The miracle recorded in this narrative is striking because of the exchange leading up to the miracle! Throughout the gospels we find Jesus doing what we have no right to naturally expect. When this encounter is compared to his encounters with others we are a little taken back. Jesus' response to this pleading woman, it would seem, is out of character. However we stand to benefit from the exchange.
The miracle before us should facilitate a better understanding of omnipotence. Omnipotence by its very nature does not lend itself to degrees! Where omnipotence comes to bear it is there in full weight! The crumbs of omnipotence carry all the vitality of the loaf from which it comes! As we shall see the Syrophenician woman exercised great wisdom and faith in pleading for the crumbs of omnipotence.
Let us think carefully about this woman in her hour of great need as she hears of and seeks out the great miracle worker who in the end responds to her great faith.
THE PROBLEM OF THE WOMAN
The account begins in verse 21 where we are informed of the seclusion of the miracle worker. We are told that Jesus departed into the coast of Tyre and Sidon. These were two sea coast cities of Phonecia. Tyre was the southern most of the two which places Jesus at least 50 miles from his normal place of ministry. He had in fact gone to a foreign country. Mark informs us that "he would not that any man should know it". Jesus was seeking some quiet time, some down time. This is one of those subtle hints of his humanity! Jesus was a man! He was one of us! He wearied in the flesh! He who carried such power in his word and touch was fatigued. It is the miracle of Jesus that omnipotence should be cloaked in the impotence of human flesh. This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes!
Mark also informs us that "he could not be hid". We shall see that fifty miles from home among a foreign population he was still being sought. His search for solace was soon to be shattered by a Syrophenician woman seeking a miracle.
It is verse 22 that acquaints us with the woman's need. This woman ends up with three labels between Matthew and Mark. A woman of Canaan, a Greek, and a Syrophenician by nation. Suffice it to say that she was a Gentile. She was not a Jew! The bible tells us that this woman "cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me." There is no cry like the cry for mercy. It is a cry that acknowledges unworthiness, it is a cry of humility, and it is a cry that when sincerely uttered gains the attention of God. It is noteworthy how she addresses Jesus. "O Lord, thou son of David". By calling him Lord she is acknowledging him as master and supreme in authority. But even more remarkable she refers to him as the son of David. There were a multitude of Jews who would not recognize this great truth. He came unto his own and his own received him not. This was a covenant statement. It reveals that she was familiar with the prophesies related to the Jewish Messiah and not only was she familiar with them but she seems to believe that Jesus is the fulfillment of them.
She then briefly states her problem, "My daughter is grievously vexed with a devil". So the problem was with her daughter. She was agonizing over the condition of her child. For Jesus to intervene on behalf of her daughter would be a great mercy to the mother. Her daughter was possessed of a devil. It was truly a spiritual, supernatural need. He who commanded sickness, disease, weather, and death is about to be called upon to exercise omnipotence against spiritual powers. Devil possession is a most grievous torment potentially resulting in deafness, dumbness, self-mutilation, preoccupation with death, multiple personalities, and suicidal tendencies. We do not know exactly what the symptoms were of the daughter's devil possession. Suffice it to say it prompted the mother to cry out for mercy.
The next two verses lay out the details of the woman's plea being rejected. Verse 23 tells us that the Lord "answered her not a word". The Lord did not even acknowledge her. There is no greater rejection than silence. It is here that a lesson begins to develop for us. Does it ever seem as though the Lord is silent in the face of your pleadings? Does your agony seem to go unnoticed although you cry out? This reality or perception is a very significant challenge to faith. It was to this woman's faith. When we know the Lord has done so much for others and he seems to turn a deaf ear to our plea it can be very disheartening.
The disciples did not provide any encouragement for the woman. They besought the Lord to "send her away". She apparently was persistent in the plea. The Lord's silence did not put her off but pushed her forward. The only people who could have lobbied for her cause were encouraging the Lord to send her away. So, now she was faced with silence form the miracle worker and discouragement from the disciples of the miracle worker.
Finally in verse 24 the Lord answers. However, the answer he finally gave seemed to affirm the disciples desire that she be sent away, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel" Jesus says. This woman was not of the house of Israel and thus did not meet the requirements to receive ministry at his hand. The woman simply could not have been given a colder shoulder than what she received.
This woman was in a desperate place!
She was a Gentile!
She was experiencing the trauma of living with a devil possessed person!
Her daughter was grievously vexed!
The miracle worker showed no inclination to alleviate her suffering!
The disciples did not take up her cause!
This was a dark and hopeless situation. The stage is set for a great miracle!
THE PERSISTENCE OF THE WOMAN
Verses 25 through 27 record the persistence of the woman. It begins in verse 25 as the woman expresses her desperation. Matthew records that the woman's response to being rebuffed was worship. This is a remarkable response in the face of no encouragement to continue pleading. When we feel as though we have no encouragement to continue pleading may the Syrophonecian woman come to mind. When you feel as though you have been rejected come and worship! Even desperation and discouragement is a platform for worship! She obviously was not worshiping, like us, because of what he had done for her. She was worshiping because of who he was (the son of David), and because of what he could do for her.
Her plea is abbreviated even further, "Lord, help me". With all she had going against her she still knew that it was Jesus who could help. The intensity is so acute that the request becomes brief and pointed. Maybe you have been there before, when all you could do is say, or pray, "Lord, help me!" If you get to that point may it comfort you to know that is all you need to say.
Verse 26 is the first time Jesus personally addresses the woman. "It is not meet to take the children's bread and to cast it to dogs", Jesus said to her. The fact that he responded may be encouraging but the response itself could not be considered encouraging. The children were the lost sheep of the house of Israel. The bread? That is himself. He is the bread come down from heaven. Dogs? That is Gentiles. Or, more to the point, this woman! Jesus' response is it would not be right to take what belonged to Israel and give it to Gentiles. Jesus couches this message in very strong language. His is putting her off!! He is saying no, it would not be right.
But then in verse 27 the woman, by faith, expands on Jesus' argument to make her own. She begins by acknowledging the truth of what Jesus said. She acknowledges the propriety of the Lord's assessment of the situation. She acknowledges that she is not to be numbered among the children. She acknowledges that she is a dog. She acknowledges that the children's bread should not be cast to dogs. Then follows one of those short but powerful words, YET!
The woman is going to make her own argument to press her case. She is going to raise another point in the same path as the argument Jesus made. "The dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table" the woman says to Jesus. She did not want the loaf of bread. She did not want a piece of bread. She was asking for the crumbs of omnipotence! Because, what she understood is that a crumb of omnipotence is still omnipotence! All the power of the loaf is present in the crumbs. She just needed Jesus to do what for him would be a little thing but for her a big thing. Omnipotence makes any trouble we have very small. Just a little effort by Jesus would mean a great deal in her life.
THE PREVAILING OF THE WOMAN
Verse 28 crowns the woman's persistence with prevailing. She now had Jesus' attention. Jesus exclaims, "O Woman, great is thy faith". God is always favorably disposed to faith. Her faith caused her to persevere. In the face of every obstacle she persisted. She would not be turned away. Where she felt no right to the children's bread she laid claim to the crumbs; and they were granted her.
Jesus said to the woman, "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt". She was granted the desire of her heart. She was granted mercy and help. Her daughter, we should already believe, has been granted deliverance. Matthew records that "her daughter was made whole from that very hour". BOOM! Another miracle Somewhere in the distance a girl was freed! Mark tells us that when she returned home she found the devil had gone out. For some reason I don't think she was surprised or relieved. She was not surprised because she knew Jesus was able. She was not relieved because relief had been enjoined when Jesus spoke the words. Note here of what the crumbs of omnipotence are capable!
Even when it seems hopeless we should plead in hope. There is a miracle worker and he delights in persevering pleas. He admires the faith it represents. And who can tell if he might drop a few crumbs around us. But if they are the crumbs of omnipotence we will find them to be more than sufficient!