24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be hidden. 25 But immediately a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit heard of him and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Gentile, Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 28 But she answered him, “Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” 29 And he said to her, “For this statement you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter.” 30 And she went home and found the child lying in bed and the demon gone.
These past weeks we have seen Jesus feed the five thousand, showing that He could meet the needs of Israel. Then He walked on the water, showing that He is the Lord of creation. Jesus challenged the teachings of the elders because those teachings had been elevated to the status of Scripture. Then, following that confrontation, Jesus went out of the country to the region of Tyre and Sidon and is met by a Canaanite woman. She asks him to remove a demon from her child. Jesus’ reply to this needy woman seems harsh and insensitive. But is it?
Let’s look at some background material as we look into this question. First, Jesus is taking his disciples aside for some much needed rest, as we have learned the past two weeks. The purpose of Jesus’ withdrawal to Tyre was to secure the rest which had been interrupted both in the wilderness and in the district of Gennesaret. Jesus went into the vicinity of Tyre – not the city – as he was trying to escape notice. He was not seeking rest for himself; his purpose was to get some much needed rest for His disciples, with the purpose to minister to them.
That chance to minister comes in the form of a Gentile woman. We need to take note that the woman would have had to travel to find Him. Let’s go on.
Jesus hides in a house with his disciples, presumably in the countryside, to get the rest Jesus had promised his disciples.
Somehow Jesus’ location reaches the woman, who immediately drops what she is doing and seeks out the house in which Jesus is staying.
She is outside of the house, where she cries/yells out to Him, using the messianic title “Son of David.”
Jesus doesn’t yell an answer back to the woman from inside the house nor does he speak to the disciples about the matter as they are to be resting.
The disciples approach Jesus about her, and ask him to grant her request and send her away. I think it was more that they wanted her to be quiet so they could rest. The book of Mark does not include the request of the disciples to send her away, but this can be found in Matthew. Once again, as in weeks past, the disciples did not see a chance for ministry. From the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry it was never God’s plan to keep it all for the Jews. Since chapter 1, we have seen the disciples miss many opportunities for ministry.
As in the Book of Matthew, Jesus tells them that he was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel. But this stirs the hearts of the disciples and this encourages them to let the woman inside the house.
The woman now, makes her appeal in humility. In understanding the nature of demonic exorcism, it would involve physical proximity. (You would have to see the victim and in most cases touch them.) So her request to Jesus would be something like, “Please come to my house, and drive out the demon.”
Jesus uses a mini-parable or household image about children getting temporal priority at feeding time over their dogs.
- What did Jesus mean by the expression “throwing bread to the dogs?”
- The term is designed as an expression of the highest contempt. Muslims still apply the term “dogs” to Christians, and Christians and Jews, to each other. Jesus means to say that he was sent to the Jews and this woman was a Gentile.
- The Jews often spoke of the Gentiles with arrogance and insolence as “unclean dogs" since the Gentiles were excluded from God’s covenant and favor with Israel.
- The women understood this parable and knew what Jesus meant and stated that house dogs eat from the crumbs of table, even before they are to be feed.
- The word used was small in form, and as such pointed not to the wild, unclean beasts that haunt the streets of the city, but to the tamer animals that were bred in the house, and kept as pets.
- NOTE: No one who ever sought Jesus with faith, whether Jew or Gentile was refused his help.
Jesus is deeply moved by her powerful faith – faith He had not seen in a Jew, or his own people.
Jesus compliments her on her great faith and explains that the demon has already left her daughter. He also implies that there is no need for Him and the disciples to travel to her home. It is done. Her request has been filled.
She leaves, trusting Him with that powerful faith, and finds her daughter cured.
As I asked a few weeks ago, do we come to Jesus with expectant faith that he will do what we ask of him? In our text we see that Jesus honors the faith that seeks mercy. The woman had no resentment, no anger about her situation; she only knew that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who came to heal people and for some reason He was in her town. She sought mercy from him and asked him, in faith, to heal her daughter. The basic theme of the text is that Jesus went into Gentile territory and did this miracle for a Gentile woman who had greater faith than the Jews who were rejecting and challenging Jesus’ claims.
It teaches us about the grace of Jesus, the faith of people who are in need, and the coming kingdom of the Jews and Gentiles, who will be sent into the entire world. It teaches us that the Lord desires all to come to salvation.