Session #105 What She Knew
Scripture Matthew 15:21-28
Summary In Matthew 15:21-28, Jesus marvels at the Canaanite woman’s great faith! Her great faith was not blind faith but grounded firmly on what she knew about Jesus and His kingdom. In this teaching, Henson examines what she knew, as well as what Jesus knew. This is so that we can learn and know what we need to know that we may also respond rightly with great faith as the woman did.
Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” 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. Matthew 15:21-28
In Matthew 15:21–28, Jesus meets a Gentile woman who comes with a request to deliver her daughter from the possession of demons. In her exchange with Jesus, He finds her to have great faith and grants her request. This scripture passage traces Jesus as He moves out from Galilee and enters Tyre & Sidon in the Greek region of Phoenicia, which is Gentile territory. Both these cities are not favourably spoken of in the Old Testament; in Isaiah 23:1-12 and Ezekiel 28:11-17. Even Jezebel, known for her wickedness, was the daughter of King of Sidon (1 Kings 16:31). In the New Testament in Matthew 11:20-24, Jesus pronounced judgement on Chorazin and Bethsaida for their unbelief and compared them to Tyre and Sidon. These were not ‘kosher’ destinations for Jews and were considered unclean lands.
Quick Kingdom Learning Points
Right from these initial verses, we can identify some quick learning points about the kingdom. As Jesus meets with an increasing confrontation with religious leaders, as depicted in Matt 15:1-20, He takes this opportunity to depart. We can derive from here that there is a time to engage, and a time to disengage from those who oppose us; and we need the wisdom to know when to take which step. In the parallel account of this story in Mark 7:24, we are told that Jesus entered a house and wanted no one to know it. Here we can gather that there is a time to work, and a time to rest; perhaps Jesus even took the time to review with disciples. However, we learn that Jesus could not keep his Presence a secret, ushering in our third learning point, that it is difficult to hide the light of the glory of the King and His kingdom. This hearkens to Matthew 5:14 “You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.”
Back to Context
As if the region wasn’t bad enough, the scripture presents a woman of Canaan in Matthew 15:22. Jewish men could not publicly communicate with women who had no social status in that community during those times. To make matters worse, she was a Canaanite, a people who were deemed the enemy of the Israelites and her young daughter had an unclean spirit. However, this scripture passage is more than just about deliverance from demons. Matthew had already established Jesus’ ability to overcome demons in Matthew 8:30-32. What should grab our attention is not so much that Jesus was able to cast out demons. It is how much the woman knew about Jesus and His kingdom, and this is revealed through the conversation she has with Him.
What the Woman Knew
In Matthew 15:22, the woman cried out to Jesus “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!”. She knew Jesus as the Messiah, as King and as Judge. Her usage of the word Lord here is equivalent to King and she also acknowledged Jesus with His Messianic title, Son of David. Matthew uses ‘Son of David’ throughout his gospel, having traced the genealogy of Jesus, trying to convince the Jews that Jesus is the Messiah. Matthew’s audience was the Jews so for a Gentile to use these titles was radical! This woman not only acknowledged Jesus’ kingship over the Jews but over the entire land of Canaan, she also believed that Jesus’ reign was not limited to the physical realm but also the spiritual realm, as she approached him to rid her daughter of demons.
This woman also knew how to approach Jesus as King, not presumptuously, but asking for mercy. She realised that the King did not have to grant her request. She recognised her position, her desperation and great need – that because of the fallen state of her people, her own sins, she deserved her current condition but she appealed for His mercy.
As she came to Jesus, this woman also worshipped Him. The Greek word for worship is used here – ‘proskuneo’, which is to bow, to kneel before the King. This woman approached Jesus with reverence, in a posture of humility and submission. She did not come with entitlement, as if Jesus was a guest in her territory. She did not make demands but appealed and petitioned him. Today there is a casualness and informality with which we approach God. We can learn from her how to approach God in a way that is correct and appropriate.
This woman also knew how to be persistent in her request to Jesus. She asked Him repeatedly, badgering Him. In the old days, it was typical of corrupt judges to ignore pleas unless they were offered a bribe. This made it difficult, especially for women who had no status and means to plead their case. This hearkens to Luke 18:1-8 when Jesus counsels His disciples to pray ceaselessly and not lose heart; because we are approaching God, our righteous judge, to receive justice. We can gather how adamant the woman was, crying out after Jesus and His disciples until they had to urge Jesus to send her away. They found it hard to tolerate her repeated cries.
A Detour to What Jesus Knew
In Matthew 15:23, Jesus responded in a curious way by keeping silent. There are many commentaries that explore why He remained quiet. It could be that Jesus was testing the woman’s sincerity and desperation. Some rabbi and teachers would do this to ascertain if their students were really learning something and if their seeking was authentic. When we study the Psalms, we can find how God does remain silent at times. In Psalm 83:1 the psalmist cries, “Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, And do not be still, O God!” In and through the silence, faith has the opportunity to strengthen, hold on and mature. In this scenario, Jesus could either be testing this woman or even His disciples. As mentioned earlier, the disciples could not bear with this woman’s badgering plea. They wanted Jesus to be done attending to her so that they could carry on with their retreat. The disciples could possibly be in their ‘one-track-mind’ about ‘clean vs unclean’; Jew vs Gentile; and not conversing with a woman. They were misaligned and not on the kingdom-track.
Jesus Knew His Assignment
Jesus could have also been silent in an attempt to consider what action to take – whether to cast out the demon or not in this Gentile territory? This could be a possible scenario as we draw from what He said in Matthew 15:24, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Jesus was clear about His primary assignment. He was focused and knew His priorities, and was probably in silent prayer to seek God to guide Him in this decision. Even in the teachings of ‘Archippus Awakening’ about kingdom and primary assignments, we guide participants to clarify their assignments with 5 simple points, just as Jesus was clear about His.
Who was He sent to? He was sent to the house of Israel.
Why was He sent to them? They were lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Where would they be? In the land of Israel, always around Galilee as His base of ministry operations.
How would He do it? He would declare and demonstrate the kingdom and disciple others to take on this mission alongside Him, as partners.
How long? Jesus knew that He had only 3 years. If we knew we had a 3-year kingdom assignment, we would live so focused and clear, knowing what to say yes to and what to say no to. If other things come along our way, they would never detract or distract us from our primary assignment.
Jesus also knew that outside of His primary assignment, he would have secondary ones. He would be saving the world, but primarily He would reach His people Israel first. This could be considered as phase 1 of His assignment. Phase 2 would kick in after His 3-year mission when the disciples that He has raised up would take His mandate to the ends of the earth to all other people groups. Against this context, Jesus implies that He needs to be precise and focused in His assignment as he replies Mark 7:27, “Let the children be filled first, for it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”
Why did Jesus use the term dogs? In today’s context, this would be deemed politically incorrect and may even spark protests and riots! In Bible times, dogs were wild animals, dirty scavengers. The Jews would consider dogs unclean and viewed them with contempt. As such, they would also refer to Gentiles and their enemies as dogs. Paul even used this term on Judaizers, to warn about these Jews who were trying to force Gentiles to be circumcised.
However, Jesus used the Greek term for little dogs or pets, ‘kunarion’, instead of ‘kuon’ which means scavenging canine. These little dogs are loved and cared for as part of the household, a common Greek practise in that Gentile territory, but not for the Jews. Jesus spoke in a way, in a language that the woman could understand. He used the ‘little dog’ metaphor to imply that if she wanted the bread, the Gentile (little dog) had to get it from the children – the Jewish people. In that region, there were many impoverished Jews who had to get bread from the Greeks. Jesus flips this around and tests the woman’s sincerity and humility – if she was willing to get the bread from the Jews instead.
What More the Woman Knew
The woman, however, knew God’s plan and she knew her place within that plan when she says in Matthew 15:27, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” She was not offended about being called a ‘little dog’. She knew she was someone cared for in the household. She just needed to wait her turn and that God’s children, Israel, would come first, then the little dogs. She knew God’s plan of salvation was first to the lost sheep of Israel, but not limited to Israel. It starts there but does not end there. In essence, she was saying that although she was not in the bloodline of Jews, she was willing to stand in a queue, in the ‘breadline of the kingdom’! This aligns to God’s ultimate kingdom plan from the start through Abraham, that He would call out a nation from His chosen people, and through the Jews, all nations and peoples will be blessed. Salvation will come through the Messiah, and all who believe in the Messiah and His kingdom will be saved. This woman knew the One whom she was talking to, and Jesus was in wonder of the depth of her knowledge of the Kingdom!
This woman also knew that the kingdom is abundantly available to everyone and for everyone. By asking for crumbs from Jesus, we can infer that she must have heard about the feeding of the 5,000 and the twelve basketfuls of crumbs leftover. She was agreeable to Jesus feeding the children first, but she insisted that Jesus not leave her (His pet) without giving her a taste of the abundance of God’s kingdom. She knew the King and His kingdom are not limited in resources. She knew that Messianic abundance is available to all who believe in the King and can satisfy every desire and every need.
She knew the way to the King’s heart and into the things of the kingdom – through faith. Jesus marvelled at her faith when he exclaimed in Matthew 15;28, “O woman, great is your faith!” She did not just know but she believed. Knowing is one thing but believing is a whole different matter. Many of us who are churched know a lot of things about the kingdom, but do we believe? This woman’s faith was called great and we can study 3 reasons that shaped her great faith.
Her faith was great because of the object of her faith. She knew this great God and King. She knew the great plans He had. She knew the greatness of His mercy, grace and love, His goodness and abundance. She knew that even if it was not time yet, and even if this was not Jesus’ primary assignment, her faith would cause the King to turn, listen and grant her request.
The greatness of her faith was tied to the doggedness of her faith. We can take hold of that imagery of a dog that bites, that sinks its teeth into something it wants to cling on to, and never let go! That was her persistent, tenacious, stubborn, aggressive faith and yet it was humble, worshipful and reverent.
The third thing that made her faith great was the comparison with the Jews, who were expected to know and believe. Yet the faith of the children of Israel was so minute and they would not believe. This is a lesson to the church who may have heard the message of the kingdom and may know it but does not believe in what they know. The ‘bread crumb faith’ of this woman moved the heart of the King, compared to the Jews who had first served but rejected Him as the Messiah.
What She Did Not Know
Against all things she knew, there was one thing this woman did not know – that her ‘bread crumb’ faith would make it into the Gospel of Mark and Matthew. This would be a centrepiece and open the door to a Gentile mission of the Lord Jesus Christ. We can see how on one side, in Matthew 14:13-21, Jesus feeds the 5000 Jews. After this encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus would feed the 4000 Gentiles in Matthew 15:29-39. We see the kingdom operating like leaven, growing exponentially out of this one ‘bread crumb’ faith episode. Subsequently, in Phase 2, the Gospel of the Kingdom spreads into the entire known world and today we are all part of the Gentile mission. This woman did not know that the great faith she demonstrated would open the door to a state where we are no longer little dogs. We are now considered children of God and people of the Kingdom. There are no longer Jew or Gentiles but all who are in Christ, dining at the Father’s and the King’s table.
However, we have to be alert to how this story juxtaposes one leaven against another leaven. Jesus warns His disciple that they should desire kingdom leaven and not the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, which is hypocritical leaven and religious leaven, which is not going to bring us anywhere.
Everything this woman knew, and everything she believed based on what she knew, we need to know and believe with that same doggedness and greatness. We need to know our King all over again, and not just intellectually. We need to know how to approach our King in the correct manner. We need to know how to persist in our prayers and our requests. We need to know the entirety of God’s plan and where we fit in. We have a part to play in God’s kingdom and this woman knew her place. Do we know ours? Jesus was so clear about His kingdom assignment and His primary assignment, refusing to be distracted to the left or to the right. We need to know that too. At the same time, we need to leave room for the Holy Spirit to move and direct us through secondary assignments. If anyone comes to us along the way to know and encounter the King, we need to know the heart of the King and His kingdom. If the person needs to be ministered to, we can do that but not get distracted. We need to come back to our primary assignment.
Like this woman, we need to know what this Messianic abundance is all about. Even when we have a little, there is so much more for the people of the kingdom to experience. Lastly, we need to know the way to the King’s heart – that faith pleases God. It is not just what we know but what we believe based on what we know. If we say we know, would we believe in it and obey and move according to what we know about the King and His kingdom. Misalignment is knowing but not believing or believing but not moving at all. Let’s be alert and know not to fall into this trap or self-deception.