Read Matthew 15:21-28; The Bible has much to say about faith. But according to these many references not all faith is the same. God’s word speaks of weak faith, strong faith, bold faith, rich faith, abiding faith, steadfast faith, dead faith, precious faith, common faith, unfeigned faith, working faith, obedient faith, and many other kinds.
- It also speaks of little faith and great faith. In fact this is the second reference in Matthew’s gospel to great faith. Jesus commended the faith of the Roman centurion who asked for his servant to be healed by saying “I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel” (8:10). In both cases the person expressing great faith was a Gentile.
- Jesus has journeyed to Phoenicia – a land considered unclean and out-of-bounds. Here he finds faith.
- As with most of Jesus’ miraculous encounters, this event teaches us something about the recipient and something about Jesus. We will explore both:
I. Do you see a “mean” Jesus here? This particular event has elicited differing explanations about Jesus seemingly harsh and uncaring words toward this Canaanite woman. Does Jesus seem out of character here when he refers to this Gentile woman as a dog who is unworthy to eat at the table? The commentators’ remarks run the spectrum:
A. Some consider the story a fabrication.
B. Others believe that this event reveals Jesus as a “Jewish man of His day”, encumbered with Chauvinistic attitude toward women and non-Jews.
C. Some view Jesus’ words as harmless banter not meant to be taken seriously by the woman.
D. F.W. Beare spoke for many when he described Jesus’ response as an “atrocious saying,” expressing “incredible insolence,” and based on “the worst kind of chauvinism” (France, 247).
E. We have already seen too much of Christ’s compassion to Gentiles and women to believe that Jesus is uncaring or prejudiced. Based on vv 1-20, the likeliest explanation for His behavior is that He was exhibiting the Pharisaic tradition about defilement He had recently condemned. Jesus reacted to this woman exactly as the elders or Pharisees would have Him act in this situation. And what better way to expose the despicableness of a human tradition than by demonstrating it in practice?
F. In the end Jesus not only helps this woman, but commends her for having great faith.
II. Do you see a “great faith” here? Great faith is, of course, a relative term. This woman’s faith was not great because it was stronger or more sincere or mature than the faith of many Jews who believed in Christ but because it was based on so little light. When Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and began to sink Jesus called his faith little (Matt. 14:31), but surely Peter believed more about Jesus than this woman, and he had greater faith than the other 11 who did not attempt to walk on water. But it was not strong enough for the situation. He had opportunity to trust Jesus more, but he was weak. This woman had little opportunity for faith, but trusted Jesus greatly.
Her faith also contained important ingredients that we need. Matt 15:22 – 22 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.”
A. Her faith was pointed in the right direction. “O Lord, Son of David…” (15:22b) Great faith must be directed at the right object. Faith is not simply wishful thinking. There are those who believe that somehow, in some way, by some means everything will ultimately work out for the good. They declare, “Somewhere there’s somebody who hears every prayer” or “I believe in the darkest night a candle glows”. Faith must have content. To jump out of an airplane with a parachute is faith; to jump out without a parachute while shouting, “I believe” is stupidity. It is faith in faith, and has no content.
1. True faith is rooted in a person who can deliver. If you went on vacation and left your 3 year old in charge and expected him to care for the place and pay all the bills would you call that living by faith?
2. This woman addressed Jesus as the Messiah and the Lord. Later in the conversation he bowed down and worshipped Him. It is doubtful that she understood the full meaning of Jesus’ Messiahship or Lordship, but she believed that Jesus could help her. Like the Thessalonians she had “turned to God from idols to serve a living and true God” (1 Thess 1:9).
B. Her faith was persistent. Matt 15:23-27 – 23 But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” 27 And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
1. I believe that Jesus intentionally tested this woman’s faith by erecting a series of barriers. But great faith does not give up; it is not deterred by obstacles, setbacks, or disappointments.
2. everyone who comes to believe in Jesus and obey Him must overcome the obstacles to that faith and obedience. Some people have to struggle against the objections and arguments of friends and family. Still others struggle because they see inconsistencies in the lives of Christians they know. Little faith becomes great faith as it persistently overcomes the obstacles that it encounters.
3. Jesus put up the barriers not to keep her away but to draw her closer, much as he did with the rich young ruler in Matt. 19. He failed to pursue his goal. But this woman persisted.
- At first Jesus did not answer her a word. The disciples may have thought that Jesus did not care and wondered why He did not respond. They simply wanted this persistent woman to stop bothering them.
- Jesus answered the disciples by reaffirming His mission to the lost of Israel, and not to the Gentiles. Why was Jesus so willingly to heal the servant of the Roman centurion and interact with the Samaritan woman at Sychar but now refused to help this woman simply because she was not of the house of Israel? Whatever effect Jesus’ response had on the disciples, it must have been a painful blow to the woman.
- How would most people have responded? Many would have indignantly said, “So much for your God of love, your message of compassion, and your narrow, bigoted religion. I want nothing to do with a God or religion like that.”
- But this Gentile woman had no resentment or bitterness, but was willing to accept Jesus’ help on any terms Jesus might present. She was determined and persistent in her goal and willing to accept whatever place Jesus would give her. She knew Jesus was her only hope. She agreed with Peter who had already voiced, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” (John 6:68).
C. Lastly consider what may be the most compelling ingredient of her great faith. Her faith was humble and dependent.
1. She began by crying out… “Have mercy on me.” By definition, the person who asks for mercy asks for something undeserved. She did not come demanding but pleading. True faith begins in recognizing that we need Jesus and we do not deserve what He gives.
a. Mercy is integral to God’s redemptive work for man. We have no way back to God except through His merciful grace. It is not surprising, therefore, that in the New Testament and the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) various forms of the verb “to have mercy” are used some five hundred times.
b. As a cry for mercy, true faith demands repentance. They are companions that cannot be separated. In the beginning of His ministry Jesus preached.. Mark 1:15 – 15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”
2. vs. 25 –Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me! When Jesus did not answer her cry she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” The word Matthew uses here is proskuneo, which literally means to prostrate oneself and is frequently translated “to worship.” Whether or not the woman’s bowing down was intended to be worship, it was clearly an act of humility. She threw herself at Jesus’ feet and pleaded with even greater desperation.
3. vs.26 – Jesus answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Two different Greek words are used in the New Testament for dogs. One refers to the mangy and vicious mongrels. The word Jesus used here referred to smaller dogs that were often household pets. But woman knew that children’s referred to Jews and dogs referred to Gentiles, because both figures were commonly used by Jews. Jesus’ words sounded much like the insults Jews frequently cast at Gentiles and that the woman had probably heard many times before. At this many would have turned away, but this woman was too humble to be offended.
4. vs. 27 – She said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” She knew she was sinful and unworthy of anything He had to offer and was willing to concede that she was less deserving than Jews. In doing so she demonstrated a complete absence of the pride, self-reliance, and self-righteousness that characterized most Jews. She was willing to settle for the crumbs which fall from their master’s table, because that would be enough to meet her needs. A tiny leftover of Jesus’ great power could heal her daughter, and that was all she asked.
D. Her faith was rewarded. Matthew 15:28 – Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. After putting up a barrier of silence and then a double barrier of seeming rejection, Jesus heard what He wanted to hear. Her seeking heart would not give up.
1. Like Abraham, she grew strong in faith through God’s testing – Romans 4:20- 20 “He did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God”
2. Like Jacob wrestling with the Lord in Gen 32, she would not let go until He blessed her.
3. She fulfilled the pledge of Jeremiah 29:13-14, “‘And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. And I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord.”
4. This is the type of faith that Jesus spoke about in the Sermon of the Mount – meek, mournful, poor is spirit, seeking knocking.
5. She exhibited the attitude expressed in Luke 13:24 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. from agonizomai Literally straining every nerve to enter it.
6. Because of her great faith, Jesus granted her request and healed her child. As Spurgeon observed, “The Lord of glory surrendered to the faith of the woman.” She kept asking until she received, seeking until she found, and knocking until it was opened to her (cf. Matt 7:7).