Summary: A mother’s heart is one of the most potent motivators known. A Syro-Phoenician (or Canaanite) woman exhibited this during one of Jesus’ teaching tours. We do not know her name, but we do know this mother had insight, courage, persistence, and initiative
Lesson: Interrupted Respite in Phoenicia: Syrophenician Healed
A mother’s heart is one of the most potent motivators known. A Syro-Phoenician (or Canaanite) woman exhibited this during one of Jesus’ teaching tours. We do not know her name, but we do know this mother had insight, courage, persistence, and initiative. Obviously, Jesus’ reputation had reached beyond Palestine. Most likely His healing ministry had made the news in Tyre and Sidon, but few would cross cultural and religious lines to approach Him. This woman was one of the few. What motivated her to take such initiative on her own? Her mother’s heart. There were at least three barriers that could have discouraged her from accomplishing her task: She was a Gentile (Matt. 15:24), she was a Canaanite (see v. 22, note); and she was a woman (John 4:27). But the magnitude of a mother’s love pulled her as irresistibly as the moon pulls the tides. This mother used a threefold approach: She acknowledged Jesus as the rightful King by calling Him “Son of David”; she acknowledged Him as her King and Master by calling Him Lord; and she prayed the simple prayer, “Have mercy on me” (v. 22), “help me” (v. 25). These expressions are irresistible to God. Her persistence during this brief encounter with Jesus revealed not only a mother’s determination but also her growing faith. Notice: It was not her love for her daughter that impressed Him the most (though that surely pleased Him) but her great faith (v. 28). There is an uncanny parallel between this woman and Rahab in the Old Testament (Josh. 2). Both women came from the hopelessly perverted Canaanites; both showed a strong love for family; both showed courage, persistence and boldness by stepping away from their religious backgrounds on their own; both evaluated Israel’s God and found Him superior to their gods (in fact, they gave Yahweh more credit than the Israelites did); both made a commitment to Israel’s God; and both received what they were seeking. God has a special understanding for the mother’s heart (Is. 49:15; 66:12, 13; Luke 13:34). More than anything else we remember this woman’s persistent, even obstinate, faith. She would not give up. Now let’s look at how Matthew recorded this incident.
21 Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
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.”
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.”
28 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.
After John the Baptist had been put to death, Jesus left Herod’s jurisdiction; He went to the area of Tyre and Sidon. The inhabitants were Phoenician people, who were a sea-faring nation. They traded with all the countries around the Mediterranean Sea, and had even gone as far as great Brittan. This was the only known occasion during His ministry that our Lord went outside the boundaries of Palestine. It could have been a time of seclusion and rest for Jesus; however a woman from Canaan interrupted Him. The woman was a Gentile and decended from the Canaanites who inhabited Syria and Palestine, before Joshua conquered Palestine.
When Jesus said that the bread was for the children, He was referring to the Jews; and by dogs, He is referring to Gentiles. He is testing the woman’s faith by His attitude. Jesus is not angry with her, but He is trying to teach His disciples a valuable lesson. He has been rejected by the Jews, so now He is turning to the Gentiles; we will see that later His disciples will be shocked by this move. The disciples were wrong; they wanted to send her away, but she is persistent. His delays are not a denial, but He uses it to increase her faith. He told the woman that He didn’t have anything to give “little dogs”, which means pets, as opposed to wild dogs. She replied that such dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table. It is evident that she knew what could be hers, even though she was a Gentile. This is an illustration of the millions of Gentiles who would later be blessed by Israel’s Messiah. Jesus commended her for her great faith; And her daughter was healed from that very hour.