Matthew 15:21-28

Sermon preached on September 10, 2006 by Laurence W. Veinott. © Copyright 2006. All rights reserved. Other sermons can be found at

"You got so fat I almost didn't know you."

No one has ever said that to me. (Not that they didn't have reason to.) But I have heard that it has been said to people. It's not a very nice thing to say. I think if someone did say it to me, my reaction would be,

"Well, I wish had had gotten even fatter so that you wouldn't have recognized me at all. That way I wouldn't have to bear your insult."

What's the worst insult you've ever received? I know when Marg got her job, we viewed it as a gift from God because there were other people who were ahead of her, who were certified by New York State, who would have gotten the job if God hadn't arranged it so that they were put in other places. But when someone else heard about it, he tried to make a joke and he said,

"How does it feel to know they've scraped the bottom of the barrel?"


I can't think of the biggest insult I have ever received. There have been so many! (And many of them deserved.) But I do remember one that I was most shocked and surprised at. It was about 20 years ago and I was in Nova Scotia preaching for a church that didn't have a minister. I was doing it for free, just trying to help them out. After the service on Sunday they asked me if I would sit in on the session meeting they were having on Monday night. I said that I would and assumed that they might want my advice on some matters they were dealing with. But as soon as the meeting started one of them turned to me and said,

"Larry, you've been weighed in the balances and found wanting."

I couldn't believe it. Apparently they didn't like the sermon I had preached—one of the main reasons was because I had used some illustrations and tried to apply God's truth. They told me that illustrations shouldn't be used in preaching and that it was the Holy Spirit's job to apply God's truth to people's lives. I think they were a bit off.

It's no fun to be insulted, whether it's deserved or not. What's the biggest insult you've ever received? Have you ever been called a 'dog'? If you were called a 'dog', how would you react?

It's noteworthy that that's what Jesus called this Canaanite woman and her daughter. When she came to Him and begged that He heal her daughter, He said,

"It is not right to take the children's bread
and toss it to their dogs."

What a response! What Jesus said was most surprising. If I didn't know this story and someone told me the first part of it, about the woman and her daughter and how she came to Jesus—and asked me to fill in how I thought it would end, I would have thought of how Jesus reacted when people were bringing the little children to Him. You'll remember that His disciples started to rebuke the people and forbade them to bring the children to Jesus. But Jesus corrected His disciples and said, (Matthew 19:14)

"Let the little children come to me,
and do not hinder them,
for the kingdom of heaven belongs
to such as these."

Then Jesus placed His hands on the children and blessed them.

That's how I would have expected this story to develop. But it develops quite differently. Even though she is most desperately calling out for help—Jesus at first ignores her. When His disciples ask Him to grant her request (likely) and send her away, Jesus refuses. He tells them that He has been sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. When she comes and throws herself at His feet and begs Him to help her—He rebuffs her.
Gene R. Smillie writes, [JETS 45:1 (March 2002) p. 95]

"His words, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel' (v. 24), seem cold and harsh. His subsequent refusal sounds insulting."

This most unusual story contains many valuable lessons for us.

The first thing I want you to see is that

you and I are sinners who do not deserve God's love or compassion.

Jesus referred to the Canaanite woman and her daughter as dogs. They were Gentiles, not of the Jewish race. James R. Edwards writes, (Pillar Commentary, Mark)

"The reference to the woman as a dog ranks among the most offensive sayings of Jesus. How is it to be understood? … 'almost all OT passages . . . illustrate the loathing that devout Israelites felt toward dogs.' Dogs were associated with uncleanness because they ate garbage, carrion, and corpses (Exod 22:31; 1 Kgs 21:23; 22:38; 2 Kgs 9:36). Likewise, the expression was a term of opprobrium for people judged worthless and dispensable (1 Sam 24:15; 2 Sam 16:9; Isa 56:10). In the NT its contemptuous force is scarcely mitigated. Jesus warns against entrusting what is sacred to dogs (Matt 7:6), he describes human wretchedness in terms of a street mongrel licking the sores of a beggar (Luke 16:21), and Paul refers to his opponents as dogs (Phil 3:2). In the rabbinic tradition 'dog' remained a term of reproach, referring to 'the most despicable, insolent, and miserable of creatures.' It was in this opprobrious sense that 'dog' was applied to Gentiles. The metaphor was common and varied in rabbinic speech, a fit description in the minds of Jews for Gentiles who were regarded as ignorant, godless, and pagan idolaters. 'The peoples of the world are like dogs,' declared the rabbis."

Surprisingly, Jesus used this term in reference to the woman and her daughter. Some commentators like Leon Morris, suggest that although Jesus' words seem harsh, his tone and mannerism conveyed just the opposite. He writes,

"The expression is apparently a harsh one, but, as Barclay reminds us, 'The tone and the look with which a thing is said make all the difference. Even a thing which seems hard can be said with a disarming smile. We can call a friend 'an old villain', or 'a rascal', with a smile and a tone which takes all the sting out of it and which fills it with affection. We can be quite sure that the smile on Jesus' face and the compassion in his eyes robbed the words of all insult and bitterness' (pp. 134–35)."

But I'm not at all sure that is correct as it doesn't seem to fit in the context. The scene is one of desperation for the woman. She's crying out like a mad woman. Morris writes,

"That she shouted probably means that she was agitated and spoke in an excitable way, while the imperfect tense indicates that she kept shouting. She said, 'Have mercy on me'; or perhaps we should translate, 'Take pity on me.'"

Her daughter, she said, was (Morris)

"wickedly demon-possessed,"

I can't picture Jesus smiling. He ignored her and her pleas for pity and help. It got so bad that the disciples came and urged Him to send her away, because she was such a bother. Some view it as likely that implicit in their words was a request to give her what she wanted. Leon Morris writes,

"we should bear in mind that they do not say that Jesus should do nothing for her and that their words could, and probably should, be understood in the sense 'Give her what she wants and send her off!' Cf… They wanted to be rid of the woman and her embarrassing noise, but there is no indication that they did not want her daughter to be healed. This is supported by the fact that the disciples had never seen Jesus turn away anyone genuinely seeking his help; they would not have expected him to do it now."

But Jesus does not respond as they expect. He refuses to help and said,

"I was sent
only to the lost sheep of Israel."

The woman was pitiful and her plight was great. But Jesus said that His mission was not to her. He refused to help.

At this point the woman gets even more desperate and comes and knells before Jesus. She pleads with Him. But Jesus remains adamant. Literally, He says that it would not be 'good' to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs. Gene R.
Smillie writes, ("Even The Dogs": Gentiles In The Gospel Of Matthew)

"When she throws herself at his feet and pleads with him for help, he responds by uttering the seemingly dismissive rejoinder that it would be wrong—almost unethical—to do so. It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs (v. 26)."

So I do not believe Jesus is smiling. He is deadly serious. In light of His mission to the Jews, He says it would not be right for Him to hear her.

If Jesus was smiling and saying this in a gentle manner the woman's faith would not have been that remarkable. Her great faith is central to the story. Her faith was great—
firm in the face of very daunting circumstances. Her faith is like that of the centurion's—another Gentile, about whom Jesus said, (Matthew 8:10)

"I tell you the truth,
I have not found anyone in Israel
with such great faith."

This woman's faith was like that. It was great in the face of very discouraging circumstances, some of those relating to the reaction of Jesus' Himself. It was because her faith was so great that Jesus finally granted her request.

Why was Jesus so unresponsive? Why was He so insulting to the woman and her daughter? I believe one of the reasons was that He was showing that

in ourselves, none of us has a right to God's love and compassion.

James R. Edwards writes,

"An encounter between this woman and a scribe or Pharisee would be hard to imagine in the 'tradition of the elders.' Of all the people who approach Jesus in the Gospel of Mark, this individual has the most against her from a Jewish perspective. V. 26 reads like a crescendo of demerit: she is a woman, a Greek Gentile, from infamous pagans of Syrian Phoenicia."

Leon Morris,

"She said, 'Have mercy on me'; or perhaps we should translate, 'Take pity on me.' Whichever way we take it, she was not claiming a reward for merit, but looking for a boon for which she could claim no worthiness."

Jesus treatment of her also dramatically shows that she had no right to His love.

Christianity is about grace, about mercy, about God bestowing His love and compassion on those who are unworthy. No sinner has a right or a claim to His love. This is true of the Israelites as well. The first three chapters of Romans shows us that Jews and Gentiles are all sinners and that none of us, in ourselves, have a right to God's love. As
Romans 3:10f says,

"There is no one righteous,
not even one;
there is no one who understands,
no one who seeks God.
All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one."

This woman was a sinner, unworthy of God's love.

The second lesson we see here is that

Jesus is overflowing with love and compassion.

He helped this woman in spite of the fact that she had nothing to commend herself to Him. She was not an Israelite. In a way you could say that He was not sent to her. Yet He granted her request. He healed her daughter.

You who are not Christians need to take this to heart. Jesus is overflowing with love and compassion. Be assured if you go to Him in faith He will accept you. The devil, your own conscience, other people may tell you that you're too bad for Jesus, that you've left it too long, that you're not the type that Jesus would save—and they would all be wrong. Jesus came to save sinners (1 Timothy 1:15) and if you're a sinner you're the exact kind of person Jesus came to save. Go to Him and He will accept you.

The third lesson we see here is also for those who are not Christians. This woman shows you

what kind of faith you need to have.

She recognized that she was unworthy. She accepted what Jesus said. She accepted being called a 'dog'. She recognized that the timing was not right—Jesus, during His earthly ministry, was sent primarily to the Israelites. But none of that stopped her.

She did not let her pride get in the way. When Jesus said this to the Canaanite woman, she could have become very angry. Many people in that situation would utter some oaths and told Jesus where He could go. They would have said,

"You can't talk to me like that!"

But this woman didn't react like that. Her need was too great to allow her pride to get in the way.

This woman saw that her only hope was in Jesus. She trusted in Him. Her faith was solely, exclusively, wholeheartedly in Him.

Fourthly, this passage teaches us about

persistence in prayer.

In spite of His ignoring her, in spite of His telling them that He was not sent to her, in spite of His telling her that it would not be good to take the children's bread and cast it to the dogs—she knew that He was the only One who could help her. Thus she would go nowhere else. She persisted. She knew about Jesus' power, she knew about His goodness—so she put all her hope in Him. John Calvin writes,

"there is no doubt that what inspired her was the faith she had conceived in the goodness of the Messiah."

There's no one like Jesus. Put your trust in Him.

Fifthly, for Christians,

this incident shows us something about God's timing and how He will sent everything right.

We're not sure how long this woman's daughter had been tormented. But what is sure is that she and her mother suffered for awhile under this terrible affliction.

Put yourself in her situation. She wanted immediate relief for her daughter. But for awhile she was unsure it was going to come. If someone with a little theological knowledge was there perhaps he would have told her that she had to wait another year or two until the disciples would be sent to the Gentiles. But Jesus healed her daughter right then and there.

But that was an
anomaly. Very often, those who have faith in Jesus have to be patient and wait for God's timing for the fulfillment of His promise, for His deliverance and relief.

Abraham. He was promised that his children would be like the stars of heaven in number. But for years he was childless, until Sarah was well past childbearing age.

Joseph. He had to wait for God's timing. He went to Egypt and was a slave in Potiphar's house.

Jairus. His daughter was dying. (Mark 5) He went to Jesus and told Him about it. Jesus agreed to go with him to his daughter. But as they were going the crowd pressed against Jesus, and, as you know, a woman who was subject to bleeding secretly touched Jesus' cloak and was healed. Jesus immediately stopped and asked who touched him. There was a commotion and a delay with Jesus asking who had touched him. Can you imagine how Jairus must have felt? If I was him I would have been very impatient, saying,

"Let's get going. It really doesn't matter who touched you. My daughter needs you now."

But Jesus delayed until the woman came forward and owned up to what she had done. Just then a messenger came and informed Jairus that his daughter had died. What do you think Jairus thought of God's timing then?

Lazarus. He was sick. Jesus heard about it. Yet after He heard He waited two days before He started out. When He arrived there, Lazarus was already dead. Both Mary and Martha said to Him, (John 11:21,32)

"Lord, if you had been here,
my brother would not have died."

God's ways are often mysterious. But in every case, Abraham, Joseph, Jairus, Lazarus—their hope in God, in Jesus—was not disappointed. Christians, trust God. Trust Him implicitly, completely, exclusively. Be persistent in prayer. Be hopeful in affliction. Jesus will make everything right. He will bring us to glory.