Jesus Responds

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Matthew 15:26-27 says, “But He answered and said, It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” And she said, “True, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Of the apostles that wrote the gospels, each one of them wanted preserve, teach and report their unique experience; their understanding of the events that took place while they were with Jesus.

For example, all of the gospels refer to Jesus as the Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Man, the Servant of the Lord. Matthew is the only apostle who refers to Jesus as Immanuel, “God with us.”(Matthew 1:23)

And so, Matthew opens his gospel recognizing that in Jesus, God is with us, and he ends the gospel with Jesus saying, “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

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Jesus Was The Truth

In the text I have selected, Matthew records an event that took place between Jesus and a Phoenician women.

The text says, “He answered and said, it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”

Jesus and his apostles were traveling north, away from the city of Jerusalem toward the land of Phoenicia, where the cities of Tyre and Sidon were located. On his way to Tyre and Sidon a women cried out to him.

Matthew 15:22 says, “And behold, a women of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.”

And so, Jesus answered the women, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”  But, why does Jesus refer to the women as a dog, and what does he mean, “Throwing bread to the little dogs.”

First, let me point out that Jews used the word “dog” in the 1st century as way of expressing contempt for other nations and gentiles. Even today, Muslims apply the term “dogs” to Christians; as do Christians and Jews to each other.

The women who cried out to Jesus was “Greek, born in Syro Phoenicia.” The region Jesus was traveling in, i.e., Phoenicia was a commercial center, were religious tolerance and syncretism were the norm.

Cities were heavily influenced by Greek culture and polytheism, which meant people who lived in that area were know as heathens and genitals. The woman was most certainly a genital, who in Jewish culture was referred to as “dogs.”

When Jesus speaks to the women, it becomes evident as we consider the context, that Jesus was trying the woman’s faith.

In Jesus we see the truth; He is a Jew and He addressed the women from a jewish cultural perspective. Jew wanted nothing to do with people like her, and as such she was vilified and equated with dogs.

And in all likelihood the gentile women looked upon the Jews with trepidation and disdain. Yet, the women approached Jesus for help.

Note: In their exchange, let me note the use of irony, and the idea that Jesus’ responded to the women using an ironical quotation, of a jewish saying.

Irony means: “The expression of one’s meaning by using language that normally signifies the opposite, typically for emphatic effect.”

When the women cried out to Jesus, she probably expected to be rebuked and set away.  No doubt, it was not her first encounter with Jews, and being referred to as a “dog.”

There are other times that Jesus refers to gentiles using metaphors and irony. In doing so, it is not to exclude people or call them names, but to communicate using idioms that Jews and Gentiles were familiar with.

Matthew 7:6 says, “Do not give what is holy to the dogs: nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces.”

2 Peter 2:22 says, “But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: A dog returns to his own vomit, and , a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.”

Reflection: Two thinks jump out at me. The first is faith. The women sought out Jesus having internalized that Jesus not only had the ability heal her daughter, but she also had faith that he would heal her.

And so, using a modern day idiom, when Jesus said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs,” she let in go in one ear, and out the other. His words did not shake her faith in His ability and willingness to heal her.

The second is compassion. During Jesus’ time on earth, his purpose was to reveal God, and in Jesus we witnessed God’s compassion. Whether referring to Jews, heathens, or gentiles; there are no instances in the gospel where Jesus was asked for healing and he refused. 

We were created to pursue God’s plan and will for our lives. As such, we are obliged to receive all that He can and will do for us. Exodus 15:26 says, “If you diligently heed the voice of the Lord your God and do what is right in His sight, give ear to His commandments and keep all His statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you which I have brought on the Egyptians. For I am the Lord ‘who heals you.’” 

The scripture embodies the same message embodied in Jesus Christ; i.e., we have an obligation to obey God in all areas of our lives, which includes trusting Him to keep us, to heal us, to save us in times of trouble.

If anyone is sick or in trouble the Bible was written to encourage you to seek God for forgiveness, healing and restoration.

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Faith Gets Rewarded

And so, when Jesus said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.”  The women replied, “True, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

This is the very essence of humility and the epitome of faith. The Syro-Phoenician women asked Jesus for a miracle. Her daughter was possessed by a demon, and she had heard about the miracles He performed.

She cried out to Him, then she knelt  before him, saying, “Lord help me!” And after asking Him several times; Jesus seemly denies her, and said, “It would not be right to give the children’s food to dogs.”

But the women persisted saying,“Even dogs eat food from their master’s table.

Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! ‘Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”

Reflection: One of the lessons I learned from studying this text points to just how much God loves us.  I can’t help but see that God’s love is sensitive to the needs of people beyond family, neighbors and friends. The love of God is sensitive and responsive to the needs of all people.

Jesus responded to the Phoenician women, not because of a change of heart, no, the women’s faith caused Jesus to grant her request. God is Love, and His love knows no boundaries. His love and faithfulness is accessible to everybody who cries out, i.e., calls on the name of His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ.

And, while with His disciples, Jesus instructed them to tell us, “And all things, whatever you ask in prayer, believing, you will receive.” (Matthew 21:22)

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Prayer 

Lord, speak to the hearts of all people everywhere. Speak to them as only you can, assuring them that your love is eternal.  Bless people everywhere to know that you are their Creator, Provider, Redeemer and Savior.

Lord, bless people everywhere to know that You are the God who answers prayers. Anoint their lives with faith, and infuse their faith with love. Bless people everywhere to know that You are Love, and that You are with them; if they only believe.

In Jesus name. Amen