Leading a Rebellion: The Syrophoenician Woman
-A rebel is a person who resists any authority, control, or tradition.
The Story So Far: Jesus is ministering in Samaria. In Matthew 14 JBAP was beheaded and Jesus was informed of it. Jesus withdrew in order to be alone, but the crowds followed him there. Where they met up with Him was where He fed the 5,000—miracle number 1. Then in verse 22 He sent His disciples away, and He was to catch up with them somehow. How he did that was by walking on water—miracle number 2. Then in verse 34 they arrived in the land of Gennesaret. There, many sick people were made well just by touching him—miracle number 3. Matthew 15:21—our story for the night--“Then Jesus went out from there…” and healed the woman’s daughter—miracle number 4. Matthew 15:29, “Jesus departed from there…” and healed a great multitude—miracle number 5. In these two chapters, everywhere Jesus went he performed a miracle and then departed to another area to perform another miracle. We find five miracles in rapid succession.
So we can assume that Jesus left the land of Gennesaret for the region of Tyre and Sidon for no other purpose but to heal the woman from our story’s daughter. Verse 21 starts the story of the Syrophonecian woman, verse 28 ends it, and verse 29 starts the next story with Jesus departing to the next region. No other agenda is mentioned for Him being in that region. Here’s an interesting point that we can’t overlook: From Gennesaret to Tyre and Sidon was about 100 miles. For what would you walk 100 miles? Jesus walked 100 miles just to meet this woman, which makes how He behaved towards her so interesting.
Matthew 15:21-28: And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
The Rebellion: This is one of the strangest stories in all of scripture. Jesus and His disciples offended this poor woman four different times, but she counted the cost, recognized Jesus as her only hope, and refused to be offended. Let’s look at the story: Verse 22 says the Syrophonecian woman approached Jesus crying out, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon possessed.” Here we have a passionate plea by a mother to heal her daughter. The fame of Jesus must have spread to that region because she knew He had the power to heal and that He also was the Son of David. She also called Him “Lord,” which means master, like she belongs to Him, or would be indebted to Him. All of us, if we were in her shoes would have pleaded for Jesus to heal our daughter.
Offense #1: After this woman’s heart felt, passionate plea to the Lord Jesus Christ, who in the last chapter just fed five thousand people and healed hundreds, if not thousands of others just by letting them touch Him, how would you expect Him to respond? How did Jesus respond? Verse 23, “But He answered her not a word.” How rude and offensive was that? He couldn’t come up with anything to say? I once worked at a church and I accidentally snubbed a lady who stuck her hand out to shake mine. I didn’t see her and walked right past her. She was very offended and held on to that anger for six months until my evaluation where luck would have it, she led the meeting. She only brought it up about five times, though. She was very offended. Like I would intentionally snub an old lady like that. Give me a break. I was eventually fired.
Did the woman in this story have a right to be offended? Absolutely. I snubbed the lady on accident. Jesus did it on purpose. Could she have walked away mumbling, “That Jesus cat ain’t all he’s cracked up to be. They always say celebrities are a lot different in real life. What a Jerk!”? Could she have said that? Yes. Would she have been right in her own eyes, as well as her peers? Yes. Would her daughter still be severely demon possessed? Absolutely.
Offense # 2: After Jesus ignored her—perhaps He just sat there looking off into the distance when the woman was pleading, or He stared at her blankly while she was flapping her gums, or maybe He just kept right on walking, we don’t know, all we know is He ignored her—His disciples came up and said “Send her away, for she cries out to us.” From this verse we know that her passionate plea lasted for several minutes and not just the fifteen words that we have in verse 22. The disciples were not exactly filled with compassion for her as they basically asked Jesus to send her away, without the healing she requested, simply because she was annoying. Wouldn’t it have been just as quick to heal her daughter? They didn’t care that her daughter was severely demon possessed. All they cared about was that she was killing their groove. She was a buzz kill.
This woman identified Jesus as the only solution to her problem and His closest friends were being extremely unhelpful. Have you ever had a friend who hung around jerks a lot? Maybe they were teammates or something, but you found it impossible to be around your friend because of the way his friends treated you. Or maybe it was a business that had rude employees and you never went back. Rebekah took the girls to the same pediatrician for 14 years, and we were going to take Caleb to the same doctor, but because of the offensiveness of the nursing staff we decided to switch doctors.
Did the woman have a right to be offended? Yes. Could she have walked away mumbling, “If you really are the Son of God why couldn’t you get nicer help?” Could she have said this and been right in her own eyes, and in the eyes of her peers? Yes. Would her daughter still have been severely demon possessed? Absolutely.
Offense #3: When Jesus finally did speak to her, he said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In other words, “You aren’t the right nationality.” We can sit here and tell story after story of people being treated differently because of their nationality, race, or beliefs. Our Declaration of Independence, which was written in 1776, says that “all men are created equal” but it wasn’t until the 1960’s that blacks could drink from the same water fountain as white people could.
Now it wasn’t that Jesus could not help her, it was Jesus would not help her—all because of her race. She wasn’t good enough.
Did the woman have the right to be offended? Yes. Could she have walked away mumbling, “You think you’re so good because you’re Jewish. You Jews aren’t all that good. You can’t even be nice to a poor woman with a sick daughter.”? Could she have said this and been right in her own eyes, and in the eyes of her peers? Yes. Would her daughter still be severely demon possessed? Absolutely.
Offense #4: Up to now the woman would not be deterred. In fact after this last slight it says in verse 25 that she came and worshipped Him. Or in other words, she came and knelt in front of Him and pleaded with Him one more time, “Please, Lord. Help me.” To this tear jerking scene Jesus looked at her and said, “It’s not good to take the children’s bread and give it to the little dogs.”
I know women and I know there’s one thing women like and that’s to be called a dog. They love it. Well, not really. The word Jesus used for dogs means a lap dog, and not a wild scavenging dog, so it wasn’t as offensive as what it could have been but it was still offensive. Any time you dehumanize someone to the level of an animal it is extremely offensive. Look at all of the major wars in the last few decades. We always dehumanize our enemy to make it easier to kill them. In Vietnam “They’re not real people. They’re Gooks.” In Iraq they are “towel-heads.” Doing this makes it easier to shoot them. “It’s not a baby. It’s fetal tissue.” When you know they’re somebody’s son, father, or husband--when you personalize them—it is harder to kill them. Look at the race issue in America. Why could we buy and sell blacks? Because they weren’t humans. Why could they not go to the same schools as white kids? “Those animals can’t be trusted around our children.” It’s stupid. It’s beyond offensive.
Did the woman in the story have the right to be offended? Yes. Could she have walked away mumbling, “Who does that Jesus think He is calling me a dog? I’ll show you a dog. I would have tore Him up if my leg hadn’t fallen asleep.”? Could she have said that and been right in her own eyes, and in the eyes of her peers? Yes. Would her daughter still have been severely demon possessed? Absolutely.
How does the story end? Well the woman looks up at Jesus and says, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.” She reaffirmed His role as master of her life, and acknowledged that even the tiniest scraps from Jesus’ healing abilities were enough to heal her daughter. Jesus responded joyfully, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
So what’s the point of this story? There are several points in here. We could talk for an hour on each one. But let’s quickly look at two.
1) She had too much to lose to be offended. We can become offended so easily. We can find a reason to be offended in no time at all if we’re really trying. I once saw a bumper sticker that said, “PRO-CHOICE: Keep abortions safe and legal.” My first thought was, “Safe for whom?” My second thought was, “I should choose to run him off the road.” My third thought was an acknowledgement of how quickly I became offended.
What does you being offended cause you to do? Does it cause you to get angry, and lose your temper along with any hopes of winning that person to your point of view or even winning that person to Christ? If it does, there is too much to lose for you to get offended. Does you being offended cause you to stiffen your spine and stand up for what you believe in? Then that’s good. Or do you never get offended by anything important because you have never established standards or morals in your life? Then that’s not good. Find something worth believing in that will get your blood stirred up when you’re being stepped on.
2) Why was Jesus being such a jerk? Does this story fly in the face of everything you ever learned about Jesus? We always hear about the compassionate Jesus who loves everyone, even the ones who can offer nothing in return. This doesn’t seem like Him.
Why did Jesus leave Jerusalem? There was persecution of the Christian movement. People were offended by the message that he was preaching. First, He claimed to be the Son of God, which drove them crazy. Second, He refuted the teaching of the religious establishment which could cause them to lose their precious power. And third, He taught that the Law was not necessary, something they devoted their entire being to, if they would accept Him as savior. Jesus and His followers offended a lot of people and now they were being kicked out of their homes, their families, and their synagogues. These same followers had a tough time being tolerant of other people when they themselves were being rejected.
There is a story in scriptures where a Samaritan village would not allow Jesus or His followers to stay in their town as they passed through simply because they were Jews. Two of His closest disciples approached Jesus and said, “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” Not real tolerant. Not real accepting. This coming from people who in a few short weeks would spend the rest of their lives running and hiding from people intolerant of their beliefs.
Every time Jesus saw faith, or a lack of faith, He pointed it out. Usually it was the disciples who lacked faith, even though they spent almost all day every day with him for three years. And it was usually the Gentiles and the Samaritans who showed great faith. Could Jesus have walked 100 miles to meet this woman just to teach His disciples a lesson? If Jesus could heal her daughter from where He was, couldn’t he have healed her from Gennesaret? He is God. He knew about her condition. He wanted to meet her where she was, but more importantly He wanted His disciples to meet her. His disciples were intolerant of other cultures (which would soon have to change because Christianity did not stay within the confines of Judaism for very long) and they were not very compassionate. Jesus was really just acting as intolerant and rude as His disciples were to illustrate a point.
Let’s look at the last section again with the idea in mind that Jesus was testing His disciples more than He was testing the woman. Picture the scene in your head. The woman kneels before God and says, “Lord, please help me.” Jesus replies, “It is not right to take children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Is Jesus smiling at the woman? Does He say His line and then wink at her, showing her that He is testing her and His disciples, and she is faring better than them? Does he say that line in a tongue in cheek manner? Have you ever seen someone say something that could be taken very badly but everyone present to witness it could tell by the person’s face, smile, or body language that he meant it in a joking manner? Could Jesus have been just joking with the woman after He was finished testing His disciples like an athlete jokes with his competitors right after a tough game or match? I think so. If we could only see a visual replay of this scene, many of our questions could be answered.
Now picture the woman saying, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs are fed the crumbs which fall from the master’s table.” Does the woman recognize Jesus calling her a “dog” as a playful test? Can you see Jesus not being able to control the excitement inside as He sees this Gentile woman showing more faith than His highly trained disciples? He finally can’t keep it in any longer and has to blurt out, “O woman, great is your faith!” Then He heals her daughter and the two of them hug. After that touching moment, He let’s her embrace go as she races home to see her healed daughter. Jesus watches her run away for a few seconds, and then slowly turns around to see His disciples standing their shocked, dumfounded, and embarrassed. Jesus scowls at them and they hang their heads knowing it’s going to be a long walk to wherever they’re going next as Jesus would be taking them to the woodshed the entire trip. His disciples showed again a huge lack of faith and compassion, and His time with them was getting short.