From today’s reading of Matthew 15 and Mark 7
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:21-28 (ESV)
I have always found this passage to be a little hard to read. It seems out of character for Jesus, doesn’t it? At least up until that last verse.
But there are clues here into the heart of Jesus and the heart of his mission. A question one might ask: what was Jesus doing in the district of Tyre and Sidon anyway? According to commentaries I’ve consulted, there aren’t any other records of his acts in Tyre and Sidon except for this one act of blessing on behalf of this Gentile woman.
Have you ever noticed how many examples of the prayer of desperation in the Gospels come from the lips of parents interceding for their children? This woman comes to Jesus desperate, with no resources in herself to deal with the oppression and suffering a demon has wreaked upon her daughter.
I don’t know all the nuances behind the term “dogs” to refer to Gentiles, although I know that was a common epithet used by the Jews of that time. I don’t know if Jesus smiled at her when he said it, as an encouragement to her to continue to press into him for this blessing, although that is how I imagine the scene playing out.
Here’s what I do know: the needs of women in the culture of the time were not considered important, and it was hard to get lower in the eyes of a Jewish man than to be a Gentile woman. The disciples seemed to consider her a nuisance, and wanted her sent away. As Jesus said himself, she wasn’t even in the people-group that he had been sent to minister to. But in all the district of Tyre and Sidon, she is the only one who’s blessing at the hands of Jesus made the record of the Gospels.
“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
This woman of great faith and courage entreats the Lord for just a crumb of his grace and mercy. She, a parent with a desperately oppressed child seeks healing from the one our heavenly Father has sent to redeem his wayward, oppressed, and desperately lost children. And for her audacious, humble courage in approaching the Lord she receives not only instant healing for her daughter but honor throughout the ages from the Lord himself:
“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.”
Jesus was sent to the lost sheep of Israel, but I like to think, and believe that the evidence supports, that he went all the way to the region of Tyre and Sidon just to minister to this woman of Gentile race. He did this to show that there really are no “dogs” under the table; all are welcome to come and feast at the table of his grace.
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” – Isaiah 49:6 (ESV)