus (Mark 5:23) and the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:6).
At first, Jesus ignored her. He didn’t open His arms. He didn’t invite her to come closer. He didn’t turn to look compassionately into her longing eyes. He acted as if He hadn’t heard her cry. “Jesus did not say a word to her”(Matthew 15:23).
Jesus’ initial words to the woman seem harsh and insulting. “Let the children be fed first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Mark 7:27). In other words, “One always feeds the children before they feed the pets. The Jewish people are my priority.” The desperate woman was not deterred but quickly pointed out that Israel’s privileges did not exclude Gentiles from enjoying the overflow of God’s abundant grace.
“Then Jesus replied to her, ‘Woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want’ ” (Matthew 15:28). These are words reminiscent of those spoken to the Roman Centurion at Capernaum (Matthew 8:5-13, Luke 7:1-10). Curiously, Jesus never complemented the great faith of a Jewish person.
Closing the conversation, Jesus declared, “Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has left your daughter” (Mark 7:29). When the Syrophoenician “went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone”(Mark 7:30).