Note: A more detailed analysis of this passage will be included in the Juby Journey book I’m working on. For now, I’m converting preliminary thoughts into the SOAP Bible study below to archive insight and encourage the saints in the short term.
As one dealing with grief, who went through the ringer last year while Juby was alive, I can’t help but resonate with this passage. Like the protagonist, Lys and I can relate to an afflicted daughter and the desperation for her deliverance. Granted, Juby was not demon-possessed but stricken with chronic lung disease. Still, as we cried out for Jesus, hopefully not to the chagrin of others, we discovered a posture far greater than a spiritual bookmark but of a daily exercise with reproducible influence.
Accordingly, without further ado, I’d like to unpack the remarkable faith of the Syrophoenician woman and how her hope can be a blueprint for those seeking restoration.
Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28
“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.“
1. Before we can dive into the dialogue, we must first assess the setting. While time and place may seem arbitrary, in this case, they carry notable purpose. With the end in sight, Jesus withdrew with the disciples outside Jewish territory to prepare them for the Cross to come. His days numbered, Jesus realized some final exposures and tune-ups were necessary to groom them for life in ministry without His physical presence. As such, the fact He retreated to the hostile confines of Tyre and Sidon should not be perceived as random as Jesus desired to foreshadow the Gospel going out to all peoples. How amazing it is to know Jesus, even in His last days, never stopped breaking down barriers through radical love.
2. Fast-forward to the woman’s cameo, it’s interesting to note what she requests right out of the gate. Instead of healing or intervention, she addresses Jesus as ‘Son of David’ and calls for mercy, instantly acknowledging the Master’s identity, authority, and sovereignty in one swoop (v. 22). While intellectual origins are unknown, somehow, someway, she understood who Jesus was much to the surprise of the cohort. Per the importance of this sequence, we’ll break this down as we go.
3. I also find Jesus’ response to be somewhat peculiar: “But he did not answer her a word” (v. 23). This, to me, is a critical point to examine and requires us to broaden out to consider the context. Again, this will be explored in the points below.
4. Starting with the woman’s location and situation, we find her labeled as an unclean outsider despite her Canaanite designation and erroneously judged for her non-Israelite daughter’s condition. In terms of geography and timeline, we aren’t informed of any prior wonders performed in Tyre and Sidon prior to this passage. This adds a curious wrinkle to the story as one must wonder how a woman of this stature and status could recognize Jesus as the Messiah.
5. Going back to Jesus’ response, we find multiple motives. For the disciples citing the woman as a distraction, Jesus addresses their bias prior to answering her cry (v. 24):
“I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
The reason behind this is at least twofold: On one hand, Jesus wanted to remind the disciples who He was in light of what He came to do as clearly, a portion of the twelve were still pigeon-holing His kingship. On the other hand, Jesus’ intended His initial silence to be an opportunity for the woman to show patience…and resilience. From ‘have mercy’ to ‘help me’ in consecutive pleas (v. 25), the woman wasn’t just conveying poetic symmetry but reiterating Jesus’ mission. Already she had correctly identified Jesus as the Son of God (a full two chapters prior to Peter’s declaration in 16:16); now, she was begging Jesus to be consistent to her…
…what you do to Israel, please, Lord, do to me and my household as well.
6. In addition to the woman’s opening inquiry, I’m captivated by her posture. Even if she just said, ‘Son of David, please help me. My daughter is possessed’, Jesus would have recognized the woman’s understanding of His lordship through her positioning. While the woman’s kneel wasn’t evident during her first appeal, the fact Jesus gave the woman more time, in part, to let her go deeper in referencing Him was not part of instinctual circumstance. Rather, it was an intentional maneuver for her to anchor her surrender and confirm her awareness in front of a freshly humbled core of disciples.
7. The exchange between Jesus and the woman immediately following is arguably one of the most profound moments during His ministry. Up to this point, Jesus hasn’t said a word. Now ready, we again see the silence’s effect per His decision to test the depth and sincerity of her invitation. With the woman’s hopelessness on a timer, He uses the woman’s location and sense of identity as a means to assess her heart:
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (v. 26)
Here, Jesus elects to use ‘dog’ knowing the term was derogatory as a Gentile reference. To be a dog in Israel was to be regarded as a dirty, street scavenger; however, Jesus doesn’t associate the term to her poverty as much as her perceived sense of spiritual destitution. At the time, the rift between Jew and Gentile (between ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’) was still strong but, in a preview, we find a woman authenticating her hope while also foreshadowing the expiration of Gentile believers’ spiritual homelessness.
In the woman’s reply, “Yes, Lord; but even the pet dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their [young] masters’ table” (v. 27), we not only find confidence beyond imminent healing but in the salvation of her people. While the woman’s yieldedness was key as a demonstration of submission, Jesus knew this wasn’t simply a self-centered strategy to obtain instant results.
8. Finally, per the prior point, the significance of ‘crumb’ cannot be understated. For a “lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24) to be so hungry for Jesus that even a mere morsel would do tells us the woman saw her situation as secondary to the power and presence of God. In essence, she accepts the status of a family’s dog knowing just a crumb of Jesus would be powerful enough to defeat the demon oppressing her daughter. No question, the woman had her priorities and perspectives set straight, almost as if she had anticipated the moment in advance.
Despite its short duration, the passage carries immense application and universal relatability potential. Regardless of our situations, we can all identify and empathize with the Syrophoenician woman if not at least through her adamant clinging to hope in a bleak situation. Even when we’re struggling with our identity, a love deficit, and/or challenges outside our control, even when we feel stuck in dark place, we can approach God in humility with thanksgiving acknowledging who He is and what He can do.
For some of you, you may have a loved one, a son or daughter, burdened by a disease or satanic assignment. You may feel the target on your back and paralyzed to shake it off. If this is you, don’t work to faith and prayer; start with faith and prayer. To the Lord of grace, ask for mercy and request His appointed portion of providence. If you’re lost, don’t deny the position but receive yourself as one worth saving. Like the woman, you may be deeply conscious of the misery of the soul, but this doesn’t disqualify you from bread of life crumbs.
For others, you may not have a grim circumstance on the board, but you may be thirsty to anticipate the proximity and power of God. While we don’t know exactly how the woman learned of Jesus before His arrival, we know she put herself in position to receive of Him following His arrival. Like her, you don’t have to limit your bended knee to the moment. Rather you can extend it as a general posture wherever you go. Ask yourself, ‘Do I want more of Jesus? Do I want a fresh touch of Him today?’ If the answer is ‘yes’, know whatever He decides to give is more than enough even if what He offers is partly an invitation to go deeper.
Either way, dare to believe good things will happen when you seek Jesus and ask of God according to His will.
Heavenly Father, we come before you today as we are. Heavy laden with our fears, anxieties, and insecurities, we lay them down in anticipation of what you’re going to do. We may feel “dogged” by life, by consequences of past decisions, by unforeseen trials and happenstances. But like Mary, we choose you ahead of any other commitment and priority in our life right now. We thank you for going before us but recognize your faithfulness before us now. For those who are hungry for you, we ask you provide something afresh to they may taste and see a new facet of your goodness. For those who don’t realize they’re hungry, guide and position them to discover the bread of life you carry. Stir in all of us an awakened passion to the wonder of you and help us to see even what we can’t control as opportunities for sharpening, pruning, and maturing. Whether or not we’re personally afflicted, we pray you prepare our hearts for inevitable testings to come and remember those who are going through tragedy, who are journeying through grief. Tend their hearts and make us sensitive to our part in nourishing them just as you are intentional in nourishing us. Whatever piece you intend to give, we receive it with praise on our lips and gratitude in our hearts. In Jesus’ precious and holy name…
Graphic creds: EnduringWord; Mr. Muncle