And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Understanding And Applying the Text
Jesus left Capernaum. He went northwest to Tyre on the Mediterranean Sea. While in Tyre a Canaanite woman came to Jesus begging Him to have mercy on her daughter.
We need to remember Matthew’s audience is Jewish. The Jews called those who lived in the area Canaanites. It is probable the majority of them descended from the tribes of Canaan. This was not a term of endearment. It was one of disdain.
The woman’s daughter was demon-possessed. At first, Jesus ignored her. She became such an annoyance Jesus’ disciples asked Him to get rid of her. In fact, Matthew said they begged Jesus to get rid of her.
She was a gentile. She had not received instruction in the Law. Yet she called Jesus the Son of David. This indicates some familiarity with Jewish Law, history, and/or customs. She had to have some familiarity with Jesus.
She came of her own accord to Christ. She came in humility to beg for his mercy.
Jesus said her faith was great. What does it mean to have great faith? It did not mean she had a lot of faith. It meant her faith was strong. It was intense. It was mighty. It was unshakable.
According to the reformers, faith had three parts. They used the Latin terms, “notitia,” “assensus,” and “fiducia.”
The first part of faith is “notitia.” Notitia is awareness. It is having knowledge. It is being aware. So the first part of faith is being aware of the facts. You cannot have faith in Jesus without knowing there is a Jesus. It is clear from the text she knew something about Jesus. She knew something about the law.
The second part of faith is “assensus.” Assensus is agreement. You must first know the truth then you must agree with the truth. If you have those two parts you still do not have biblical faith. Even the demons go that far. (James 2:19) It is clear that the woman understood and believed Jesus was the Jewish messiah. He was the Son of David.
You must add the third part of faith. The third part of faith is “fiducia.” Fiducia is having confidence or trust. Many see faith starting and ending here. That is not faith. That is superstition or credulity. Many Christians today are superstitious. They do not know their bibles. So they cannot agree with their bibles. They are trust in something they do not know. Trusting something for no reason is superstition. It is credulity.
The woman trusted that Jesus, the Jewish messiah, could and would help her daughter. Her faith was strong because it was based on something firm. Even when first told “no” she continued to press. She had strong faith.
We are not told how she knew of Christ. But she knew Jesus was the Son of David. Somewhere she had received Jewish teaching. She knew of the coming messiah. She had heard about Jesus. She know Jesus was that messiah. She believed He was the Son of David. And she trusted in that fact and acted upon her knowledge. She had faith. As Christ said. it was a great faith.
She did not have a lot of knowledge. But she trusted in what she had. Faith starts with knowledge. Faith is the means by which we receive grace. Christ said we don’t need a lot of it. He compared it to a mustard seed. (Matthew 17:20, Luke 17:6) Faith itself is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9).
Matthew tells us Jesus did not answer her with a single word. Yet she continued to press Him. The fact Jesus ignored her troubles many. Jesus’ speech to her was harsh. Jesus told her his mission was to the lost sheep of Israel. Then he compared her to a dog. That was an insult. It is an insult even today. It would be like calling her a female dog (bitch) in today’s vernacular. Yet she continues to pray to Christ. Her prayer was intense and unyielding.
She was so insistent she became a nuisance. The disciples asked Jesus to send her away. Not only did they ask Jesus to send her away they begged Him to send her away. That was the intensity of her disruption.
They did not believe she was worthy of Jesus’ time. She was a Gentile. She was a Canaanite. A Jew could not associate with a Gentile.
Before the resurrection, there was a “wall of hostility” between Jews and Gentiles. After the resurrection, Christ destroyed that wall. (Ephesians 2:14) Jesus came as the Messiah and heir to the throne of David. Jesus responds to her request only after it was clear the woman had no presumptions. She knew she was undeserving of the blessing promised to Israel. Instead, she only asked for the overflow. of blessings.
Jesus’ response troubles many. Their concern ignores the context of the time. It was only after the resurrection that Christ tore down the wall between Jew and Gentile. Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. He was the heir to the throne of David. As gentiles, we must realize it is through the Jews we have knowledge of God.
At that time God’s restricted His blessings to Israel. Today God includes gentiles in His blessing. As wide branches grafted into the tree. We were once dogs. Now God recognizes us as His children. Our status is clear in scripture. (Romans 11:11-24)
Christ’s words are easier to understand in Mark. (Mark 7:27-28) Mark records Christ’s words as, “allow the children first to be satisfied.” Jesus told the woman she was presumptuous. The blessings of God belonged to Israel.
God’s blessings remain restricted. Today God restricts them to the Church. God called Israel to bless the world. Today He calls the church. We are to be a blessing to the world.
The woman then asked for the overflow of blessing. At that point, Jesus granted her request.