“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
In the three-and-a-half years of ministry of Jesus, he had met plenty of people who were seeking (or whom needed) his healing power. We are not witnesses of how these events happened, therefore we can only rely on the Bible to find out. When Jesus met these people, he usually took the initiative, or in other cases he was very obliging to their pleas. Not so in the case of this Canaanite woman, as depicted in this chapter and also in Mark 8:28. This incident reflected the character of this poor woman. Humility, faith, courage and so much more. At the moment she said that, she became a woman richer than any other mortal. Not in physical wealth, but certainly in all other aspects. In this study, we will examine the astounding faith of this Canaanite woman, and at the same time, consider why Jesus was so strict with her initially.
There has been many takes on why Jesus said what he did, but in this study we’re going to bypass all that (it will take too long to go into that) and just reflect on the woman’s answer – and through the woman’s answer, we may perhaps find a hint or two of why Jesus said that too.
“Yes it is, Lord,” – In this answer alone I think essays can be written about this Canaanite woman. Firstly, she agreed with Jesus when he said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” – What was she agreeing with? There has been a lot of different takes on why Jesus said that – some believe that through this incident Jesus had learnt from the faith of the Canaanite woman and gained a breakthrough from his own prejudices; some believe that Jesus was just telling her to wait; some believe that Jesus was testing the Canaanite woman; others believe that Jesus was teaching the disciples a lesson through the Canaanite woman. It doesn’t matter which point of view or interpretation of the tale you choose to accept – though some are indeed more dubious than others – but the main point here, surely, is that immense faith of the woman – a woman who’s not even a Jew, who’s not even supposed to understand this Lord of the Jews at all. The imagery used by Jesus was harsh – but this woman had the faith that even if she is a dog, she sees herself as Jesus’ dog, able to receive the blessings from God.
Secondly, by saying ‘yes’, she was saying so many things. She willingly accepts that she is like a dog when compared to the Jews, who are the children of the master. I would assume that it’s rather derogatory to call someone a dog in most cultures, but the term here used refers to a house pet, more like a beloved puppy than a worthless dog. Still, it’s a fact that Jesus compared her to a dog, thus it is even more amazing that this woman had enough humility to not be insulted, not be upset, not be stunned – but she was so humble that she was able to respond wisely to it. By saying yes, this woman showed that she understood that the ‘crumbs’ were first meant for the Jews, then for the Gentiles. By saying yes, this woman showed that she understood that Jesus will first minister to the Jews, then to the Gentiles. By saying yes, this woman understood why Jesus ignored and rejected her.
Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table – This line begins with ‘yet’ or ‘but’ in most translations, and underlined this woman’s courage in challenging the words of the one whom she called ‘Lord’. Thirdly, by saying this, she showed not only faith, but also immense understanding of the nature of her Lord and the nature of the work that He has undertaken. She understood enough to have the faith that she was not beyond the blessings of Christ. She understood enough to know that despite not being a Jew, despite being a Canaanite, she too, was entitled to the grace and the mercy of the Lord. Furthermore, she had enough faith to believe that the crumbs that fell from the table of Jesus is more than enough for her and her daughter. That Jesus just had to spare a little bit of his power to heal her daughter. Remember another incident, where a woman touched Jesus’ cloak and got healed [Matthew 9:20-22]? It is very similar here. These women had the faith that Jesus’ power was so great that he can heal and save others without having to exert himself. Even the spare crumbs of Christ – unwanted, leftover, and overlooked – is enough for her. I point you to the next episode in the same chapter, where Jesus fed four thousand. They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over [Matthew 15:37]. The crumbs that Jesus left behind was enough to fill seven baskets. Surely the Canaanite woman was justified in her belief that even the crumbs of Jesus alone was more than enough for her!
In all of his three-and-a-half years of ministry, through all the great works and miracles that he performed, Jesus had only commended two people for their great faith. The centurion in Matthew 8 [Matthew 8:10] and this Canaanite woman [Matthew 15:28] – it is interesting to note that neither of them were Jews. It’s not that Jesus had never commended the Jews for their faith, although I seem to remember Jesus reprimanding them (especially the disciples) for their lack of faith more oftenly [Matthew 14:31|Article, Matthew 16:8, Matthew 17:20]. I refer you back to the story of the bleeding woman and how she touched the cloak of Jesus and was healed. She was commended for her faith, but Jesus did not use the term ‘great faith’ as he did to the centurion and the Canaanite woman. I’m assuming she’s a Jew, and she could be not, but this is just an example, amongst others [eg Matthew 9:2, Matthew 9:29], to show that the Jews did have faith in Jesus too. What’s the difference between ‘faith’ and ‘great faith’, then? Probably none in terms of their degree of faith; and probably merely a testament and an acknowledgement on the part of Jesus. An acknowledgement for them who were not Jews and yet were still able to believe in Jesus as much as the most faithful of the Jews. That’s what I would like to think, at least. Amazing, is it not, that it would be a Gentile woman whose faith was made an example of to the disciples. It was a Gentile man whose faith was proclaimed to be the greatest in Israel [Matthew 8:10].
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known God. It doesn’t matter if you were born in a Christian environment. In terms of faith, background holds no value. Time adds to nothing substantial in faith. Do not let anything hinder your belief in God’s grace. Always be faithful, even if you are a new believer. Always be humble, even if you’ve been a Christian for 50 years. Always look to God and know how powerful he is, no matter who you are.
After all, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.