Markby Robert M. Solomon
While Jesus ministered largely in Galilee and Judea, within the traditional borders of Israel, He also ministered in Gentile areas. This time He stepped across the border to the region of Tyre and Sidon, both Gentile cities. He entered a house secretly (v. 24). Why? Was it a Gentile home? As Gentiles were considered unclean, Jews were not to mix with them or enter their houses, lest they too become defiled. If Jesus visited a Gentile home covertly, it meant that He was now breaking down the walls that divided Jew from Gentile, without however creating an unnecessary stumbling block for pious Jews who might have objected to His actions. Later, after He had completed His mission at the cross and when the Spirit had been given to the church, He would guide Peter to do the same-to cross the boundary between Jews and Gentiles with God's inclusive grace (Acts 10:9-48).
A deeply troubled Gentile Syrophoenician woman came to Jesus and fell at His feet, begging Him to drive out a demon from her little daughter (vv. 25-26). In His answer (v. 27), Jesus appeared to be rather harsh. He differentiated the Jews (″children″) from the Gentiles (″dogs″). Matthew 15:24 elaborates further, stating that Jesus indicated that He was sent ″only to the lost sheep of Israel″. The Jews considered dogs to be unclean animals and habitually called Gentiles ″dogs″ in a derogatory sense. It is noteworthy that Jesus did not use the usual slur here, but instead a term meaning ″little dogs″ (or pet dogs)-William Barclay observes that ″Jesus took the sting out of the word″.6
This was a test for the woman, and she passed with flying colours. She agreed with Jesus, ″Yes, Lord″. She called Him Lord and included herself as one of His subjects. She added that ″even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs″ (v. 28). She humbly persisted in her supplication. Jesus was greatly impressed with her, and told her: ″For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter″ (v. 29). Matthew 15:28 further elaborates on Jesus' response: ″Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.″ He commended her for her ″great faith″ and granted her heart-felt and humble request. Here is an example of exorcism from a distance, underlining the Lord's amazing authority. The Lord's ministry was now touching the lives of Gentiles, something that would become clearer and more extensive in the days to come, after He had appointed Paul to be His missionary to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15).
6William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark, rev. ed. (Westminster: John Knox Press, 2001), 402-403.
God called Abraham to bless him so that all peoples on earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:2). Why did the Jews fail to realise that God intended to bless non-Jews too (Isaiah 19:25; 56:6-7)? How did Jesus correct this?
Why did Jesus say that the woman had ″great faith″? How does the Lord test us so that we may display such great faith? Can you remember a moment like this in your own experience?