Crumbs from the Table
“Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’ But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, ‘Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.’ But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once.” (Matthew 15:21-28; cf. Mark 7:24-30).
Jesus withdrew from the region of Galilee and went into the region of Tyre and Sidon. It was His first visit to a Gentile nation. Tyre and Sidon were located just to the north of Galilee.
There, a Canaanite woman sought help for her demon-possessed daughter. She indicated that the effects were particularly cruel, but did not elaborate. But it was recognized as something different than a physical illness. When the cause was physical, the Lord would say so. It is not true that they were just superstitious and thought every sickness was caused by evil spirits. But some were.
Jesus’ disciples asked Him to send her away. They did not care much for Gentiles. Jesus explained to her that He was sent only to “the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This refers to His personal ministry on earth, that He had been sent to preach unto Israel. The prophet Ezekiel had spoken of this: “Therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another. Then I will set over them one shepherd, My servant David, and he will feed them; he will feed them himself and be their shepherd.” (Ezekiel 34:22-23). Other references also discuss the coming of the Messiah to Israel as a Shepherd (Jeremiah 50:6,7). When sending His apostles out to preach during His lifetime, He gave them strict orders about this: “These twelve Jesus sent out after instructing them: ‘Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’’” (Matthew 10:5-7).
His death on the cross, however, would be for all nations, and His gospel would go forth unto all the world following His resurrection and ascension back into heaven. (Matthew 28:18-20).
Perseverance and Humility
This woman persevered, bowing down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me.” Jesus replied, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” What a stunning thing for Jesus to say! But there was a point to be made behind it all.
She replied, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Just as stunning was her reply. It is as if she does not care about anything other than that this Prophet can help her daughter and she will not be dissuaded.
A number of things happen at this point. First, the woman’s faith is certainly tested. It will indeed take great courage and commitment to put up with this! This fine woman is going to learn something here. She is going to learn what a strong faith she has!
How much had she heard about Jesus? She was a Gentile living in a foreign land, but she addressed Jesus saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David;” (vs. 22). The term “Son of David” is a Messianic term. This tells us she knew something of the promise of God to send a Savior. She addressed Jesus as that Messiah. We are not told where she had learned this, but she is correct.
It would have been easy for her to turn away in anger or sorrow or pride. But she saw Jesus as the only hope for her daughter. She would not turn away!
And certainly His disciples would not have expected such faith from a Gentile. Their perceptions and views of Gentiles will have to change; and in time they will. As Peter, for example, would one day realize: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him.” (Acts 10:34,35). Later, all would recognize the fact that the gospel is for all. “When they heard this, they quieted down and glorified God, saying, ‘Well then, God has granted to the Gentiles also the repentance that leads to life.'” (Acts 11:18).
The Reward of Faith
Jesus answered, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” Jesus certainly knew this about the woman’s faith. Great faith brings great rewards. This took courage. It took commitment. It took a spirit that refused to be deterred. Her faith was tested and passed the test. The apostles received a lesson that they would remember.
Our faith needs to have endurance as well. To endure, we must have the confidence in Jesus as this woman had. We are told, “Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.” (Hebrews 10:35-36)
When that day was over, and this mother held her daughter in her arms, free at last from the cruel bondage she had suffered, and reflected on the events of that day, how do you suppose she felt? The Messiah had pronounced her faith as “great”. He had answered her request for her daughter’s healing. She had not let the others persuade her to give up. And, even at that darkest moment when it seemed as if she would not find the answer she desired, she pressed on. So, how did she feel at day’s end? She had only asked for crumbs from the Master’s table. She instead had received a feast. You can be sure she felt fine. It had been a very good day.