In Mark 6 Jesus fed the five thousand with five loaves of bread and two fish. When everyone had finished eating, there were twelve baskets of bread left over. In Mark 7 and 8 we see several pictures of the bread. The Pharisees and scribes from Jerusalem are criticizing Jesus because His disciples are eating this bread with unwashed hands. As Jesus had pointed out, such bread eaten in His presence was not defiled. If only the Pharisees had reached out and taken His bread, they too would not have been defiled. But they were blind to His bread and would not take it because they saw it as defiled. And so, paradoxically, His bread was now going to those whom the Pharisees saw as defiled the dogs. While in contrast, His disciples must avoid the defiled bread of the Pharisees and receive the true bread. This bread is a picture of Christ:
John 6:32-35 (NASB) Jesus therefore said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, it is not Moses who has given you the bread out of heaven, but it is My Father who gives you the true bread out of heaven. 33 "For the bread of God is that which comes down out of heaven, and gives life to the world." 34 They said therefore to Him, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." 35 Jesus said to them, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to Me shall not hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.
This whole section of Mark is a vivid illustration with the bread of God central; the Pharisees depicted as blind and hardened, the mixed peoples of Decapolis being abundantly fed, and the disciples being led from darkness to light. It was a period of amazing change.
For several chapters we have seen the theme of Jesus desiring to get away from the crowds. Following the short-term mission trip of the Twelve, He had suggested that they retreat to a lonely place in order to rest for a time. But the crowd had followed, and Jesus had fed them. Again in our text we see Jesus looking for a break:
Mark 7:24 (NASB) And from there He arose and went away to the region of Tyre. And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it; yet He could not escape notice.
Jesus leaves Capernaum and goes to Tyer, a distance of approximately thirty miles as the crow flies and much more when on foot - and to Sidon it's fifty, a route which would bypass Tyre. Both Phoenician seaports are some twenty-five miles apart on the Mediterranean coast.
Tyre was a Gentile region and, as such, was abhorrent to many of the religious Jews. Jesus had already encountered their hypocrisy and had confronted them with the vanity of their tradition. The Jews were so worried about ceremonial uncleanness that they missed the weightier matters of the Law. To those Jews, this Gentile region was unclean as well; add to that, this Gentile woman. Being both a Gentile and a woman were double strikes against her. The Gentiles were referred to as dogs by the pious and self-righteous Jews, and women were even lower in their estimation.
It is significant that Mark puts this account immediately after Jesus' statement about nothing from without being able to defile a man. Removal of the dietary restrictions was a first move necessary for welcoming Gentiles into the kingdom of God.
Jesus is illustrating in our text in terms of race what he had just said in terms of food. All foods are clean, and all people are clean, in the sense of being accepted by God. There are no distinctions among foods, as being defiling or undefiling; there are no distinctions among people. So he led them to a Gentile city in order that their Jewish scruples might be challenged immediately.
"And when He had entered a house, He wanted no one to know of it." If you were starting a church or a bible study or seeking to minister to people, this would not be a good plan. Jesus, apparently, just wants to get away for some R&R. He didn't want anyone to know He was there. He was still seeking to get His disciples some rest:
Mark 6:31 (NASB) And He said to them, "Come away by yourselves to a lonely place and rest a while." (For there were many people coming and going, and they did not even have time to eat.)
After the intensity of ministry with the multitudes and conflict with the religious leaders, Jesus felt pressed and ready for a break. But our text say; "He could not escape notice." A Gentile woman with a desperate need heard He was there:
Mark 7:25 (NASB) But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, immediately came and fell at His feet.
This is all Mark tells us. From this you get the idea that this woman heard Jesus was in the house and comes in and falls at His feet. But prior to this, according to Matthew's account, it appears that the woman had been following both Jesus and the disciples around the area and crying after Jesus to have mercy on her daughter:
Matthew 15:22 (NASB) And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."
This mother felt the helplessness of watching her daughter under the control of the demons. And so she cried to Jesus, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!" The Greek text suggests that she did this repeatedly, and the disciples affirmed it, "She keeps shouting at us!" Even though she received no response, she did not give up. She kept crying out to Jesus for mercy to be shown. She understood that she could not help her daughter. So in desperation, she cried to the only One that could help her.
The chasm which existed between Jew and Gentile could hardly have been wider. The Jews made it a point of faith not to eat at the same table with Gentiles. Indeed, one tradition had it that the reason God created Gentiles was to provide fuel for hell.
With the way that Jews and Gentiles avoided each other, we would think that this Canaanite woman would be unwilling to approach Jesus. We recall the Samaritan woman, a Jewish half-breed, being surprised that Jesus even spoke to her (John 4). Yet this Canaanite woman had no hesitation to seek after Christ. Her cry, "Have mercy on me," demonstrates her need for something that she recognizes she doesn't deserve.
Notice she calls Him "Lord" quite often the term Lord does not carry divine connotations but is used in the same way that we use "Sir." But I do not think this was mere politeness on her part. She called Him "Lord" because she recognized sovereign might and mercy in Christ. More than politeness, we see reverence, for why else would she plead for mercy unless she had approached one Sovereign over her?
We can suppose that this Gentile lady occasioned the local synagogue, if one was there, or that she availed herself of those that read the Scriptures and worshiped the living God. She certainly understood enough to refer to Jesus as the Messianic King, "Son of David." She obviously knew a little about the Jews' hopes for a Messiah who would restore both themselves into a relationship with God and the Davidic kingdom over the nations of the world. She was not part of the covenant people, and yet she laid hold upon the universal reign of the "Son of David" to be her King.
Now, I doubt that this woman had a full, detailed understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord of all. But she understood enough to see that the only one able to dispense the kind of divine mercy that she needed was Jesus Christ. She had a need, and she believed Jesus could meet that need. She had faith in Christ.
It seems that God uses the situations of real need in our lives to draw us to Himself. Whenever things are going well in our lives, when there is no apparent need, we become rather self-sufficient. It is as if we have all things under control and don't need any help from anyone. This self-sufficient spirit hinders our relationship with God. Sometimes it takes a real need to arise in order to turn our attention back to the Lord.
There is an intentional contrast in this chapter. Jesus had encountered the scribes and Pharisees who knew the language and terminology of the Messiah but had rejected Him. Even though the covenant blessings first belonged to them, they passed over Christ while this Canaanite woman laid claim to the abundant mercies of the Sovereign Messiah!
Matthew 15:23 (NASB) But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, "Send her away, for she is shouting out after us."
Over and over the woman cried out to Jesus for mercy. "But He did not answer her a word" Not one solitary word of acknowledgment was uttered, not even: "Not now" or "I'll speak with you later" or "I hear you, let Me think on it." Not even an "Uh huh" could be heard! Nothing but divine silence met her pleas and cries.
This is one area in which I'm like Jesus. My wife will often say things to me and get no response; either because I'm thinking or I didn't know it required a response. This is frustrating to her. Well now I have a verse to show her I'm just being like Christ.
Seriously, in view of all that has been stated in the previous narrative about the compassion of Jesus, we might perhaps have expected that He would have at once given the woman the help she needed.
Nowhere previously do we find Jesus withholding a healing from people who came to Him . Yet, here was a lady that felt in the depths of her own soul the desperation of her daughter's demon possession, and crying out to Jesus Christ, she found only silence. Why was Jesus silent to her pleas?
His silence was not without purpose, and certainly not out of unconcern for this woman's need. His silence magnified the woman's desperation so that the disciples might come to see the plight of humanity that needed the gospel. His silence frustrated the disciples, yet, His purpose appeared that He wanted them to wrestle with the desperate condition of Gentiles, and not just Jews.
The disciples had grown so accustomed to Christ healing all that came to Him that they were taken aback by His silence. It was a valuable lesson for them in seeing that no man should presume upon Him as though Jesus Christ is a cosmic dispensary to satisfy all of our cravings.
Jesus' silence is hard for us to handle in a day where instant service is expected for everything. We expect to be accommodated when we ask for something or some kind of service. Give me what I want and give it to me now! That is the language of our day. But some time we cry out to the Lord, and we, too, find silence. In such times our faith is tested.
The disciples begin to get aggravated with her consistent wailing after them and beg Jesus to send her away:
Matthew 15:23 (NASB) But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, "Send her away, for she is shouting out after us."
The Greek indicates that they were just as earnest in repeating their request as was this lady! They felt intruded upon by her cries. They had ventured into this Gentile area for rest and refreshment, but she had ruined it! The silence of Christ must have aggravated their senses against this Gentile lady all the more. So they begged Christ to give her what she asked for (that seems to be the implication) and send her away! Enough of her noise and cries, they thought, give us some peace! Why didn't they just heal her daughter? Jesus had previously given them the power, why didn't they use it?
Jesus answers their request with an enigmatic answer, which seems to presume that the disciples were requesting that she be sent away with the request for her healing granted to her:
Matthew 15:24 (NASB) But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Who is the "house of Israel?" Israel became a nation at Sinai when God gave them His law and entered into covenant with them. They were called the "house of Israel."
Exodus 40:38 (NASB) For throughout all their journeys, the cloud of the LORD was on the tabernacle by day, and there was fire in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel.
During His earthly ministry, the focus was upon Israel and the Jews, though there were several exceptions. The Jewish mind required slow preparation (as the history in Acts plainly shows) for the idea that Gentiles were to share freely the benefits of the Messianic reign; and the Jews would have been irritated and utterly repelled if their Messiah had at once begun a great work among the Gentiles.
To Jesus' statement, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,"the disciples could have replied with a number of different arguments had they been concerned with her welfare. They could have appealed to Jesus' previous mission to the Samaritans when returning from Judea (John chapter 4) or reminded Him about the healing of the centurion's servant (Matthew 8:5-13) or even brought to mind His statement in the synagogue in Nazareth on His first return visit shortly after His ministry had begun (Luke 4:25-27) when He'd highlighted the faith of two Old Testament Gentiles who received from God what they knew they needed and one of these was specifically a healing.
As Jesus noted then, when God's servant, Elijah, needed sustenance and protection, he was sent not to an Israelite but to a Gentile and, perhaps just as significantly, a woman who was a resident of Zarephath near Sidon in the same general vicinity in which this woman resided. And, in the time of Elisha, although leprosy was common place in the land, it was only a Gentile Syrian commander who sought out a miraculous cure for his condition through a servant of the God of Israel.
But, when they receive the first negative response from Jesus, they pursue the matter no further.
It seems as though they are unconcerned for her need. They are bothered by her, but not
concerned for her.
The woman then follows Jesus into the house which is where Mark begins his account:
Mark 7:25-26 (NASB) But after hearing of Him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, immediately came and fell at His feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race. And she kept asking Him to cast the demon out of her daughter.
Again, the Greek text points to a continued action of bowing down before Christ. It was an act of worship on her part. She did not demand of Him as though Jesus Christ was obligated to her.
According to Matthew, Her plea was simple, only three words, "Lord, help me!"Bowing before the One she acknowledged as Sovereign, she looked to Him for pity and aid. The word "help" refers to coming to one's aid, always in a sense of recognizing personal inadequacy and helplessness, while looking to One greater that can meet the need. The present imperative suggests that she repeated her cry and did so excitedly. There was no "plan B" for her, no other option, and no other one to whom she would run. She looked to Christ and trusted in His ability to meet her desperate need and, in His tender compassion, to satisfy her deepest longing.
Mark tells us, "Now the woman was a Gentile, of the Syrophoenician race." Matthew tells us that she was a Canaanite. When we think of Canaanites, we think of the Old Testament and the conquest of Canaan by Joshua. Canaanites were the inhabitants of the land, descendants of Noah's son, Ham, and followers of other gods. She is a descendant of the ancient Canaanites, the bitter biblical enemies of Israel whose paganism had often led Israel into idolatry.
Jesus gives the woman an explanation of why He can't heal her daughter:
Mark 7:27 (NASB) And He was saying 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."
Here is a woman in desperate need; her daughter is demon-possessed. She throws herself at Jesus' feet, and Jesus references her as a dog. For those who have this idea that Jesus was always this affable fellow, verse 27 stands in contrast to that.
The children are Jews, the dogs are Gentiles, the bread is the salvation (the making of people whole as God intended them to be) brought by Jesus.
Here, then, it was stressed that Jesus had come first of all to win Israel to God. As the Servant of the Lord, He must raise up the tribes of Jacob preparatory to being a light to the Gentiles:
Isaiah 49:6 (NASB) He says, "It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant To raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations So that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth."
"The children's bread." Bread had early been closely connected with the children of Israel. The "bread of the presence," the twelve loaves of showbread in the Tabernacle, which was placed on a table in the Holy Place, clearly represented the people of Israel in their twelve tribes. It was eaten by the priests in order to demonstrate that they all belonged to God, but it ever continued before Him. To take of that bread and give it to the Gentiles would have been seen as an act of the grossest sacrilege.
Bread was the very staff of life, and when the thought came for His people to be fed, the thought would be of bread. Bread represented the word of truth. This is why Jesus could reveal Himself as the bread of life (John 6.35) and finally symbolize the fact at the Passover meal in the Upper Room. That Jesus even hinted at giving this bread to Gentiles would have come as a huge shock to His Apostles, but it did demonstrate that He was ready to do so once the woman acknowledged its source.
"The Dogs" This is very strong language. You just didn't call people "dogs" in the ancient world. "Dog" was a derogatory term to them. Recently in our culture "dog" has become a term of affection, "What's up dog?" But up until recently, it was not a positive term even in our culture. We might use the expression today, "You dog," meaning the person is a low life. Or it may be used of an unattractive women, "She's a dog." As derogatory as it would be for a woman to be called a "dog" today, it doesn't compare to the strength it had in the first century.
"Dogs" of the ancient world for the most part were not pets, they were regarded with contempt, they traveled in packs and were scavengers and carriers of disease. In the Bible, the dog always stands for that which nothing can be lower.
Metaphorically, "dog" was a term of contempt:
1 Samuel 17:43 (NASB) And the Philistine said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come to me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods.
"Dog" was also a term of self-abasement:
1 Samuel 24:14 (NASB) "After whom has the king of Israel come out? Whom are you pursuing? A dead dog, a single flea?
Jesus used "dogs" to teach people to be discriminating in whom they chose to teach:
Matthew 7:6 (NASB) "Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.
Peter and John both used the term "dog" in a derogatory way:
2 Peter 2:22 (NASB) It has happened to them according to the true proverb, "A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT," and, "A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire."
Revelation 22:15 (NASB) Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.
The "dog" stands for everything that is shamelessly unclean. The Jews had come to use the term "dog" for Gentiles, because the Gentiles were unclean. Jesus used it this way.
The Greek word for dog is kuon. The term Jesus uses for "dogs" is kunarion, a diminutive, which would be translated: "little dogs, or puppy dogs." The Greek word is indicative of a household pet. This is not a mangy mutt that's walking the street. But friends, a dog is a dog! The reply of Jesus seems harsh. That is because we tend to feel that He owed her something. He did not.
How would you respond to being called a dog? Notice how She responds:
Mark 7:28 (NASB) But she answered and said to Him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs."
This woman understood Jesus' theology she humbly admitted that salvation was for Israel. If her spirit had been haughty, full of pride and boasting, she would have resented it, and have asked no more. She would have turned away.
But this woman was anything but offended. Here we see a glimpse of her true humility. Her response was "Yes." She accepted Jesus' characterization without bitterness. Obviously, she knew that the Jews referred to the Gentiles as "dogs" with contempt. She does not become offended. She recognizes her unworthiness, even as she continues her request, pointing out that even the little puppies under the table eat the crumbs of the little children.
The message was clear: Israel had to come first, and the Gentiles after that. Her response was to receive Jesus' estimation of her, and she was not put off by it. This was a picture of humility. Whatever place Jesus would assign to her, that would be her place, and she would accept Jesus' estimation of her situation.
This is a picture of humility. This is a living illustration of the biblical principle:
James 4:6 (NASB) But He gives a greater grace. Therefore it says, "GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE."
Humility is not a popular human trait in the modern world. It's not touted in the talk shows or celebrated in valedictorian speeches or commended in diversity seminars or listed with core values. And if you go to the massive self-help section of Dalton's or Barnes and Noble, you won't find books on humility.
Before Christ came into the world, the worst thing that could be said about a man was that he was humble. That was considered to be a quality of a slave, not a free man. Christ came teaching a new concept. The way up is down. To be exalted, men must humble themselves.
What is Humility? Humility is first a feeling toward God that He has absolute rights over your life - that He can do with you as He pleases, and that He has absolute authority to tell you what is best for you; and that's just fine with you. It is a spirit of utter yieldedness and submissiveness to the Lord as master. The humble person sees himself as clay in the Potter's hands.
Secondly, humility means feeling indebted to all people because of how graciously God has treated us. It's the opposite of feeling that everybody owes you something. Is humility important? We saw what James said, Peter says the same thing:
1 Peter 5:5 (NASB) You younger men, likewise, be subject to your elders; and all of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, for GOD IS OPPOSED TO THE PROUD, BUT GIVES GRACE TO THE HUMBLE.
Peter is quoting this from the Old Testament. He quotes Proverbs 3:34, which says, "God is opposed to the proud but gives grace to the humble." Do you see the importance of humility? God gives grace to the humble, but He opposes the proud.
Do you want to receive God's grace or his opposition? God's grace is available only to the humble. The reason is not that humility is a performance of virtue that earns grace, but that humility is a confession of emptiness that receives grace.
We often define "grace" as: "Free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement." Now, that is a good definition of "grace." This is what Jesus gives to this Gentile lady.
But grace isn't only for unbelievers. This is not the only definition of grace in the Bible. Grace is also used in the Bible to mean: "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances."
Paul uses "grace" in the sense of "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances" in:
1 Corinthians 15:10 (NASB) But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
We use the word "grace" in this sense in modern speech. Have you ever heard anyone say, "By God's grace I was able to remain calm"? When we use the word "grace" this way, we are referring to "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." In other words, apart from the enabling power of God, I would never have been able to do this or that.
So, the word "grace," as used in the New Testament, expresses two related meanings. First, it is "Free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgement." Second, it is "God's power that enables us to deal with life's circumstances." The second meaning is encompassed in the first, because God's enabling power is part of His unmerited favor. So, part of God's unmerited favor is the enabling power He gives us. There is a distinction, but they are related.
We are all susceptible to pride, and what we must understand is that pride stands in direct opposition to grace. Please understand that it is the humble who receive God's grace.
God designed His creation to have a dependency upon Him. Even in the ordinary decisions of a day, we need to depend on God for wisdom and direction. The Fall itself was precipitated when man sought to live independently of God, and this human independence continues at the heart of sinful rebellion today.
God wants us, as His children, to always be aware of our need of Him in our lives. God often takes us through difficult situations in order that we might realize how much we need Him.
If you agree that humility is a virtue we are to have but, like me, you sometimes find it hard to be that way, let me give you some practical suggestions. These are steps to finding true humility:
1. Remember, you are only a Christian because of God's grace:
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NASB) For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, that no one should boast.
Grace, by its very nature, is undeserved and unmerited. I am a child of God, not because I am better than anyone else, but because God has graciously chosen me as His own. It is what Jesus has done, not what I have done; it is His cross, His blood, which makes me who I am. If it were not for the grace of God, I would deserve God's judgment.
2. Recognize that God is the source of everything we have:
1 Corinthians 4:7 (NASB) For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?
Not just our salvation, but the air we breathe, the water we drink or catch fish in, the food we eat, our friends, our family, our health, every talent or ability we have, and all of the things which bring us joy and pleasure are gifts from God.
If you are doing well in your business or career, getting good grades at school, doing great at sports or music, or raising children who are all above average, that should not cause you to be proud. The success you enjoy is only because of the gifts God has given you and because of His grace in your life. When we remember that, it helps keep us humble.
3. Admit your sins and mistakes.
Confess them to God and when it is appropriate, admit them to other people. I've learned that being willing to say, "I'm sorry. I was wrong" can be very important in maintaining good relationships with other people. I'm also learning that it can be very healthy for my spiritual life. Every time I say that I am sorry, every time I admit I made a mistake, I remind myself that I am far from perfect, and that I'm not as wonderful as I might like to think.
You know, there's something true about a humble person and that is this: They see their own sin as worse than everybody else's. That's a mark. If you are more critical of other Christians than you are of yourself, you lack humility. It is pride that allows you to crawl up out of your own hole and condemn others. And I'm not talking about evaluating truth, I'm not talking about being discerning, I'm talking about being preoccupied with criticizing the sins of others. That's hard to do when you're overwhelmed with your own. When the sins that most offend you are yours, when the sins that most grieve you are yours, when the sins that you would want to prevent are yours, and when the effects of those sins that impact the church are your sins and not somebody else's, you have a measure of humility.
Let's go back to our text in Mark. Because of this woman's humility and faith, Jesus grants her request, He gives her grace:
Mark 7:28-29 (NASB) But she answered and said to Him, "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs under the table feed on the children's crumbs." 29 And He said to her, "Because of this answer go your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter."
The literal translation is: "Because of this, Go!" Jesus recognized her faith, and, what was more, that she acknowledged that her hopes lay in the God of Israel. If we look at Matthew's account, we see how great this lady's faith was:
Matthew 15:28 (NASB) Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.
Jesus Christ did not exaggerate or mince words. He spoke truth, and truth alone. So when He applauds someone's faith as "great," then it ought to make us take notice. Only twice, both with Gentiles, does Jesus Christ call someone's faith "great." Numerous times He reproached those that had no faith and rebuked His disciples for being "little faith ones," but rarely did He applaud faith as "great."
The animosity of the religious leaders, the doubts on the part of the people, and the blind spots of the disciples are now contrasted with the faith of one single woman - a gentile.
Jesus is teaching us here that it is ultimately faith, and not physical Jewishness, that determines the blessing of God. Descendancy from Abraham through Isaac was not the final word on the matter and was never intended to be. Though there was initially that barrier, which stood in the way of the woman receiving what she required, her persistent faith won out over the objection that debarred her from the healing.
Because of the humility and faith of this Gentile woman, she received the answer to her prayer. I can only imagine the scene that must have occurred whenever she got back home. The story closes with the fulfillment of Jesus' words:
Mark 7:30 (NASB) And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having departed.
This is grace! She humbled herself before Christ and He gave her grace! This is the only healing at a distance that is recorded in the Gospel of Mark.
There is a sense in which this woman represents the Gentile world. Jesus had come to His own people - the House of Israel. But the leaders of the Jews rejected Him. That bread of heaven, which was rejected and thrown away by the Jews, is now received by the Gentiles.
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