21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
The real question in this encounter is not what anyone else thinks of Jesus. What does this suffering mother think and experience in Jesus conversation? To state that the bread should not be tossed to dogs has a cultural interpretation that we might miss. What was Jesus saying when he implied that she is a dog? Was this the same word used for Gentile dogs? Not quite…
The term is certainly derogatory though the Greek word includes the nuance “little dogs” or “pets.” It should be seen as an example of Jesus’ colorful imagery of table fellowship to explain the plan of salvation, namely, that “salvation is from the Jews”. The woman takes it in this sense, as her reply indicates.[i]
Instead of the mongrel dog describing Gentiles, Jesus uses the word that describes a family pet. Still, we need to hear the conversation through her ears. Though she was culturally and religiously alienated from the Jews, she recognized that God was at work in that nation. She knew that Jesus had power to heal and do miracles. The difference between her background and Jesus was secondary to her. She was much more interested in finding what was true and would help heal her daughter.
When you are in great need and no one has answers for you, you develop a sharp eye for anything that might help. You humble yourself below the racial pride and shared community biases. You open yourself to the possibility that redemption may be found where you were taught to stay clear.
Even when Jesus, puts up a barrier she will not turn away. This is an essential element of faith. There is a persistent desperation that will not let you turn away. Even though you know it seems crazy, you defy the logic of what you were taught and push in.
When the woman spoke with Jesus, he merely said the things that exposed the depth of her faith. His love for every nation and tribe came on a Jewish path, but did not stay there alone. He calls her a dog to test her faith and to point out the cultural reality that he had come to change.
Her faith caused her to reach out to the enemies of her people. Her faith caused her to argue the point with God and seek help. Her faith in Jesus was rewarded and her daughter was relieved of the spiritual power that held her.
Ripples of opinion will continue to struggle over what Jesus was doing here. But the woman is the best one to tell us if Jesus was wrong or not. I think she would view it differently than the rest of us.
Faith ripples outward. Faith in Jesus changes the world, as we know it. World peace is possible. It has yet to appear. It will take a King and a meek people who cooperate with his ways. Would your faith stand even if you felt excluded from God’s people?