24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. 25 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." 30 And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.
Meditation: Do you ever feel "put-off" by the Lord? This
passage describes the only occasion in which Jesus ministered
outside of Jewish territory. (Tyre and Sidon were fifty miles
north of Israel and still exist today in modern Lebanon.) A
Gentile woman - an outsider who was not a member of the chosen
people - puts Jesus on the spot by pleading with him to show mercy
to her daughter who was tormented with an evil spirit. At first
Jesus seemed to pay no attention to her, and this made his
disciples feel embarrassed. Jesus very likely did this not to put
the woman off, but rather to test her sincerity and to awaken
faith in her.
The Lord shows mercy to those who seek him
What did Jesus mean by the expression "throwing bread to the dogs"? The Jews often spoke of the Gentiles with arrogance and insolence as "unclean dogs" since the Gentiles were excluded from God's covenant and favor with Israel. For the Greeks the "dog" was a symbol of dishonor and was used to describe a shameless and audacious woman. Matthew's Gospel records the expression do not give dogs what is holy (Matthew 7:6). Jesus, no doubt, spoke with a smile rather than with an insult because this woman immediately responds with wit and faith - "even the dogs eat the crumbs".
Love conquers with persistent trust and faith
Jesus praises a Gentile woman for her persistent faith and for her affectionate love. She made the misery of her child her own and she was willing to suffer rebuff in order to obtain healing for her loved one. She also had indomitable persistence. Her faith grew in contact with the person of Jesus. She began with a request and she ended on her knees in worshipful prayer to the living God. No one who ever sought Jesus with faith - whether Jew or Gentile - was refused his help. Do you seek Jesus with expectant faith?
Psalm 106:3-4, 35-37, 40
3 Blessed are they who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times!
4 Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people; help me when you deliver them;
34 They did not destroy the peoples, as the LORD commanded them,
35 but they mingled with the nations and learned to do as they did.
36 They served their idols, which became a snare to them.
37 They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to the demons;
40 Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people, and he abhorred his heritage
Daily Quote from the Early Church Fathers: Great was the power of her faith, and for our learning, by John Chrysostom (347-407 AD)
"See her humility as well as her faith! For he
had called the Jews 'children,' but she was not satisfied with
this. She even called them 'masters,' so far was she from grieving
at the praises of others. She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs
eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Behold the
woman's wisdom! She did not venture so much as to say a word
against anyone else. She was not stung to see others praised, nor
was she indignant to be reproached. Behold her constancy. When he
answered, 'It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw
it to the dogs,' she said, 'Yes, Lord.' He called them 'children'-
but she called them 'masters.' He used the name of a dog, but she
described the action of the dog. Do you see this woman's humility?
Then compare her humility with the proud language of the Jews: 'We
are Abraham's seed and were never in bondage to any man'(John
8:33). 'We are born of God' (John 8:41). But not so this woman.
Rather, she calls herself a dog and them masters. So for this
reason she became a child. For what does Christ then say? 'O
woman, great is your faith.'
"So we might surmise that this is the reason he put her off, in order that he might proclaim aloud this saying and that he might crown the woman: 'Be it done for you as you desire.' This means 'Your faith, indeed, is able to effect even greater things than these. Nevertheless be it unto you even as you wish.' This voice was at one with the voice that said, 'Let the heaven be,' and it was (Genesis 1:1). 'And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.' Do you see how this woman, too, contributed not a little to the healing of her daughter? For note that Christ did not say, 'Let your little daughter be made whole,' but 'Great is your faith, be it done for you as you desire.' These words were not uttered at random, nor were they flattering words, but great was the power of her faith, and for our learning.
He left the certain test and demonstration, however, to the issue of events. Her daughter accordingly was immediately healed." (excerpt from COMMENTARY ON MATTHEW, Homily 52.3)