This morning I want to look at a singular incident in
the earthly life of Jesus: Matthew 15, starting in verse 21.
Here we meet a desperate mother whose faith is truly
great. We also get a look at Jesus as we have never seen
Him before. The woman has a demon-possessed
daughter, and she seeks Jesus' help for the girl. But in
this instance, the Lord seems uncharacteristically aloof,
abruptCeven apathetic about this poor woman's plight.
This is not how we know Jesus to be.
In fact, if Jesus is known for anything, it is His
gracious compassion for afflicted people. Isaiah 42:3 is a
famous messianic prophecy, quoted verbatim in Matthew
12:20: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering
wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory."
That's a prophetic description of Jesus' tender grace. The
smoldering wick refers to the flax in a lamp when it's
used up and burned out. You can always tell when a
lamp-light is about to expire, because the wick starts
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smoking and smoldering. You would normally snuff it
out, refill the oil in the lamp, trim the burned portion of
the wick away, or put in a whole new wick. A reed in
Scripture is always a symbol of weakness. It was a
hollow stalk from a grasslike plant that grows along the
river bank. A reed is very weak and brittle. But you can
whittle holes in a reed and make a little flute from it.
Shepherds used these to calm the sheep. To this day,
reeds are used to make the part of the mouthpiece in
woodwind instruments. And they wear out easily when
you use them. Clarinet reeds are sold in boxes of ten.
Shepherds' flutes rarely lasted more than a day. And
when they wear out, you simply snap them in two and get
a new one.
So the point of this prophecy ("a bruised reed he will
not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench") is to
show the tender compassion of Christ. He always dealt
with broken and used-up people not by discarding them
but by healing themCby "renew[ing] their strength; [so
that] they [would] mount up with wings like eagles; they
[could] run and not be weary; they [could] walk and not
You see this, for example, when Jesus encounters a
man who is totally insane, living naked in a graveyard,
cutting himself with stones, because his mind and body
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 3
were possessed by a whole legion of demons. Jesus cast
the demons into a herd of two thousand pigs, and in the
very next scene we see that man delivered, "sitting at the
feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind."
That was the way of Jesus. Instead of rejecting or
condemning severely broken people, He delighted in
redeeming them. "For God did not send his Son into the
world to condemn the world, but in order that the world
might be saved through him" (John 3:17). "For the Son of
Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).
To Scribes and Pharisees and others "who trusted in
themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with
contempt," Jesus frequently had very harsh and
dismissive words. But to sinners who confessed their
own guilt and sought freedom from sin's bondage and
relief from sin's bitter consequences, Jesus always
offered redemption. And He did it with such grace and
compassion that His enemies scolded Him for being "a
friend of tax collectors and sinners." It was an accusation
He accepted gladly. He came, after all, "to proclaim good
news to the poor. . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and
recovering of sight to the blind, [and] to set at liberty those
who are oppressed."
When the Pharisees grumbled and challenged Jesus
about being a dinner guest in the homes of notorious
Psalm 131 4
sinners, Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a
physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the
righteous but sinners to repentance." And almost every
time we see Jesus dealing with someone from far outside
the circle of acceptable society, He is tender,
compassionate, friendly, warm, and approachable. In
fact, usually, Jesus is the one who reaches out, like the
woman at the well, or the man who was blind from birth
in John 9. Never do we see Him turning away anyone
who comes for help or healing.
Just a chapter before our text, in Matthew 14:34, we
read that Jesus and His disciples "came to land at
Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him,
they sent around to all that region and brought to him all
who were sick and implored him that they might only touch
the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were
made well." Crowds of needy people pressing around
Him, and He always healed them all. Luke 4:40: "All
those who had any who were sick with various diseases
brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of
them and healed them." Matthew 4:24: "They brought him
all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains,
those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and
he healed them." Matthew 12:15: "Many followed him, and
he healed them all."
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 5
That was one of the unique and outstanding
characteristics of Jesus' ministry. He simply did not turn
people away. It didn't matter how loathsome, or guilty, or
socially unacceptable a person was, Jesus always
received those who came to Him seeking mercy. He said,
"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will
give you rest." And, "Whoever comes to me I will never cast
So the vignette we're looking at today puts Jesus in a
light we have never seen beforeClooking for all the
world as if He is detached, distant, even derogatory
toward this woman who comes seeking His help.
Here's the context: Jesus has just had a major public
conflict with the Pharisees. These powerful religious
leaders are following Him around Galilee, desperately
seeking a reason to accuse Him. They keep condemning
Him for not following their Sabbath rules and not
observing the extrabiblical rules they have made for
themselves regarding ceremonial cleanness. The previous
chapter (Matthew 14) records the feeding of the five
thousand. Matthew 14:19-20 says Jesus "broke the loaves
and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them
to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied." Nothing
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there about any ceremonial washing. There weren't any
wet-naps passed out with the food.
So at the start of Matthew 15, some "Pharisees and
scribes came to Jesus [all the way] from Jerusalem[. [This
was an official delegation, most likely sent from the
ruling council, the SanhedrinC]and [they] said, 'Why do
your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do
not wash their hands when they eat.'"
And at that point Jesus unleashes one of His angriest
diatribes ever against the phony public self-righteousness
of the Pharisees. In verse 14, for example, He says this
about the Pharisees: "Let them alone; they are blind guides.
And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." He
basically writes them off. "Let them alone." That's the
biblical equivalent of, "Forget them. Ignore them. they
are headed for destruction."
This is one of the earliest in a long series of public
denunciations Jesus aims at the Pharisees. It's a consistent
thread through the gospel of Matthew. That thread
includes Jesus' words about the unpardonable sin in
Matthew 12. You remember, I hope, that His warning
about the unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit
was aimed at these phony religious leaders who fully
understood that Jesus was the true Messiah, but they
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 7
rejected him anyway with such force and finality that
they had already decided to put Him to death at the first
Jesus' long war against Pharisaism will culminate in
chapter 23,. That is a chapter-long jeremiad against the
ruling religious elite, and it ends with this summary
judgment in Matthew 23:38: "Your house is left to you
From early adolescence (when he got separated from
His earthly parents in Jerusalem) until decisive moment
at the end of Matthew 23, Jesus had always referred to
the Temple as "My Father's house:" "Do not make my
Father's house a house of trade." Now, suddenly, speaking
to the Pharisees, He calls it "your house."
"Your house is left to you desolate." Jesus then departed
from the Temple for the last time, leaving it devoid of all
heavenly glory, bereft of any divine presenceCspiritually
desolate. And then within a generation, the Temple was
utterly destroyed by the Roman army, and it has never
been rebuilt, to this very day.
It's clear that these interactions with the Pharisees
troubled and exhausted Jesus. He was truly human, and
in His humanity, He fully experienced all the normal,
non-sinful weaknesses of human flesh. Hebrews 4:15:
Psalm 131 8
"We have not [a] high priest [who] cannot be touched with
the feeling of our infirmities." He grew weary, got thirsty,
became hungry, felt the depths of sadness, and the cares
of earthly life just like you and I do. And He needed rest
just like you and I do. Run-ins like this with the Pharisees
left Him mentally, emotionally, and physically spent.
We know that, because on several occasions He took
time off from public ministryCor tried to. In Mark 6:31,
for example, He says to the disciples, "Come away by
yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." For many
were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.
And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by
But look what happened (verse 33): "Now many saw
them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot
from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he
went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion
on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.
And he began to teach them many things."
Something similar happens in Mark 1, after Jesus
heals a leper. He tells the man, "See that you say nothing
to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for
your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to
them." But the very next verse says the cleansed leper
"went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 9
news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but
was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him
from every quarter." Even in the most desolate places,
Jesus could not get any rest. Multitudes followed Him
everywhere, making it impossible for Him to take time
off from public ministry.
So here in Matthew 15, after that run-in with these
Pharisees who came all the way from Jerusalem to
oppose Him, Jesus quietly withdraws with the disciples
to a place near the coast of the Mediterranean, outside the
boundaries of Israel. Matthew 5:21: "And Jesus went
away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and
Sidon." That's north of Israel, in a region that today is part
of Lebanon. It was known as Phoenicia in Roman times,
and it was a thoroughly Gentile district. Going there was
a way for Jesus to escape the throngs He faced
everywhere He went in Israel.
This was all very secretive. By now Jesus was
desperate to get some time away, so He probably traveled
with just a handful of His closest, most trustworthy
disciples under cover of night. And he managed to arrive
in the region of Tyre and Sidon without any crowds
following. He wasn't there to preach or do any kind of
ministry; He was there to rest and recover strength so that
He could minister more effectively. (That's a good and
Psalm 131 10
wise thing to do. There are always overzealous people
who feel guilty taking time to rest. Jesus, who was the
embodiment of godly zeal, didn't have that perspective.)
The parallel passage in Mark 7:24 says this: "He entered a
house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be
Somehow, even in that remote region, Jesus was
recognized and identified, and word leaked out that he
was there. Mark's gospel says this happened
"immediately." But this time it was not a large multitude.
It was one very noisy and persistent woman. She shows
up and interrupts Jesus' R&R. She is a mom, with a
severely afflicted daughter, in bondage to a destructive
demon. And this desperate mother is relentless.
Matthew 15:22: "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.'" The verb tense means she was persistently,
unceasingly pleading for Jesus' help.
Now, bear in mind that Jesus is secluded in a house,
trying to get some sleep, no doubt spending time alone in
prayer (as was His custom), needing to recharge His
energy so that He would have the strength to face
everything He knew lay ahead. This time of rest was long
overdue. His heart was burdened and heavy. He had just
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 11
emerged from this exhausting conflict with that powerful
group of Pharisees. And while he secluded himself in a
house, the disciples were apparently standing guard, to
make sure nothing and no one interrupted Jesus' rest. But
this one woman simply refused to take no for an answer,
and she simply would not go away.
Notice, even though she calls Jesus by a distinctly
Jewish title ("O Lord, Son of David,") she was "a Canaanite
woman from that region." That's how the Jews of Jesus'
day would have referred to a Phoenician woman. The
early Canaanites, of course, were the Old Testament
people who were driven from the Promised Land because
of their extreme wickedness. By Jesus' time, the
descendants of the Canaanite tribes were a culture of
merchants and seafarers. They were Gentiles not known
for being religious. The Jews considered them unclean,
and the fact that they called them "Canaanites" expressed
a measure of contempt. This was simply not a region
where the typical Jewish religious leader would take his
disciples for a vacation. But that made it a place where
Jesus might go to get away for a time from the incessant
conflicts with the Pharisees and the pressing demands
from crowds of curious and needy people who followed
Psalm 131 12
him everywhere. Here, at least He could have some peace
Or so it seemed, until this woman showed up.
She was continually "crying," and the word in the
Greek text means "to cry out." She may have been
weeping as well, but the stress here is on the volume, not
the tears. She is shouting to Jesus at a volume intended to
penetrate the walls of the house. It was the kind of
howling, high-volume shriek that is hard to hear and
grates on your nerves. And although the disciples were
apparently tasked with guarding Jesus' solitude, they
finally interrupted to beg Him to respond to this woman.
Verse 23: "And his disciples came and begged him, saying,
'Send her away, for she is crying out after us.'"
Jesus' response-including His initial lack of any
response whatsoever-is what might strike you as most
remarkable about this scene. Yet there's something even
more remarkable here, and that's what I want you to see.
But first, we need to work our way through the narrative.
There are three stages in Jesus' dealing with this
woman, and all three show us Jesus in a totally
uncharacteristic light. Follow with me as we work our
way through this text, and let's consider each stage in
Jesus' shocking interaction with this woman.
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 13
1. STAGE ONE: HE SEEMS TO DISREGARD HER
Jesus' initial response to this woman's pleas is total
silence. Verse 23: "But he did not answer her a word."
Augustine famously says of this text, "He who was the
Word spoke not a word."
The only other time we find Jesus refusing to answer
is when he is put on trial. Matthew 27:12-14:
But when he was accused by the chief priests and
elders, he gave no answer.
13 Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many
things they testify against you?"
14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single
At least seven times Scripture tells us that when He was
charged by those who finally crucified Him, "he opened
not his mouth." But whenever needy people sought relief
or healing, no one was more responsive than Jesus. This
is the only time we are ever told that anyone's pleas for
deliverance were met with silence.
And yet, this is a more common experience than we
might deduce from the gospel narratives, isn't it? For
reasons that we know are good and gracious, God
sometimes delays His answers to our prayers. Jesus
Himself taught that although God always hears and
Psalm 131 14
answers our prayers, we need to be persistent in praying.
He told parable in Luke 11:5-9 to illustrate that very
Which of you who has a friend will go to him at
midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves,
6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I
have nothing to set before him';
7 and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me;
the door is now shut, and my children are with me in
bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'?
8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him
anything because he is his friend, yet because of his
impudence he will rise and give him whatever he
9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek,
and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.
Keep asking, and seeking, and knocking, even if the
answer doesn't come immediately. There's another
parable in Luke 18:1-5 with a similar lesson. Mark your
place here in Matthew 15, and let's look at this passage
together. Luke 18. Verse 2:
In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared
God nor respected man.
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 15
3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming
to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my
4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to
himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man,
5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will
give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by
her continual coming.'"
The lesson, as Jesus goes on to give it, is that God is not
like that unjust judge. He answers not merely because we
persist, but because He loves both justice and mercy. He
is eager to answer. Here's the postscript to the parable of
the unjust judge. Jesus says (verses 6-8),
Hear what the unrighteous judge says.
7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to
him day and night? Will he delay long over them?
8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.
And yet, despite this reassurance of God's willingness to
answer our prayers speedily, it does seem to us
sometimes as if our prayers are met with silence. You see
an example of this in the experience of Elijah. In the
contest with the Baal-priests, when he prayed for fire
from above, the answer came immediately. Yet later that
same day, when he prayed for rain to break the drought,
he repeated the prayer six times before he saw any
Psalm 131 16
answer at all. Furthermore, the seventh time he prayed,
the only sign that God had heard his prayer came in the
form of a tiny cloud the shape and size of a man's hand.
God's timing sometimes seems slow to us. Remember,
according to 2 Peter 3:8, "a thousand years [is to the Lord]
as one day." And Ecclesiastes 3:11 says "[God makes]
every thing beautiful in his time." His timing is always
perfect, but to us the answers can seem awfully slow in
coming. It sometimes feels like the Lord is responding to
us with cold silence, when in fact He is simply awaiting
the perfect time. We are prone to get impatient and
frustrated, and Jesus knew that.
What's the proper response? Same as Elijah. Keep
praying. The Lord loves faith that perseveres. He wants
us to be persistent. In fact, look once more at this parable
Jesus told about widow who pestered the unjust judge.
We saw at the end of the parable, how Jesus reminds His
disciples that God is nothing like this selfish magistrate;
He delights to answer our prayers speedily. Usually the
last line of any parable will give you the best clue about
its central lesson.
That's not the case here. The main lesson of this story
is given in verse 1: "He told them a parable to the effect that
they ought always to pray and not lose heart." The parable
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 17
is an encouragement to be persistent in prayer. The old
term for this is importunity. To be importunate means to
be persistently demanding. That's the dictionary
definition. Keep askingCand the implication is that when
the answer is delayed, we should repeat our requests with
increasing urgency. Importunity in prayer is commended
in Scripture. When it seems like God is ignoring our
pleas, we the right response is importunity rather than
impatience. Keep asking.
That's exactly what the desperate mother in our text
didCso much that it grated on the ears of the disciples.
Back to Matthew 15. Verse 22. She kept crying out,
"'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." The longer Jesus stays silent, the more shrill her
repeated pleas began to sound. That motivated the
disciples to intercede on her behalf (not necessarily out of
compassion but mainly to get rid of the annoyance).
Second half of verse 23: "His disciples came and begged
him, saying, 'Send her away, for she is crying out after us.'"
So now they are the ones begging. And don't
misunderstand this: it wasn't that they wanted Jesus to
shoo her away or make her go away without responding
to her plea. They could have done that if that was what
Psalm 131 18
they wanted. They were probably thinking much like the
unrighteous judge in that parable: Give her what she
wantsCif for no other reason, just to shut her up. Only
Jesus could give what she wanted, so the disciples took
the case to Him.
In effect, their prayersCtheir earnest pleas to Christ for
peace and quietCjoin in agreement with her prayers for
mercy. Now it's a group petition. And amazingly, Jesus
still does not respond with an immediate yes. That brings
us to the next stage of this drama. Stage one: he seems
to disregard her.
2. STAGE TWO: HE SEEMS TO DISCOURAGE HER
Jesus' reply to the disciples' request is even more
stunning and unexpected than his silence in the face of
the woman's pleading. Verse 24: "He answered, 'I was sent
only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'" As if the
silence weren't cold enough, He now responds with what
appears to be outright rejection.
Now, what Jesus said was perfectly true. His primary
mission was to the nation of Israel. He had come as their
promised Messiah. In almost identical words, when He
called the disciples and sent them out on their first
mission in Matthew 10:5-6, He told them: "Go nowhere
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 19
among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but
go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He was
coming as Israel's king, the rightful occupant of David's
throne. And His duty as shepherd to the Lord's people
was first to call the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
Romans 1:16: "The gospel . . . is the power of God for
salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first." And
Jesus was still in that phase of His ministry, announcing
the kingdom to Israel. So Jesus was speaking truthfully
here. This was not a gratuitous insult, but an honest
declaration about what He was called to do.
Still, it's not a truth suited to encourage this woman.
Spurgeon says Jesus "announce[d] to her a fact which
could not possibly assist or strengthen her faith."
Specifically, he brought up the subject of election. More
on that later.
But I love this: that statement from JesusCwhich
probably would have come across as a snub or a cold
shoulder to the average personCdid not faze this woman
at all. The typical person might have turned away or
replied with coarse words and angry accusations. She
saw it as an open door.
Perhaps it was literally an open door. The disciples
probably had to open the door to the place of seclusion in
Psalm 131 20
order to receive Jesus' answer to their message. She
ignores the message and seems to push past the disciples
who were acting as Jesus' bodyguardsCright into the
house where Jesus was. She falls at Jesus' feet. Verse 25:
"But she came and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, help
It's the same plea she has been making, now
abbreviated into the fewest possible words: "Lord, help
me." The scene is full of pathos. Unless you are totally
inhuman, there's no way to picture this in your mind
without feeling profound empathy for this poor woman.
And although Jesus is God, He was not inhuman. He
was a perfect humanCa thousand times more
tender-hearted and empathetic than anyone you have ever
known. And you see this clearly every other time in
Scripture when anyone falls at His feet. Even in Luke 7,
when a woman of ill repute anoints His feet and has
nothing but her hair to wipe them with, the Pharisees
were disgusted. But Jesus showed her the ultimate
compassion. He forgave her sin completely, to the
chagrin of those self-righteous Pharisees.
Then just one chapter later, Luke 8:41, Jairus falls at
Jesus' feet and implores him to come heal his dying
daughter. Jesus responds immediately. And while He is
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 21
on the way to Jairus's house, a woman who had been
ceremonially unclean for twelve long years touched the
hem of His garment. Any Pharisee would have cursed
and condemned her for what they deemed to be a defiling
touch. But Scripture says, "When the woman saw that she
was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before
him declared in the presence of all the people why she had
touched him, and how she had been immediately healed."
Jesus' response to that woman was immediate, and
tender-hearted: "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go
In Luke 10, Jesus commends Mary for sitting at His
feet when Martha wanted Him to scold her for not doing
her part to serve. In short, Jesus never rebuffed anyone
who fell at his feet.
Now we reach stage three, and this is the most
shocking part of this surprising drama. To review: Stage
oneCHe seems to disregard her. Stage two: He seems to
discourage her. NowC
Psalm 131 22
3. STAGE THREE: HE SEEMS TO DISRESPECT HER
When the woman, kneeling at Jesus' feet, finally begs
Him to His face: "Lord, help me," His reply sounds like a
deliberate insult. Throughout this entire subplot, Jesus
has given every appearance of icy indifference toward
this poor woman. His first response is cold silence. Then
He gives her a cold shoulder. Now He responds with a
cold putdownCor so it appears. Verse 26: "And he
answered, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and
throw it to the dogs.'"
Dogs, of course, were considered unclean animals. In
Old Testament times, no one would have a pet dog. By
the first century, dogs had been domesticated, and
Romans often kept them as pets. I've seen a mosaic in the
floor of a home uncovered when Pompeii was dug out of
the volcanic ash. It's a picture of a dog on a leash with the
words "cave canem"CLatin for "Beware the Dog."
Similar warning signs, I understand, were common in
Pompeii. There are also plaster casts of dogs that died in
the disaster, and you can still see that the dogs had
collars, indicating they were household pets.
One other point here: When Jesus answers this
woman, he uses the diminutive form of the Greek word
for "dogs." It communicates the idea of small dogsClap
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 23
dogs; pet dogs. That mitigates the insult somewhat, but
most people would still say it's not politically correct to
compare a desperate woman to a dog.
In fact, there are those who would make this a point of
major controversy. I found an article about this passage
from August 2011 in that bastion of political correctness,
The Huffington Post. The article is written by a woman
whose bio says she is an ordained Lutheran minister, and
she basically treats Jesus as an unenlightened bigot. In
her account, the woman is the teacher and the hero of the
story. In the end, she says, "Jesus saw and heard a fuller
revelation of God in the voice and in the face of the
Canaanite woman." She claims Jesus was forever
changed by this encounter. She actually uses these words:
"Jesus finally heard and came to believe." It's one of the
worst pieces of Bible butchery I have ever encountered
from someone who claims to be a minister. If you can
read Matthew's gospel and come to that conclusion, your
reading comprehension skills are pathetic.
It's true that likening her to a dog comes across as an
insult. But notice that the Canaanite woman herself didn't
take it that way at all. She doesn't argue the point,
become indignant, or even disagree with the
Psalm 131 24
characterization. In fact, she affirms it! She agrees with
I love how the King James Version translates her
reply. Verse 27: "And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs
eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." She
affirms what he just said: "Truth, Lord." Here's an example
of why I don't particularly like the NIV. They make it
sound as if she is disagreeing with Jesus. Here's the NIV
(verses 26-27: "[Jesus] replied, 'It is not right to take the
children's bread and toss it to the dogs.' 'Yes it is, Lord,' she
said. 'Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their
master's table.'" They make it sound like she contradicts
That's not how the conversation went at all. And this is
crucial to the point of the story. This is why Jesus
commends her faith at the end. She freely affirmed the
truth of what He said: "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the
crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Or, as the ESV
has it: "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall
from their masters' table." There is a confession of faith
implied in her words. Jesus called her a dog, and she
barks in agreement!
This is an amazing exchange! She doesn't argue or
contradict Him; she simply keeps pressing her case.
Nothing he has said or done can deter her. Not his
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 25
silence; not His apparent rejection; not even this barbed
comment. She absorbs what he says and interacts with it,
pressing the point. She doesn't deny or take offense at
His classification of her as a dog. Like the publican in
Luke 18:13 who "[stood] far off [and] would not even lift up
his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be
merciful to me, a sinner!'" This woman is confessing her
own uncleanness. She makes no self-defense. She just
pleads for mercy.
She seems to have at least a rudimentary grasp of
common grace. Jesus had brought up the doctrine of
election: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of
Israel." They are the chosen people.
She wasn't even stymied by that. In fact, she seemed to
understand the principle of Psalm 145:9: "The LORD is
good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made."
That's the doctrine of common grace. God's mercies
extend beyond the elect. There is no creature under
heaven that has not benefitted from the mercy, kindness,
and longsuffering of God. Verse 16 of that same psalm
(145): "You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every
living thing." If she wasn't one of the chosen people, she
could still plead the mercy of God. That shows amazing
faith on her part.
Psalm 131 26
This woman also knew Jesus' messianic title. Perhaps
she knew other truths from the Old Testament as well.
Like Psalm 86:5: "God [is] full of compassion, and
gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth."
And I love the way she picks up on Jesus' imagery.
She paints a perfect word-picture of the principle of
common grace: "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall
from their masters' table." A scrap of divine grace was all
she wanted. Surely this was no unreasonable request.
And in the final verse of our text, Jesus responds by
removing the mask of aloofness. It was a mask all along.
He knew what He was doing, and there was a strategy to
John 2:25 says Jesus "needed no one to bear witness
about man, for he himself knew what was in man." And in
John 16:12, near the end of the Upper Room discourse,
Jesus tells His disciples, "I still have many things to say to
you, but you cannot bear them now." So He clearly knew
what this woman could bear, and He simply took this
opportunity to put faith on display, mainly, I think, for
the instruction of the disciples. And it's recorded here for
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 27
So we see, after all, that Jesus won't break the bruised
reed or quench the smoking flax. This woman was no
In fact, Jesus pays her a profound compliment that
might have made even the leading figures among the
Twelve a little bit jealous. Remember that Jesus often
chided them about the smallness of their faith. He would
frequently say to them, "O ye of little faith." He said it just
before he stilled the storm in Matthew 8: "Why are you
afraid, O you of little faith?" He said it in the chapter before
our text, when Peter began to walk on water but started
sinkingCMatthew 14:31: "O you of little faith, why did you
doubt?" He'll say it again one chapter after this encounter
with the Canaanite woman, when the disciples forgot to
bring lunch and Jesus catches them "discussing it among
themselves, saying, 'We brought no bread.'" Matthew 16:8:
"But Jesus, aware of this, said, 'O you of little faith, why are
you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no
"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" That's what he
says to His leading disciples. By contrast, this woman
shows no doubt whatsoever. And Jesus' answer in
Matthew 15:28 is one of the most profound words of
commendation He ever gave anyone. He answers her
Psalm 131 28
prayer, too: "Then Jesus answered her, 'O woman, great is
your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.' And her
daughter was healed instantly."
This is an amazing story, and she is an amazing
woman. As far as we know from the biblical record, she
is the only person Jesus ministered to on this trip to the
region of Tyre and Sidon. In the eternal plan of God, she
was the real reason Jesus went there in the first place.
The rest and refreshment were merely temporal benefits.
One believing soul is of eternal value. And this story is a
beautiful reminder that the good shepherd will always
"leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the
one that is lost, until he finds it."
I find this woman admirable for three outstanding
reasons: The thickness of her skin. The tenacity of her
faith. And the persistence of her praying. These are rare
qualities in the church, even today. They were clearly
unusual qualities in Jesus' time as well.
She had an amazing capacity for doctrinal
understanding and moral clarity as well. You see that in
the fact that she wasn't stymied by the doctrine of
election. She seemed to grasp the principle of divine
grace. She knew and affirmed truth when she heard
itCeven those hard truths that seemed to put her in a
The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 29
difficult spot. We never once hear her try to make any
argument against the truthCtrying to deny the
inconvenient truths. She saw with the eyes of faith that
God's mercy doesn't nullify His truthCand vice versa.
She understood that divine delays are not the same as
In short, she laid hold of God's grace by faith and
refused to let go. Her persistence was proof of her faith.
She's one of only two people whom Jesus commended
for the greatness of their faith. The other was a Gentile as
wellCthe centurion whom we meet in Matthew 8 and
Luke 7. There, in Matthew 8:10, Jesus says of the
centurion, "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found
I said at the start that there's one thing in this story that
is much more amazing than the way Jesus treats this
woman. Her faith is what's truly amazing. She is a
Gentile from a pagan land. But faith like hers was rare,
even in Israel, among the chosen people. That's one of
the key lessons here, and it's and the reason Matthew,
writing for a Jewish audience, makes this story so
The whole account parallels in many ways the story of
Elijah, who sought refuge from Ahab in the attic of a
Psalm 131 30
woman who lived in this same region. Jesus makes that
point in Luke 4:25-27:
There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah,
when the heavens were shut up three years and six
months, and a great famine came over all the land,
26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to
Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a
27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of
the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed,
but only Naaman the Syrian.
Here, God chose this lone Canaanite woman to be the
recipient of saving grace, and she exhibited a degree of
faith that was unheard of in Galilee and Judah. She stands
as a rebuke to the multitudes in Israel who had such weak
faith. She is a rebuke even to the disciples, because their
faith was comparatively small and fragile.
She is a rebuke to you and me as well, because of the
ease with which we grow discouraged and stop
prayingCeven though we know God has promised to
answer if we don't lose faith. She's a reminder that we
should pray without ceasing. Our prayers should be
persistent, and earnest, and offered relentlessly, with
stubborn tenacity, because that is the kind of faith that