Scriptures: Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:21-30. It is possible to detect faith in someone. A wise teacher will bring it out of her.
Let’s start off with this verse which forms the background to this startling episode.
He sent out his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave. (Psalm 107:20, NIV)
This is exactly what Jesus is about to do for the demonized daughter.
The translations are mine. I encourage readers to look up many translations at biblegateway.com. I include the Greek text just so I can learn the nuances. Readers may scroll past it if they wish.
Jesus Expels Demon from Canaanite Woman’s Daughter from Distance
|21 Then Jesus went out from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And look! A Canaanite woman from the vicinity came out and cried, saying, “Have mercy on me, son of David! My daughter is badly demonized!” 23 But he did not answer her with a word. His disciples approached and requested of him, saying, “Dismiss her! Because she is calling after us!” 24 In reply, he said to her, “I have not been sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and bowed before him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 But in reply he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the pet dogs.” 27 Then she said, “Yes, Lord, for even the pet dogs eat from the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table!” 28 So in reply, Jesus said to her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you want!” And her daughter was healed at that very moment.||24 From there he set out and departed to the region of Tyre and went into a house and did not want anyone to know, but it was not possible to escape notice. 25 Instead, at that time, a woman, hearing about him, whose little daughter had an unclean spirit, came and fell down at his feet. 26 But the woman was Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. She asked him that he would expel the demon from her daughter. 27 Then he said to her, “First permit the children to be fed, for it is not right to take the bread for children and toss it to the little dogs.” 28 But she replied and said to him, “Lord, even the little dogs under the table eat from the little children’s little crumbs.” 29 So he said to her, “Because of this word, go on your way; the demon has gone out of your daughter. 30 She departed for her home and found the little child lying on the bed, the demon having gone out.|
|21 Καὶ ἐξελθὼν ἐκεῖθεν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἀνεχώρησεν εἰς τὰ μέρη Τύρου καὶ Σιδῶνος. 22 καὶ ἰδοὺ γυνὴ Χαναναία ἀπὸ τῶν ὁρίων ἐκείνων ἐξελθοῦσα ἔκραζεν λέγουσα· ἐλέησόν με, κύριε υἱὸς Δαυίδ· ἡ θυγάτηρ μου κακῶς δαιμονίζεται. 23 ὁ δὲ οὐκ ἀπεκρίθη αὐτῇ λόγον. καὶ προσελθόντες οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ ἠρώτουν αὐτὸν λέγοντες· ἀπόλυσον αὐτήν, ὅτι κράζει ὄπισθεν ἡμῶν. 24 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· οὐκ ἀπεστάλην εἰ μὴ εἰς τὰ πρόβατα τὰ ἀπολωλότα οἴκου Ἰσραήλ. 25 ἡ δὲ ἐλθοῦσα προσεκύνει αὐτῷ λέγουσα· κύριε, βοήθει μοι. 26 ὁ δὲ ἀποκριθεὶς εἶπεν· οὐκ ἔστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ βαλεῖν τοῖς κυναρίοις. 27 ἡ δὲ εἶπεν· ναὶ κύριε, καὶ γὰρ τὰ κυνάρια ἐσθίει ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τῶν κυρίων αὐτῶν. 28 τότε ἀποκριθεὶς ὁ Ἰησοῦς εἶπεν αὐτῇ· ὦ γύναι, μεγάλη σου ἡ πίστις· γενηθήτω σοι ὡς θέλεις. καὶ ἰάθη ἡ θυγάτηρ αὐτῆς ἀπὸ τῆς ὥρας ἐκείνης.||24 Ἐκεῖθεν δὲ ἀναστὰς ἀπῆλθεν εἰς τὰ ὅρια Τύρου. Καὶ εἰσελθὼν εἰς οἰκίαν οὐδένα ἤθελεν γνῶναι, καὶ οὐκ ἠδυνήθη λαθεῖν· 25 ἀλλ’ εὐθὺς ἀκούσασα γυνὴ περὶ αὐτοῦ, ἧς εἶχεν τὸ θυγάτριον αὐτῆς πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον, ἐλθοῦσα προσέπεσεν πρὸς τοὺς πόδας αὐτοῦ· 26 ἡ δὲ γυνὴ ἦν Ἑλληνίς, Συροφοινίκισσα τῷ γένει· καὶ ἠρώτα αὐτὸν ἵνα τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐκβάλῃ ἐκ τῆς θυγατρὸς αὐτῆς. 27 καὶ ἔλεγεν αὐτῇ· ἄφες πρῶτον χορτασθῆναι τὰ τέκνα, οὐ γάρ ἐστιν καλὸν λαβεῖν τὸν ἄρτον τῶν τέκνων καὶ τοῖς κυναρίοις βαλεῖν. 28 ἡ δὲ ἀπεκρίθη καὶ λέγει αὐτῷ· κύριε· καὶ τὰ κυνάρια ὑποκάτω τῆς τραπέζης ἐσθίουσιν ἀπὸ τῶν ψιχίων τῶν παιδίων. 29 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτῇ· διὰ τοῦτον τὸν λόγον ὕπαγε, ἐξελήλυθεν ἐκ τῆς θυγατρός σου τὸ δαιμόνιον. 30 καὶ ἀπελθοῦσα εἰς τὸν οἶκον αὐτῆς εὗρεν τὸ παιδίον βεβλημένον ἐπὶ τὴν κλίνην καὶ τὸ δαιμόνιον ἐξεληλυθός.|
This is a true story about raising a woman’s faith by first reminding her of an ethnic barrier between her and Jesus and then momentarily denying her request, because she was not part of his mission to his fellow Jews. (Matthew’s version in 15:21-28, says that she was a Canaanite, a term bringing up all sorts of bad connotations because of the ancient history between Canaanites and Israelites.) But he must have seen something in this mother to throw down the gauntlet. He must have seen that she would rise to the challenge and overcome.
Now a Canaanite woman, of a pagan religion, in her desperation, broke down the social barriers. Matthew uses the word Canaanite to conjure the false religion of old. Now the miracle and mercy of Jesus will be even more clear.
She may not have known that his mission was to the lost sheep of Israel, not to those outside the covenant. But if she did know, then she didn’t care about it. Her daughter was demonized.
“demonized”: the one verb is translated simply. Here Matthew uses the modifier “badly,” so the attack must have been visible to onlookers. Osborne translates it as “terribly ill, having a demon,” so he sees illness and demonization in this case only, but not to be overgeneralized to every case.
There are two main ways in the Greek NT to express demonic attacks to varying degrees, from full possession to just attacks: “have a demon” and “demonized.” The latter term is used often in Matthew: 4:24; 8:16, 28, 35; 9:32; 12:22; 15:22, but only once in Luke (8:36), and Mark four times (1:32; 5:15, 16, 18). John uses the term once (10:21). In Luke 8:26-39, Luke uses both “have a demon” and “demonized,” so he sees the terms synonymously. “Demonized” comes from the verb daimonizomai (pronounced dy-mo-nee-zo-my), which just adds the suffix –izo to the noun daimōn (pronounced dy-moan). It is a very convenient quality about Greek (English has this ability too: modern to modernize). Just add this prefix to a noun, and it turns into a verb. So it looks like “have a demon” and “be demonized” are synonyms. The context determines how severe the possession was. In this verse it is used generally, without precision as to the depth of possession.
Whatever the case, the answer was the same: deliverance by the power and authority of Jesus.
Jesus puts her off by remaining silent, the first time.
So she turns to the disciples and bothers them. She is shouting at them or calling out to them. One definition of the verb could be screaming. She is raising her voice and a ruckus. She won’t stop. “Help me! Oh, please help me!” she may be saying.
Jesus puts her off again. Jesus plainly spells out his mission. She shouldn’t distract him from it. She was a Canaanite woman.
Her prayer was simple and straightforward. “Lord, help me!”
Jesus puts her off for the third time. He speaks in a brief parable or illustration.
As we shall see in Blomberg’s comment, below, the Greek word is kunarion (pronounced koo-nah-ree-on), and it literally means “little dog” (or plural, as here, “little dogs”). It is contrasted with wild dogs that roamed the streets. However the diminutive ‘little’ Had lost its force in the Greek at this time, so if it is not a full insult, it does push her away. These puppies have access to the children’s table. Yet the term does draw a line between Jews and Gentiles. He said it to elicit from her hunger and desperation. Then she must go beyond those things and call out in faith.
“he said to her”: “to her” is not in the Greek, but the context warrants it. He could, however, have been talking to the disciples, and she overheard him. So she replied anyway. This shows her desperation and hunger. But does she have faith?
This is the third time she calls him “Lord.” She has insight, also calling him “son of David.” Now she answers ironically, which puzzles commentators. First, she acknowledges that his statement has a certain logic to it. “Yes, sir!” “Yes, lord!” But then her affirmation takes an ironic twist, as if she says, “But consider that crumbs slip through children’s little fingers and fall to the floor! Children don’t take the greatest care, do they, my lord? Did you think of that? All I’m asking for are the crumbs, not the whole loaf or a nicely sliced piece! You can feed both the children and a lap dog like me!”
In v. 28 of Matthew’s Gospel … Wow! Jesus must have smiled. He got it out of her! She demonstrated great faith by her riposte (retort) to his third denial. He really was a soft touch, must like a father who gives in to the pleading of his special child. “That girl has me wrapped around her little finger!”
It is possible to detect, by the Spirit, faith surging in someone. Paul saw faith in a man crippled from birth, and the crippled man was healed (Acts 14:9). I believe Jesus saw extraordinary faith in this woman and brought it out of her by momentarily challenging and ignoring her. Yet he knew all along that she would respond with faith.
The woman moved from desperation to faith. She conquered him with her faith. And her faith was demonstrated by her words. Never underestimate the power of spoken words to reveal your faith. Ask God out loud in your prayers.
Jesus Turns a Gentile Mother’s Desperation into Faith
Recall this expanded translation of Matthew 7:7: “Continually ask, and it will be given to you. Continually seek, and you will find. Continually knock on the door, and it will be opened to you.”
She got her answer to prayer that very moment.
“O woman!” This is not an insult. It is equivalent to ma’am or madam. However, I take it also to connote, “Wow, ma’am! You stun me! I’m taken aback!”
This story moves me. It seems that he went up north just for her, because no other miracle is recorded Tyre and Sidon, at this time.
So why was Jesus apparently so harsh and standoffish? We cannot catch the scene fully when we read these words. We have to picture a lively dialogue.
Commentator France insightfully writes
Cold print does not allow us to detect a quizzical eyebrow or a tongue in the cheek, and it may be that Jesus’s demeanor already hinted that his discouraging reply was not to be his last word on the subject. Need we assume that when eventually the woman won the argument, Jesus was either dismayed or displeased? May this not rather have been the outcome he intended from the start? A good teacher may sometimes aim to draw out a pupil’s best insight by a deliberate challenge which does not necessarily represent the teacher’s own view—even if the phrase “devil’s advocate” may not be appropriate to the context! (p. 591)
In other words, Jesus was playing the role of “a wise teacher who allows, and indeed incites, his pupil to mount a victorious argument against the foil of his own reluctance” (France, 591, n. 13). We must not look at this text on the surface. Jesus was simply playing the role of a reluctant teacher to test the hunger of the woman in need, to incite more of her hunger that he saw in her words. She succeeded. The lesson for us: when you seek the Lord with all your heart, you will be found by him (Jer. 29:13). After you demonstrate your hunger, he will give you his good purpose and plans (Jer. 29:11). Our relationship with God in heaven cannot be casual or complacent, so we get what we want by just snapping our fingers. No shortcuts with God, as if he is our cosmic butler. Seek him hard, everyone.
She retorts with a degree of defiance. In effect she says, “Yes, I know we pagan Greeks don’t fit into your mission, and I have heard of the ‘dog’ label before. But I notice you said ‘little dogs,’ so I have hope. I’m pressing in to get my answer for my daughter. Yes, lord, but even the little dogs eat the little crumbs from under the little children’s table. I’m just asking for a small portion of the little crumbs, not even a small piece of bread fed by the hand of the children. Just give me one crumb that falls from the table. Those little crumbs won’t distract you from your mission, surely!” She showed desperation and faith and moxie. God values bold faith that won’t be put off.
And Blomberg says in his comment on this verse:
Jews frequently insulted Gentiles by calling them “dogs,”—the wild, homeless scavengers that roamed freely in Palestine. But the diminutive form here (kynarion rather than kyōn) suggests a more affectionate term for domestic pets, particularly since these dogs eat under the children’s table. Even at best, Jesus’ remarks still strike the modern reader as condescending. Jesus apparently wants to demonstrate and stretch this woman’s faith. The “children” must then refer to Israel and the “bread” to the blessings of God on the Jews, particularly through Jesus’ healing ministry. The woman disputes none of Jesus’ terms but argues that, even granting his viewpoint, he should still help her (v. 27). The Gentiles should receive at least residual blessings from God’s favor on the Jews. In fact, the Old Testament from Gen 12:1–3 onwards promised far more than residue. The woman reveals a tenacious faith even as a Gentile (v. 28). Jesus explicitly commends this faith, closely paralleling the narrative of 8:5–13 (as does also his instantaneous healing from a distance).
This was a true story of how Jesus temporarily withheld an answer to a woman who was not part of his mission, just to draw out from her the faith that he must have perceived in her.
These verses are a good ending to this startling pericope:
12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. 13 You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the Lord, (Jer. 29:12-14, ESV)
Seek him hard, everyone!
Application for Ministry
We can learn our own ministry practice from how Jesus ministered to people. Let me number my points in this section, for clarity and order. I repeat some of the above points here in this section.
1.. It is possible to detect, by the Spirit, faith surging in someone. Paul saw faith in a man crippled from birth, and the crippled man was healed (Acts 14:9).
2.. The woman moved from desperation to faith. She conquered him with her faith. And her faith was demonstrated by her words. Ask God out loud in your prayers.
3.. Recall this expanded translation of Matthew 7:7: “Continually ask, and it will be given to you. Continually seek, and you will find. Continually knock on the door, and it will be opened to you.” Keep seeking the Lord hard for your own deliverance and haling.
4.. It is now obvious that Jesus knew of a Jewish community up in Tyre, and he even knew someone up there, where he could retreat by himself. (Matthew’s version says that the disciples were with him, and they even told him to send her away because she was bothering them.) Now we know why Jesus went up to Tyre and went into a house to escape people’s notice. It’s okay to take a break once in a while, from the crowds. Whose house? We don’t know.
However, he was unable to escape the notice of the people. Which people? One in particular—this foreign woman.
5.. She fell at his feet. This is a desperate mother. She sought him out. He was her only hope. Since she was Greek, any Greek soothsayer must have told her that her daughter was possessed by one of the minor gods, so she should celebrate that divine blessing. She may have approached a Jewish exorcist, and either he did not bother with a Greek, a Gentile woman, or he could not expel it, even for a fee. However, the text is silent about these elements, but they fit the logic of a desperate mother. In any case, this woman knew better. She did not want the “divine blessing” of a minor deity, and she would not take no from this man named Jesus. Do we ever fall at the feet of Jesus? How desperate are we for our needy children?
But we must not gin up desperation when we don’t get the answer we are looking for. Faith is related to trust. And for me, trust is restful. But if your desperation is real, ask god for the gift of faith. Desperation ≠ Faith
Faith in the context of miracles is a gift:
6.. Expelling a demon from a distance is amazing to me. I have not heard of this happening. It may have happened, but I have not heard about it. Let’s pray that this deliverance may occur more and more.
For more commentary on these two passages, please see these chapters:
Scroll down to the right verses.
This is a devotional interpretation to this wonderful pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section of Scripture: