TODAY’S READING: Matthew 15; Mark 7
Scholars debate whether Jesus’ excursion to Lebanon (Tyre and Sidon) was a missionary trip or discipleship training. It was both—just as most overseas trips are today. Certainly, Jesus wanted to model and demonstrate the great heart of Father God for all peoples of earth and He wanted His disciples to learn something.
At first blush it seems that Jesus was a bit callous towards the penitent mother’s cries, but if we understand indirection, we see the great joy of God shining through. First of all, a Lebanese mother recognized Jesus as the Son of David with authority not just over all the nations, but with authority over all demonic powers. How the heart of Jesus must have leapt at this request! In His hometown and country He constantly faced opposition to both of these essential aspects; yet here was a foreigner from an unreached people, initiating her request by confessing publicly, “I believe you are the King who will rule over all the peoples of the earth and over all the principalities and powers!” There can be no doubt that the heart of God was smiling, bursting on the inside, eager to heal, deliver, and save. As ever, God works in multiple directions, and so the conversation continued.
Jesus didn’t answer her, and here is where discipleship training becomes evident. What would the disciples do? Well, they failed. They urged Jesus to send the irritating Lebanese away (Matt. 15:23). Jesus seemingly complied, but this was merely an escalation of the plot, for in one of the most touching exchanges in the Gospels, this Lebanese mother would not be denied. Instead, she worshiped and whispered, “Lord, help me!” I cannot read these words without crying, and I believe Jesus’ eyes had tears. I can’t imagine how He restrained both His emotions and His power in this moment. Then one more touching exchange—a twinkle mixed with the tear-brimmed eyes of the Master before the glorious answer from the God who came down to earth for encounters just like this—that all nations would be loved and saved (vv. 26–28).
Jesus then went to the Decapolis (the Greek-speaking cities of Syria on the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee) and healed the multitudes whereupon they glorified the God of Israel. (Matt. 15:29–31; Mark 7:31). Jesus was still in Gentile territory, still on a missions trip, when He healed a deaf mute. The crowds were astonished beyond measure and declared, “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). Jesus then fed a crowd of 4,000, a complementary feast among the Gentiles as He provided to the Israelites, before He got in a boat and wrapped the missions trip up, and He did this because He had compassion on the crowd of unreached peoples (v. 32).
This is missions at its most glorious: Jesus giving and bringing life to those far from the household of faith, Jesus receiving joy at the faith He finds among the nations, Gentiles recognizing that the God of Israel is the one true God who has included them in eternal life, and missionary disciples having their hubristic prejudice excised along the way. Not much has changed in 2,000 years.
 Mark 7:26 calls her a Greek, a Syro-Phoenician by birth.