Dan Popp
Jesus and the dog-lady
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By Dan Popp
November 16, 2014

    Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28, NKJV – See the parallel passage in Mark 7.)
If you were fortunate enough to get a personal interview with Jesus, there's no telling what might happen. I've written about the encounters between Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler and between Jesus and Nicodemus. The common theme in all these events is surprise. The Kingdom is not what you expected. And here we have a conversation that surprises everyone – everyone except the "Syro-Phoenician woman" whom I will tenderly call the "dog-lady."

And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." The Rich Young Ruler addressed Jesus merely as "Good Teacher." Nicodemus called Him "Rabbi" and hinted that Jesus was a prophet. But this Gentile woman greets Him as "Lord" and "Son of David!" In that second appellation she's proclaiming Jesus the Rightful King of Israel, and the Messiah.

The other person to salute Jesus as "Son of David" was Bartimaeus (see Mark 10 and Luke 18). He may have been blind, but he recognized the Messiah. Our heroine here, though, has a different handicap.

But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, "Send her away, for she cries out after us." But He answered and said, "I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." God had consistently promised through the Prophets that His Kingdom would be available to all – but that the children of Abraham would fill the role of priests, leading the Gentiles to faith (See, for example, Isaiah 60 and Zechariah 8). Even after the Apostles began spreading the Good News to the Gentiles, their rule was, "To the Jew first, and also the Greek." In Romans 11 Paul explains that the Jews had to reject their Messiah in order for the Gentiles to be "grafted in" to the vine – but that this rejection was temporary. Jesus initially refused this miracle for the same reason he initially refused to grant His mother's request about the wine at the wedding in Cana – it wasn't the appropriate time.

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" Even when Scripture records that she "worshiped" Him, some scoffers will say that that word could indicate that she merely "respected" him! But she'll destroy their argument in a minute.

But He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs." Jesus uses a common Jewish insult for Gentiles, perhaps softening it a little by using the diminutive, rendered "little dogs" in the NKJV. Bible teachers will say that Jesus was testing her faith by this rebuff. Certainly He intended to make her drop all her pride and false religious notions if she wanted something from Him. God does not owe you a miracle, or salvation, or anything else. He does respond to faith. And this woman's faith is about to speak one of the most amazing responses in all the Bible:

And she said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."

If this was a test, she passed. She didn't defend her ethnic heritage, or demand "fairness." She didn't contradict Jesus, as sometimes even the disciples would. She agreed. So many people, like Nicodemus, try to make Jesus' metaphors literal – even when He tells them they're not literal. They imagine, I guess, that the disciples grabbed Christ's arms during the Last Supper and started gnawing on his biceps, even after He had explained, on this very topic, "It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life." (John 6:63) Perhaps, like Nicodemus, these people are stuck Flesh Mode – they haven't yet been born again of the Spirit.

The humble dog-lady is different. She picks up Jesus' metaphor and plays off it. "Yes, Lord, you're right, I am a little dog. I've been yapping at your disciples all afternoon, and I'm still yapping. Yet the miracle that I'm asking for is only a crumb, just a bone fit for a mutt like me. The children will never miss it." She's saying that her miracle will not diminish the number of miracles available to the Jews. She's saying that Jesus' power is unlimited.

Now, the Old Testament prophets had performed miracles, but they were limited. Only God is unlimited. By ascribing to Jesus unlimited power, she was declaring Him to be God.

There can be no ambiguity or wrangling about words here. The dog-lady had received a revelation of Christ's identity at least as great as the revelation given to Peter. The Christ, the Son of the Living God, yes – and the Unlimited One, El Shaddai, God Almighty. People praise this woman for her (pardon the pun) dogged persistence. But she wasn't persistent because she was desperate. She was persistent because she knew who Jesus is. No wonder Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

© Dan Popp

 

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