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Matthew

Dogs

Matthew 15:21-28

Lesson audio

It’s a short passage of Scripture; it is one of only two places in the New Testament in which Christ praises someone for their “great faith.” Curiously, both are gentiles; there are other similarities too. We begin with the Scripture:

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.

(Mat 15:21-28 NASB)

Tyre and Sidon

Tyre and Sidon are well known in ancient records. Trade with them – and invasions – are recorded in Egyptian records as early at the 14th century BC. It was noted for its wealth, its trading prowess – and its wickedness. A glance at the map will give you the location:

map

As you can see, this area is to the north of the Sea of Galilee, along the coast. But it is still within the boundaries of Israel as laid out by Moses and Joshua:

That’s important; as we learn here, Christ was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. The region therefore serves as a place in which Jesus can get some rest and be alone (or alone with His disciples) without the pressure of the crowd.

The city of Tyre is known in prophecy by its doom.[1] Thus, when Christ condemns the cities around the Sea of Galilee, his comparison to Tyre and Sidon is rather shocking in context.

The Woman

Much is left unsaid about this woman. How did she hear about Jesus? How did she know where to meet Him? Perhaps most fascinating of all is this: she came; her husband did not. Was she a widow? Who can say?

Humility

One thing we do know: she came in humility. This might be the reason she came, that her husband would not humble himself. If so, it shows the lengths to which she would to obtain her daughter’s healing.

Interestingly, she does not try to evoke Christ’s sympathy with her daughter’s troubles. She came for mercy, not sympathy. How often have we prayed for the healing of some little one who tugs at our heart strings – and have done so because God “ought” to heal them.

Interesting too is this: she did not argue. She accepted what He said – and begged. Blessed are the poor in spirit.

Patience

Patience and persistence are virtues often praised, sometimes preached and rarely practiced. This woman had the same attitude that the widow before the unjust judge had: dogged persistence.[2] She bangs on the door so persistently that the disciples (good Jews, all of them) ask Jesus to send her away. It’s obvious she found no champion to raise her cause; she was, after all, an unclean woman, a woman of the gentiles.

Notice, please, her reaction to rejection. When Christ Himself tells her no, she does not argue. Instead, she plants herself directly in front of Him and worships Him. She kneels on the ground and bows down to Him. It is worship, and all know it.

Faith

Like the centurion who said he was not worthy to have Christ under his roof,[3] she expresses her unworthiness and His glory by accepting what He says to her, without complaining. Like the centurion, she has come out of her home and sought Him out – ready to listen, ready to obey. She calls Him Lord. She calls Him Son of David. She knows Him for who He really is. She’s not hoping to get lucky; she’s hoping the begging will work. But will it?

Christ

If you are to understand this section correctly, we must take a detour through the theology of the matter. Indeed, at this time, no one would have seen it correctly, for God revealed it later to Peter and Paul. The concept is this: the rejection of the Messiah by the Jews is the root of taking the Gospel to the gentiles. How so?

  • As Jesus tells us here, He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He is the Son of David; these are His people. He promised He would come to them.
  • The rejection of the Messiah by the Jews opened the Gospel up to the gentiles.[4]
  • Ultimately, it is prophesied that the Jews will indeed return to their Messiah – which comes just before the resurrection of the dead.[5]

It is therefore no surprise that He won’t even speak to her; it is not the time of the gentiles yet. Note, please, that his opening statement is not spoken to her, but to the disciples, yet in her hearing.

It is not right

Why is not right? He is for the house of Israel. God keeps His promises. The salvation Jesus brings is very precious indeed, but it need be rejected by Israel before it will come to the gentiles. Christ puts this quite bluntly: what He is doing is for Israel. No room is given for them at this point.

His expression – the one about the dogs – is difficult to translate, as the word used for dog really means “puppy.” Perhaps He meant by that to encourage her. The word picture is not that of a pack of hunting dogs kept in kennel, but of the puppy, the children’s pet.

She doesn’t miss a beat. Perhaps she had a dog in the house; perhaps she remembered a puppy with fondness. As Snoopy once said, “Anything that hits the floor is legally mine!” She accepts the role of puppy, and begs.

Christ’s response

Sometimes unnoticed in the studies of this passage is the phrasing Christ uses. It’s sufficiently obscure that the New International ignores it and misses the point. The King James is more literal; the most literal of interpretations all have the same language: the language of creation. “Let it be to you…” echoes the Genesis account saying, “Let there be light.” He is creating, ex nihilo, something new: the Light of the world.

Our Faith

It gives us no profit if we do not ask the right questions.

What do we do when Jesus ignores us?

It is going to happen. Often enough you will pray for weeks on end for something, and it seems that God just isn’t listening. I suggest these three things from our example in this lesson:

  • Humble yourself. Get in front of Him, down on your knees and worship Him as the God He is. It is not your merit but His mercy that counts.
  • Persist. How soon we give up! Especially when we know that “it ain’t over until it’s over.”[6]
  • Ask others to pray for and with you. It is an honor to be asked to share such a task; if you are asked, treat it as such.
What do we do when Jesus follows silence with rejection?
  • When she was rejected, her reaction was to worship Him. He is Lord; you are not. He owes you nothing; you owe Him everything.
  • Do we accept our place in His plan without contradicting Him? Do we accept the humbling He is giving us – for our own good?
  • Do we say “Lord, help me, even though I don’t deserve it?” Or do we point out how sympathetic are our circumstances?

We have logical minds – which are below the level of God’s foolishness.[7]

Permit me to close with this quotation from Chrysostom:

Observe this woman’s prudence; she does not dare to contradict Him, nor is she vexed with the commendation of the Jews, and the evil word applied to herself; “But she said, Yea, Lord, yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” He said, “It is not good;” she answers, ‘Yet even so, Lord;’ He calls the Jews children, she calls them masters; He called her a dog, she accepts the office of a dog; as if she had said, I cannot leave the table of my Lord.


[1] Zechariah 9:1-4

[2] Luke 18:1-8

[3] Luke 7:1-10

[4] Acts 13:46

[5] Romans 11:1-15

[6] By Yogi Berra, of course.

[7] 1 Corinthians 1:25-29

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