He was her last hope. She had spent months going from doctor to doctor, specialist to specialist only to be told the same thing, “I can’t do anything, I’m sorry.” She had tried every kind of alternative medicines, herbs, health food and vitamins and none of it worked. As much as she tried, as much as she did her daughter remained the same, and he was her last hope.
She had heard so much about the one from Galilee, heard about his healing, heard about his compassion, and heard about his love. Not only was he her last hope, he was her only hope. And so she sought out the one she had heard so much about and when she saw him all of her emotions rushed to the surface and she broke out of the crowd shouting to the master and pleading with him to help her daughter. But he just ignored her. And so she kept it up, crying out and pleading with Jesus until finally in frustration the apostles went to him and said, “Lord this woman is really getting on our nerves why don’t you get rid of her.” And so finally he turned and told her “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
That wasn’t exactly the response that she had expected, where was the compassion, the caring, the love? And so she pushed on hoping that maybe she could find what everyone had talked about. She fell to her knees in front of the one called Jesus and begged him “Lord, help me!” She was so sure that he wouldn’t turn her down, how could he possibly deny her when all she wanted was that her daughter be healed. And so when he opened his mouth she knew that he would agree but instead he said, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
This incident in Jesus life is snuggled in between his walking on the water and his feeding of the 4000. In Verse 21 of the scripture that Shane read this morning we saw that Jesus left Genesserat and went to the territory near the cities of Tyre and Sidon. The cities that are referred to here are in what is now Lebanon and what was then known as Phoenicia. There is the only recorded incident of Christ travelling outside of the Holy Land and into Gentile territory. The story is recorded in Mark chapter 7 as well and Mark makes the observation that Jesus didn’t want people to know where he was. He was kind of on a retreat
It’s interesting to watch as Christ isolates or attempts to isolate himself from people and things in order to commune with God, his father. And this is what Jesus does, leaving the arena of action, to go to a place where he was simply another man, attempting to ease the building pressures which have come to bear upon him.
But it doesn’t work because even here, in these great cities of commerce with all the hustle and bustle and decadence that often accompanies urban life a whisper starts about this man Jesus. Jesus who makes the blind to see, Jesus who makes the lame to walk, Jesus who makes the deaf hear and the mute speak. This Jesus who calls himself the Messiah, who confounds the authorities and controls nature. And as the rumours begin to be whispered up and down the streets of Tyre a Cannonite woman, who Mark said was a Greek, a Syro-Phonecian by birth heard them.
And as this woman, a mother heard the stories of a man who could make a withered hand straight, who could make leprous skin like new she began to think and dream and wonder. “Here is a man who can heal my little girl; here is someone who can take away the pain and the anguish. This man Jesus, he might be the one, he’s my last hope.” And somehow in that milling throng of humanity she discovered where this Jew from Nazareth was staying and she made her way to him and cried out saying Matthew 15:22 . . ., “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.” Now we don’t know exactly what was wrong with her daughter, we may never know but we do know that she attributed it to demon possession. At first she got no response from Jesus and so she pleaded even more and that got some action. From the apostles, the compassionate bunch they were, “Get out of here, you’re bothering us.” And Jesus turned to her and explained how he had been sent to the people of Israel, but she wasn’t going to be put off and so she fell to her knees pleading with him to help her. This mother who had come to plead for the life of her child wouldn’t be put off that easily. Again he explained that his mission was first to the Jews but it’s how he said it that confuses some people.
What he said was Matthew 15:26 Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” Words that could have gently explained the situation or needlessly hurt. Have you ever noticed that the contents of the message are not necessarily as important as the way you convey your message. You can say “sure”, or “sure”.
My father told me that when he and his twin were growing up that their grandfather used to call them idjits. He’d say “You’re both a pair of idjits and you’ll be hung for horse thieves before you’re sixteen.” But Dad told me “Most of Grampy Guptill’s old age cheque was spent on us.”
Jesus could have spit the words out , “It isn’t right to take food away from children and feed it to the dogs” But I think there was a glitter in his eyes and a lilt to his voice as he told her it’s not good to take food away from children and feed it to dogs.
Was Christ testing the faith of this concerned mother? Was he seeing just how far she would go for her daughter? Let’s look at his words and what the original language can tell us.
When Christ starts by telling the woman that “it wasn’t right” to give the children’s bread to the dogs, he is trying to explain why his ministry was limited to the Jews at that time. It wasn’t because he was a racist or a bigot. He didn’t have something against Cannanites, it was simply that an effective start had to be defined.
There was a time in discussing ministry the term your wedge or my wedge was used fairly frequently. The analogy of course comes from the wedge that is used to split wood. The part of the wedge that is most effective is the sharp edge at the bottom. The focus of the wedge is very narrow and that allows it to penetrate the wood. If you turned it around and tried to use the blunt end it would prove to be very ineffective. In ministry you find the thing that you can use most effectively to reach people and you refine that edge and sharpen that edge. You don’t ignore other aspects, but your focus is on your wedge.
It’s the same with our personal lives and talents and gifts.
The wedge of Jesus’ ministry was his reaching the Jews. Because he had fulfilled all the prophecies of the Old Testament relevant to the coming Messiah his message would be more easily accepted by the Jews than the Gentiles. Their acceptance would then become the width of the wedge which would finish the job. You with me? Jesus was simply saying “this is the most effective way for me to accomplish the task set before me.”
He continues by saying Matthew 15:26 Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children . . .” The word children is used hundreds of times in the Old and New Testament and it’s primary function is to describe the Jewish people as “God’s Children”. The food he speaks of is more properly translated bread and the bread he speaks of is himself. You might recall that time and time again he refers to himself as the bread of life.
And so it is the children of God or the Jews, who the bread of life, or Jesus was promised. And because of that it wouldn’t be practical to give the bread to others. His next words are the ones which would appear to be less then kind, as a matter of fact they almost sound nasty. Matthew 15:26 Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
And yet these are the very words that this frantic mother grasps and holds on to like a life ring. We don’t see or hear these words in the same light as she did because we’re not hearing them as she heard them.
Throughout the Bible the word “dog” is used to describe someone or something undesirable. In the book of Revelation Chapter 22 verse 15 there are a whole list of folks who will be outside the gates of heaven. Revelation 22:15 Outside the city are the dogs—the sorcerers, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idol worshipers, and all who love to live a lie.
And right at the beginning are “The DOGS”, kind of sounds like an Alfred Hitchcock movie.
You see 2000 years ago most dogs weren’t pet’s but were dangerous strays who roamed the streets, feeding off the trash and whatever or whoever else they could find. The word used most frequently in the New Testament was a Greek word, which is fitting seeing the New Testament was written in Greek. The word was κύων
kyōn , koo´-ohn and it means “Dog or Hound”
In this story though both in Matthews account and Marks account Jesus uses a different word, he uses the word κυνάριον— , koo-nar´-ee-on which means a little dog, or a puppy. You see even though most dogs of that day were dangerous strays or work dogs, the very wealthy families of the day kept small lap dogs as pets.
Now I don’t know if it was something that this woman heard in the voice of this Nazarene Carpenter or something she saw in his eyes but there was something that caused her to push on and she said, Matthew 15:27 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.” She didn’t get argumentative, she didn’t deny what he had said was true, instead as Martin Luther said, “She caught him with his own words.”
The woman simply claimed her rights under the conditions that he had set down. She didn’t demand a spot at the table, she didn’t want the children’s portion instead she was content to accept her place in the household that she had been assigned. But she wanted the privileges that went along with that position.
How many people here own a dog now or have owned a dog at some time or another in their life. Then you know the cardinal rule of owning a dog, which is “If it falls on the floor then it belongs to the dog.”
When I was growing up we owned a mutt named Spike. And my Dad always bragged on how good Spike was, how Spike would never take any food that he hadn’t been given. Point in fact. One night when I was 16 or 17 I had been asked to pick up a box of meat from a cousin of ours who had just done in a cow. I brought the meat home and got ready to go out and forgot the meat on the kitchen floor, in a box, with the dog. Mom and Dad got home and the meat was still intact, the dog hadn’t touched it. Spike was such a good dog, you could leave treats on the coffee table and never have to worry about the dog getting into them, Spike was a great dog.
One Christmas a couple of years before Spike went to doggie heaven my father was standing in the kitchen looking over the half wall that separated the kitchen from the living room. As he watched Spike came into the living room, carefully looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, obviously not too carefully because he missed Dad. And then very deliberately he stuck in nose in a bowl of chocolates rooted around until he found one he liked and ate it leaving all the rest. Aren’t you glad you never visited our house during those days and ate chocolates?
Our dog was not one of the children, but he was a member of the family and as such he had certain privileges, and one of those privileges were the crumbs that fell from the table.
This would appear to be the only time in the Bible that someone came out of one of these verbal jousting matches with Jesus, where they had the last word. Christ was a pro at this. Throughout the gospels we see him turn questions and statements around to his advantage. It would seem at least in this instance that he was bested and he seemed to enjoy it.
The response that Christ gave, the healing which Christ performed would indicate that he agreed with the woman and awarded her with what to the children may have appeared to be crumbs but to her, it was a veritable feast.
So what does the story tell us?
1) The Person of Her Faith The woman started with a head knowledge, she knew who Jesus was in her head. Matthew 15:22 A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”
At that point she had no claim on him when she approached him as the Son of David, because she wasn’t a daughter of David, it would be like you as a Canadian appealing to Barack Obama, there would be no obligation for him to hear you or to respond to your request.
The woman had heard about this miracle man, this wonder worker who was a Jewish teacher and that was how she approached him.
When you come to Jesus without a relationship it doesn’t matter if He is God, he is not your God. And too many people view Jesus as did the woman, she knew he was supposed to be able to perform miracles, she knew that he could help her but she didn’t know him.
And today it’s the same way there are people out there who have no time for God until the kids get in trouble, or they get sick or they lose their job and then they come with cap in hand looking for a miracle. Jesus is just another genie in a bottle.
But somehow it changed for this woman, somehow it went from a head knowledge of “I know what you are” to a heart knowledge, “I know who you are”, because we read in Matthew 15:25 But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
He was no longer simple a wonder working healer, she came to him and worshipped him for who he was, “Lord”.
2) The Persistence of her Faith. So, she has found her way to the one called Jesus and his disciples rebuff her. She finally pushes through and makes eye contact with the one she came to see and he tells her that she’s not a Jew and he has come for the Jews. She pushes on an continues to plead and he makes the remark about it not being right to give the children’s bread to the dogs. I don’t know about you but I’m really no good at stuff like that, when someone says no I usually say “Ok” and leave it at that, but not this woman she just won’t give up, she was undiscouragable.
William Barclay states . “So many people, it has been said, pray really because they do not wish to miss a chance. They do not really believe in prayer; they have only the feeling that something might just possibly happen.” But for this woman it was her only hope and she wasn’t going to let go.
3) The Product of her Faith Most people think that the product of this woman’s faith was her daughter’s healing. Matthew 15:28 “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed. But you understand that this woman was not the only woman with a sick child in the area. It is a reality, Jesus heals but it is also a reality not always. If Jesus always healed I wouldn’t have to wear glasses, I wouldn’t have a lisp and I wouldn’t be allergic to cats. And you are thinking “But those aren’t important things” “Well maybe not to you.” But I love cats and hate glasses.
If Jesus healed all the time people wouldn’t die. We know that but we want to choose who God will heal and who God won’t heal. I wonder how it would change our prayers if we knew that there were a finite number of healings and if God healed you then someone else wouldn’t be healed. Or more personally if God healed you than he wouldn’t heal someone you loved? It continues to go back to the question isn’t “Why me?” it’s “Why not me” and you realize that we are healed many times in our life that we never give God the credit for. 300 years ago I would go through life with fuzzy vision because there would be no glasses.
The medication that you take without thought either has kept you alive or improved the quality of your life and it probably wasn’t available a century ago. Defibrillators, neo-natal care, dialysis, chemo-therapy every hour of everyday people are healed. It isn’t that we want healing it’s that we want immortality and that is not ours to have, not on this side of death’s door.
The real product of this woman’s faith was God’s Grace, God’s favour. And that is available to everyone of us and while it may not guarantee us life it does guarantee us eternal life.
It is a grace that transcends the physical that doesn’t end when our life ends.