To be sure, this is for all parents. However, I am a mother. I write from that perspective.
The Text: Matthew 15:21-28 (New International Version)
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He 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.”
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Again, The Text: (this time in the New Living Translation):
Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”
But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word. Then his disciples urged him to send her away. “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”
Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.” She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”
“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.” And her daughter was instantly healed.
Context: Jesus had just left a discussion with some Pharisees and teachers of the law (all powerful Jewish religious leaders) in which he had called them hypocrites. He went so far as to say that Isaiah prophesied about them, and he quoted scripture they would have well know: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.” (Isaiah 29:13)
After this confrontation, he left the Jewish territory and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, where he was met by the pleading Canaanite woman (whom we will call the Canaanite mother).
History: Tyre is the region in Phoenicia from which the infamous Jezebel came. Tyre and Sidon are often grouped together, perhaps because they lie just a few miles apart. By calling this mother a Canaanite, Matthew indicates that she is a descendent of those ancient and bitter enemies which Israel had conquered.
1. By crying out to Jesus and calling him, “Lord, Son of David!” she indicates her understanding that Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah of Israel (as prophesied in II Samuel 7:14-16). It is clear that by this point in His ministry, Jesus’ reputation had spread beyond the borders of Jerusalem and the Jewish territory. She knows Jesus holds the power to heal her child, and she is desperate enough to beg Him to do it.
2. The Cananite mother is a Gentile, an ancient enemy of the Jews. Jesus clearly states that He was sent to the Jewish people. He has a mission, and she is not it. And yet..
3. “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (v 26) The children indicate the children of Israel. The Greek words that are translated “their dogs” paint a picture of children at a table, while their small dogs, puppies even, wait at their feet. When I learned this, it changed the whole story for me. Jesus is not rebuffing her. He is not telling her that she is unworthy of His time. He is not calling her a dog (as actually would be common from Jew to Gentile). Instead, picture Him gazing down as she bows at His feet. He speaks sweetly, almost teasing her with his words. How will she respond?
Lesson: The Canaanite mother boldly approaches and, perhaps from the outer edges of the throng of surrounding disciples, raises her voice to beg Jesus for mercy. He appears to ignore her, although she is loud and persistent enough to irritate the disciples (v 23). With Jesus, every single thing has purpose, so we have to wonder why he ignores her. It is certainly not for His benefit. By waiting, by seemingly ignoring her, and then by giving her the unsatisfactory response, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” she is forced to either turn away, or to come closer to Him. The NIV says she then, “knelt before him.” The NLT says, “but she came and worshipped him.” He didn’t answer her cry, but still she worshipped Him.
And then, out of her sheer desperation, she continues to beg Him for help. She perseveres.
She worships Him for Who He is.
She worships Him for Who He is.
She keeps on asking, even begging Him, to help her child.
She draws close.
Remember this, friends. Remember that when you approach the Messiah, begging for his help, He may very well tell you no. He may repeatedly tell you no. If He does, please remember the Canaanite mother. Remember that no matter who you are, no matter what your background, even your long-standing position as an enemy of His kingdom…remember that when you draw close (draw close!), and worship Him for Who He is, and persevere, He will look on you with kindness, with tender love. And, I do believe, He will honor your faith.