Title: Jesus encounter with a SyroPhoenician woman
Scriptures to Read: Mark 7:24–30; Matthew 15:21–28
Tyre and Sidon
For the third time Jesus moves into Gentile territory (He was in Gentile territory for the healing of the Gerasene demoniac, and for the feeding of the five thousand.) Now He goes to the “district of Tyre and Sidon.” These cities are part of the Promised Land, but Israel has never had possession of them. This is the same area where Elijah was sent by the Lord when he left Israel and went to stay with a widow at Zarephath (1 Kings 17:9). As we will see, His popularity had also spread to this area which today is Lebanon.
The SyroPhoenician woman
What was Jesus’ purpose in going to this region? Mark tells us that He was trying to escape notice. His intention is to have a private time with His disciples. Mark tells us that a Greek woman of the SyroPhoenician race came to Him. Matthew introduces her as a Canaanite woman. The term Canaanite was a general term and there where many specific Canaanite tribes, such as the Perizzites and Jebusites. And the Phoenicians where a branch of the Canaanites. But by this time it was a Greek speaking area and not Canaanite speaking. She is a Gentile and that is the key thing to note for what happens here.
What is she asking Jesus to do for her? – as Mark records, she requests Him “to cast the demon out of her daughter.” Notice the extra detail that Matthew gives here because he is writing to a Jewish audience.
Son of David
When she hears of His presence, she comes to Jesus and says: “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” What does it mean that she addresses Him this way, as Son of David? This is a Messianic title. So it means that she is addressing Him as Messiah and is asking for a miracle based on His messianic character. Mark says she “kept asking Him.” And Matthew says she “began to cry out.” The Greek here actually indicates a continuous or repeated action. She is repeatedly asking Him in these terms, but as Matthew records, “He did not answer her a word.” Why doesn’t Jesus answer her until the disciples implore Him to send her away?
There are two reasons:
1. Israel has rejected His Messiahship, and so on that basis He can do nothing for her. He will not act in His role as Israel’s Messiah because He has been rejected.
2. His Messiahship was intended for Israel, not for the Gentiles. For He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
From Son of David to Lord
Notice how she changes her request in verse 25. What is different about it now? Matthew says: she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” To bow down here is a Greek word meaning to worship, and it is usually translated that way (See for example in John 4:20-24.) So now she worships Him. And how does she address Him? She no longer addresses Him as Son of David, but simply as Lord. The Greek is Kurios, and is equivalent to the Hebrew Jehovah. And her request is simply, help me! This is a personal request for help. So now she is not coming on the basis of His Messiahship, but on the basis of personal need.
To make sure she has learned the point and also to see if she has faith He responds to her with a parable. The word for dogs in the Greek means puppies. Just as food intended for the children should not be given to pets with the result that the children go hungry, even so it is not proper to take what was promised to Israel, the Jewish people, and give it to the Gentiles. Her answer continues the metaphor of the parable and shows that she understood what He was teaching her: “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” In other words, she is not asking for what belongs to the Israel, she is only asking for what extended to the Gentiles. Even the Jewish Covenants (Genesis 12:3) promise that some of the benefits will extend to the Gentiles. So she is now showing that she has passed the test. She understands the truth and believes.
Now Jesus acknowledges her faith and grants her request. “Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. On the basis of her personal need and her great faith He heals her daughter.