The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer (Phil Johnson)

Matthew 15:21-28   |   Sunday, May 10, 2015   |   Code: 2015-05-10-PJ

This morning I want to look at a singular incident in

the earthly life of Jesus: Matthew 15, starting in verse 21.

Here we meet a desperate mother whose faith is truly

great. We also get a look at Jesus as we have never seen

Him before. The woman has a demon-possessed

daughter, and she seeks Jesus' help for the girl. But in

this instance, the Lord seems uncharacteristically aloof,

abruptCeven apathetic about this poor woman's plight.

This is not how we know Jesus to be.

In fact, if Jesus is known for anything, it is His

gracious compassion for afflicted people. Isaiah 42:3 is a

famous messianic prophecy, quoted verbatim in Matthew

12:20: "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering

wick he will not quench, until he brings justice to victory."

That's a prophetic description of Jesus' tender grace. The

smoldering wick refers to the flax in a lamp when it's

used up and burned out. You can always tell when a

lamp-light is about to expire, because the wick starts

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smoking and smoldering. You would normally snuff it

out, refill the oil in the lamp, trim the burned portion of

the wick away, or put in a whole new wick. A reed in

Scripture is always a symbol of weakness. It was a

hollow stalk from a grasslike plant that grows along the

river bank. A reed is very weak and brittle. But you can

whittle holes in a reed and make a little flute from it.

Shepherds used these to calm the sheep. To this day,

reeds are used to make the part of the mouthpiece in

woodwind instruments. And they wear out easily when

you use them. Clarinet reeds are sold in boxes of ten.

Shepherds' flutes rarely lasted more than a day. And

when they wear out, you simply snap them in two and get

a new one.

So the point of this prophecy ("a bruised reed he will

not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench") is to

show the tender compassion of Christ. He always dealt

with broken and used-up people not by discarding them

but by healing themCby "renew[ing] their strength; [so

that] they [would] mount up with wings like eagles; they

[could] run and not be weary; they [could] walk and not


You see this, for example, when Jesus encounters a

man who is totally insane, living naked in a graveyard,

cutting himself with stones, because his mind and body

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were possessed by a whole legion of demons. Jesus cast

the demons into a herd of two thousand pigs, and in the

very next scene we see that man delivered, "sitting at the

feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind."

That was the way of Jesus. Instead of rejecting or

condemning severely broken people, He delighted in

redeeming them. "For God did not send his Son into the

world to condemn the world, but in order that the world

might be saved through him" (John 3:17). "For the Son of

Man came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).

To Scribes and Pharisees and others "who trusted in

themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with

contempt," Jesus frequently had very harsh and

dismissive words. But to sinners who confessed their

own guilt and sought freedom from sin's bondage and

relief from sin's bitter consequences, Jesus always

offered redemption. And He did it with such grace and

compassion that His enemies scolded Him for being "a

friend of tax collectors and sinners." It was an accusation

He accepted gladly. He came, after all, "to proclaim good

news to the poor. . . . to proclaim liberty to the captives and

recovering of sight to the blind, [and] to set at liberty those

who are oppressed."

When the Pharisees grumbled and challenged Jesus

about being a dinner guest in the homes of notorious

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sinners, Jesus said, "Those who are well have no need of a

physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the

righteous but sinners to repentance." And almost every

time we see Jesus dealing with someone from far outside

the circle of acceptable society, He is tender,

compassionate, friendly, warm, and approachable. In

fact, usually, Jesus is the one who reaches out, like the

woman at the well, or the man who was blind from birth

in John 9. Never do we see Him turning away anyone

who comes for help or healing.

Just a chapter before our text, in Matthew 14:34, we

read that Jesus and His disciples "came to land at

Gennesaret. And when the men of that place recognized him,

they sent around to all that region and brought to him all

who were sick and implored him that they might only touch

the fringe of his garment. And as many as touched it were

made well." Crowds of needy people pressing around

Him, and He always healed them all. Luke 4:40: "All

those who had any who were sick with various diseases

brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of

them and healed them." Matthew 4:24: "They brought him

all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains,

those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and

he healed them." Matthew 12:15: "Many followed him, and

he healed them all."

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That was one of the unique and outstanding

characteristics of Jesus' ministry. He simply did not turn

people away. It didn't matter how loathsome, or guilty, or

socially unacceptable a person was, Jesus always

received those who came to Him seeking mercy. He said,

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will

give you rest." And, "Whoever comes to me I will never cast


So the vignette we're looking at today puts Jesus in a

light we have never seen beforeClooking for all the

world as if He is detached, distant, even derogatory

toward this woman who comes seeking His help.

Here's the context: Jesus has just had a major public

conflict with the Pharisees. These powerful religious

leaders are following Him around Galilee, desperately

seeking a reason to accuse Him. They keep condemning

Him for not following their Sabbath rules and not

observing the extrabiblical rules they have made for

themselves regarding ceremonial cleanness. The previous

chapter (Matthew 14) records the feeding of the five

thousand. Matthew 14:19-20 says Jesus "broke the loaves

and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them

to the crowds. And they all ate and were satisfied." Nothing

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there about any ceremonial washing. There weren't any

wet-naps passed out with the food.

So at the start of Matthew 15, some "Pharisees and

scribes came to Jesus [all the way] from Jerusalem[. [This

was an official delegation, most likely sent from the

ruling council, the SanhedrinC]and [they] said, 'Why do

your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do

not wash their hands when they eat.'"

And at that point Jesus unleashes one of His angriest

diatribes ever against the phony public self-righteousness

of the Pharisees. In verse 14, for example, He says this

about the Pharisees: "Let them alone; they are blind guides.

And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit." He

basically writes them off. "Let them alone." That's the

biblical equivalent of, "Forget them. Ignore them. they

are headed for destruction."

This is one of the earliest in a long series of public

denunciations Jesus aims at the Pharisees. It's a consistent

thread through the gospel of Matthew. That thread

includes Jesus' words about the unpardonable sin in

Matthew 12. You remember, I hope, that His warning

about the unforgivable blasphemy against the Holy Spirit

was aimed at these phony religious leaders who fully

understood that Jesus was the true Messiah, but they

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 7

rejected him anyway with such force and finality that

they had already decided to put Him to death at the first


Jesus' long war against Pharisaism will culminate in

chapter 23,. That is a chapter-long jeremiad against the

ruling religious elite, and it ends with this summary

judgment in Matthew 23:38: "Your house is left to you


From early adolescence (when he got separated from

His earthly parents in Jerusalem) until decisive moment

at the end of Matthew 23, Jesus had always referred to

the Temple as "My Father's house:" "Do not make my

Father's house a house of trade." Now, suddenly, speaking

to the Pharisees, He calls it "your house."

"Your house is left to you desolate." Jesus then departed

from the Temple for the last time, leaving it devoid of all

heavenly glory, bereft of any divine presenceCspiritually

desolate. And then within a generation, the Temple was

utterly destroyed by the Roman army, and it has never

been rebuilt, to this very day.

It's clear that these interactions with the Pharisees

troubled and exhausted Jesus. He was truly human, and

in His humanity, He fully experienced all the normal,

non-sinful weaknesses of human flesh. Hebrews 4:15:

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"We have not [a] high priest [who] cannot be touched with

the feeling of our infirmities." He grew weary, got thirsty,

became hungry, felt the depths of sadness, and the cares

of earthly life just like you and I do. And He needed rest

just like you and I do. Run-ins like this with the Pharisees

left Him mentally, emotionally, and physically spent.

We know that, because on several occasions He took

time off from public ministryCor tried to. In Mark 6:31,

for example, He says to the disciples, "Come away by

yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while." For many

were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.

And they went away in the boat to a desolate place by


But look what happened (verse 33): "Now many saw

them going and recognized them, and they ran there on foot

from all the towns and got there ahead of them. When he

went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion

on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

And he began to teach them many things."

Something similar happens in Mark 1, after Jesus

heals a leper. He tells the man, "See that you say nothing

to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for

your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to

them." But the very next verse says the cleansed leper

"went out and began to talk freely about it, and to spread the

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 9

news, so that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town, but

was out in desolate places, and people were coming to him

from every quarter." Even in the most desolate places,

Jesus could not get any rest. Multitudes followed Him

everywhere, making it impossible for Him to take time

off from public ministry.

So here in Matthew 15, after that run-in with these

Pharisees who came all the way from Jerusalem to

oppose Him, Jesus quietly withdraws with the disciples

to a place near the coast of the Mediterranean, outside the

boundaries of Israel. Matthew 5:21: "And Jesus went

away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and

Sidon." That's north of Israel, in a region that today is part

of Lebanon. It was known as Phoenicia in Roman times,

and it was a thoroughly Gentile district. Going there was

a way for Jesus to escape the throngs He faced

everywhere He went in Israel.

This was all very secretive. By now Jesus was

desperate to get some time away, so He probably traveled

with just a handful of His closest, most trustworthy

disciples under cover of night. And he managed to arrive

in the region of Tyre and Sidon without any crowds

following. He wasn't there to preach or do any kind of

ministry; He was there to rest and recover strength so that

He could minister more effectively. (That's a good and

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wise thing to do. There are always overzealous people

who feel guilty taking time to rest. Jesus, who was the

embodiment of godly zeal, didn't have that perspective.)

The parallel passage in Mark 7:24 says this: "He entered a

house and did not want anyone to know, yet he could not be


Somehow, even in that remote region, Jesus was

recognized and identified, and word leaked out that he

was there. Mark's gospel says this happened

"immediately." But this time it was not a large multitude.

It was one very noisy and persistent woman. She shows

up and interrupts Jesus' R&R. She is a mom, with a

severely afflicted daughter, in bondage to a destructive

demon. And this desperate mother is relentless.

Matthew 15:22: "And behold, a Canaanite woman from

that region came out and was crying, 'Have mercy on me, O

Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a

demon.'" The verb tense means she was persistently,

unceasingly pleading for Jesus' help.

Now, bear in mind that Jesus is secluded in a house,

trying to get some sleep, no doubt spending time alone in

prayer (as was His custom), needing to recharge His

energy so that He would have the strength to face

everything He knew lay ahead. This time of rest was long

overdue. His heart was burdened and heavy. He had just

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 11

emerged from this exhausting conflict with that powerful

group of Pharisees. And while he secluded himself in a

house, the disciples were apparently standing guard, to

make sure nothing and no one interrupted Jesus' rest. But

this one woman simply refused to take no for an answer,

and she simply would not go away.

Notice, even though she calls Jesus by a distinctly

Jewish title ("O Lord, Son of David,") she was "a Canaanite

woman from that region." That's how the Jews of Jesus'

day would have referred to a Phoenician woman. The

early Canaanites, of course, were the Old Testament

people who were driven from the Promised Land because

of their extreme wickedness. By Jesus' time, the

descendants of the Canaanite tribes were a culture of

merchants and seafarers. They were Gentiles not known

for being religious. The Jews considered them unclean,

and the fact that they called them "Canaanites" expressed

a measure of contempt. This was simply not a region

where the typical Jewish religious leader would take his

disciples for a vacation. But that made it a place where

Jesus might go to get away for a time from the incessant

conflicts with the Pharisees and the pressing demands

from crowds of curious and needy people who followed

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him everywhere. Here, at least He could have some peace

and quiet.

Or so it seemed, until this woman showed up.

She was continually "crying," and the word in the

Greek text means "to cry out." She may have been

weeping as well, but the stress here is on the volume, not

the tears. She is shouting to Jesus at a volume intended to

penetrate the walls of the house. It was the kind of

howling, high-volume shriek that is hard to hear and

grates on your nerves. And although the disciples were

apparently tasked with guarding Jesus' solitude, they

finally interrupted to beg Him to respond to this woman.

Verse 23: "And his disciples came and begged him, saying,

'Send her away, for she is crying out after us.'"

Jesus' response-including His initial lack of any

response whatsoever-is what might strike you as most

remarkable about this scene. Yet there's something even

more remarkable here, and that's what I want you to see.

But first, we need to work our way through the narrative.

There are three stages in Jesus' dealing with this

woman, and all three show us Jesus in a totally

uncharacteristic light. Follow with me as we work our

way through this text, and let's consider each stage in

Jesus' shocking interaction with this woman.

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 13


Jesus' initial response to this woman's pleas is total

silence. Verse 23: "But he did not answer her a word."

Augustine famously says of this text, "He who was the

Word spoke not a word."

The only other time we find Jesus refusing to answer

is when he is put on trial. Matthew 27:12-14:

But when he was accused by the chief priests and

elders, he gave no answer.

13 Then Pilate said to him, "Do you not hear how many

things they testify against you?"

14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single


At least seven times Scripture tells us that when He was

charged by those who finally crucified Him, "he opened

not his mouth." But whenever needy people sought relief

or healing, no one was more responsive than Jesus. This

is the only time we are ever told that anyone's pleas for

deliverance were met with silence.

And yet, this is a more common experience than we

might deduce from the gospel narratives, isn't it? For

reasons that we know are good and gracious, God

sometimes delays His answers to our prayers. Jesus

Himself taught that although God always hears and

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answers our prayers, we need to be persistent in praying.

He told parable in Luke 11:5-9 to illustrate that very


Which of you who has a friend will go to him at

midnight and say to him, 'Friend, lend me three loaves,

6 for a friend of mine has arrived on a journey, and I

have nothing to set before him';

7 and he will answer from within, 'Do not bother me;

the door is now shut, and my children are with me in

bed. I cannot get up and give you anything'?

8 I tell you, though he will not get up and give him

anything because he is his friend, yet because of his

impudence he will rise and give him whatever he


9 And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek,

and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Keep asking, and seeking, and knocking, even if the

answer doesn't come immediately. There's another

parable in Luke 18:1-5 with a similar lesson. Mark your

place here in Matthew 15, and let's look at this passage

together. Luke 18. Verse 2:

In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared

God nor respected man.

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3 And there was a widow in that city who kept coming

to him and saying, 'Give me justice against my


4 For a while he refused, but afterward he said to

himself, 'Though I neither fear God nor respect man,

5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will

give her justice, so that she will not beat me down by

her continual coming.'"

The lesson, as Jesus goes on to give it, is that God is not

like that unjust judge. He answers not merely because we

persist, but because He loves both justice and mercy. He

is eager to answer. Here's the postscript to the parable of

the unjust judge. Jesus says (verses 6-8),

Hear what the unrighteous judge says.

7 And will not God give justice to his elect, who cry to

him day and night? Will he delay long over them?

8 I tell you, he will give justice to them speedily.

And yet, despite this reassurance of God's willingness to

answer our prayers speedily, it does seem to us

sometimes as if our prayers are met with silence. You see

an example of this in the experience of Elijah. In the

contest with the Baal-priests, when he prayed for fire

from above, the answer came immediately. Yet later that

same day, when he prayed for rain to break the drought,

he repeated the prayer six times before he saw any

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answer at all. Furthermore, the seventh time he prayed,

the only sign that God had heard his prayer came in the

form of a tiny cloud the shape and size of a man's hand.

God's timing sometimes seems slow to us. Remember,

according to 2 Peter 3:8, "a thousand years [is to the Lord]

as one day." And Ecclesiastes 3:11 says "[God makes]

every thing beautiful in his time." His timing is always

perfect, but to us the answers can seem awfully slow in

coming. It sometimes feels like the Lord is responding to

us with cold silence, when in fact He is simply awaiting

the perfect time. We are prone to get impatient and

frustrated, and Jesus knew that.

What's the proper response? Same as Elijah. Keep

praying. The Lord loves faith that perseveres. He wants

us to be persistent. In fact, look once more at this parable

Jesus told about widow who pestered the unjust judge.

We saw at the end of the parable, how Jesus reminds His

disciples that God is nothing like this selfish magistrate;

He delights to answer our prayers speedily. Usually the

last line of any parable will give you the best clue about

its central lesson.

That's not the case here. The main lesson of this story

is given in verse 1: "He told them a parable to the effect that

they ought always to pray and not lose heart." The parable

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 17

is an encouragement to be persistent in prayer. The old

term for this is importunity. To be importunate means to

be persistently demanding. That's the dictionary

definition. Keep askingCand the implication is that when

the answer is delayed, we should repeat our requests with

increasing urgency. Importunity in prayer is commended

in Scripture. When it seems like God is ignoring our

pleas, we the right response is importunity rather than

impatience. Keep asking.

That's exactly what the desperate mother in our text

didCso much that it grated on the ears of the disciples.

Back to Matthew 15. Verse 22. She kept crying out,

"'Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is

severely oppressed by a demon.' But he did not answer her a

word." The longer Jesus stays silent, the more shrill her

repeated pleas began to sound. That motivated the

disciples to intercede on her behalf (not necessarily out of

compassion but mainly to get rid of the annoyance).

Second half of verse 23: "His disciples came and begged

him, saying, 'Send her away, for she is crying out after us.'"

So now they are the ones begging. And don't

misunderstand this: it wasn't that they wanted Jesus to

shoo her away or make her go away without responding

to her plea. They could have done that if that was what

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they wanted. They were probably thinking much like the

unrighteous judge in that parable: Give her what she

wantsCif for no other reason, just to shut her up. Only

Jesus could give what she wanted, so the disciples took

the case to Him.

In effect, their prayersCtheir earnest pleas to Christ for

peace and quietCjoin in agreement with her prayers for

mercy. Now it's a group petition. And amazingly, Jesus

still does not respond with an immediate yes. That brings

us to the next stage of this drama. Stage one: he seems

to disregard her.


Jesus' reply to the disciples' request is even more

stunning and unexpected than his silence in the face of

the woman's pleading. Verse 24: "He answered, 'I was sent

only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.'" As if the

silence weren't cold enough, He now responds with what

appears to be outright rejection.

Now, what Jesus said was perfectly true. His primary

mission was to the nation of Israel. He had come as their

promised Messiah. In almost identical words, when He

called the disciples and sent them out on their first

mission in Matthew 10:5-6, He told them: "Go nowhere

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 19

among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but

go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." He was

coming as Israel's king, the rightful occupant of David's

throne. And His duty as shepherd to the Lord's people

was first to call the lost sheep of the house of Israel.

Romans 1:16: "The gospel . . . is the power of God for

salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first." And

Jesus was still in that phase of His ministry, announcing

the kingdom to Israel. So Jesus was speaking truthfully

here. This was not a gratuitous insult, but an honest

declaration about what He was called to do.

Still, it's not a truth suited to encourage this woman.

Spurgeon says Jesus "announce[d] to her a fact which

could not possibly assist or strengthen her faith."

Specifically, he brought up the subject of election. More

on that later.

But I love this: that statement from JesusCwhich

probably would have come across as a snub or a cold

shoulder to the average personCdid not faze this woman

at all. The typical person might have turned away or

replied with coarse words and angry accusations. She

saw it as an open door.

Perhaps it was literally an open door. The disciples

probably had to open the door to the place of seclusion in

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order to receive Jesus' answer to their message. She

ignores the message and seems to push past the disciples

who were acting as Jesus' bodyguardsCright into the

house where Jesus was. She falls at Jesus' feet. Verse 25:

"But she came and knelt before him, saying, 'Lord, help


It's the same plea she has been making, now

abbreviated into the fewest possible words: "Lord, help

me." The scene is full of pathos. Unless you are totally

inhuman, there's no way to picture this in your mind

without feeling profound empathy for this poor woman.

And although Jesus is God, He was not inhuman. He

was a perfect humanCa thousand times more

tender-hearted and empathetic than anyone you have ever

known. And you see this clearly every other time in

Scripture when anyone falls at His feet. Even in Luke 7,

when a woman of ill repute anoints His feet and has

nothing but her hair to wipe them with, the Pharisees

were disgusted. But Jesus showed her the ultimate

compassion. He forgave her sin completely, to the

chagrin of those self-righteous Pharisees.

Then just one chapter later, Luke 8:41, Jairus falls at

Jesus' feet and implores him to come heal his dying

daughter. Jesus responds immediately. And while He is

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 21

on the way to Jairus's house, a woman who had been

ceremonially unclean for twelve long years touched the

hem of His garment. Any Pharisee would have cursed

and condemned her for what they deemed to be a defiling

touch. But Scripture says, "When the woman saw that she

was not hidden, she came trembling, and falling down before

him declared in the presence of all the people why she had

touched him, and how she had been immediately healed."

Jesus' response to that woman was immediate, and

tender-hearted: "Daughter, your faith has made you well; go

in peace."

In Luke 10, Jesus commends Mary for sitting at His

feet when Martha wanted Him to scold her for not doing

her part to serve. In short, Jesus never rebuffed anyone

who fell at his feet.

Except here.

Now we reach stage three, and this is the most

shocking part of this surprising drama. To review: Stage

oneCHe seems to disregard her. Stage two: He seems to

discourage her. NowC

Psalm 131 22


When the woman, kneeling at Jesus' feet, finally begs

Him to His face: "Lord, help me," His reply sounds like a

deliberate insult. Throughout this entire subplot, Jesus

has given every appearance of icy indifference toward

this poor woman. His first response is cold silence. Then

He gives her a cold shoulder. Now He responds with a

cold putdownCor so it appears. Verse 26: "And he

answered, 'It is not right to take the children's bread and

throw it to the dogs.'"

Dogs, of course, were considered unclean animals. In

Old Testament times, no one would have a pet dog. By

the first century, dogs had been domesticated, and

Romans often kept them as pets. I've seen a mosaic in the

floor of a home uncovered when Pompeii was dug out of

the volcanic ash. It's a picture of a dog on a leash with the

words "cave canem"CLatin for "Beware the Dog."

Similar warning signs, I understand, were common in

Pompeii. There are also plaster casts of dogs that died in

the disaster, and you can still see that the dogs had

collars, indicating they were household pets.

One other point here: When Jesus answers this

woman, he uses the diminutive form of the Greek word

for "dogs." It communicates the idea of small dogsClap

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 23

dogs; pet dogs. That mitigates the insult somewhat, but

most people would still say it's not politically correct to

compare a desperate woman to a dog.

In fact, there are those who would make this a point of

major controversy. I found an article about this passage

from August 2011 in that bastion of political correctness,

The Huffington Post. The article is written by a woman

whose bio says she is an ordained Lutheran minister, and

she basically treats Jesus as an unenlightened bigot. In

her account, the woman is the teacher and the hero of the

story. In the end, she says, "Jesus saw and heard a fuller

revelation of God in the voice and in the face of the

Canaanite woman." She claims Jesus was forever

changed by this encounter. She actually uses these words:

"Jesus finally heard and came to believe." It's one of the

worst pieces of Bible butchery I have ever encountered

from someone who claims to be a minister. If you can

read Matthew's gospel and come to that conclusion, your

reading comprehension skills are pathetic.

It's true that likening her to a dog comes across as an

insult. But notice that the Canaanite woman herself didn't

take it that way at all. She doesn't argue the point,

become indignant, or even disagree with the

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characterization. In fact, she affirms it! She agrees with


I love how the King James Version translates her

reply. Verse 27: "And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs

eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." She

affirms what he just said: "Truth, Lord." Here's an example

of why I don't particularly like the NIV. They make it

sound as if she is disagreeing with Jesus. Here's the NIV

(verses 26-27: "[Jesus] 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.'" They make it sound like she contradicts


That's not how the conversation went at all. And this is

crucial to the point of the story. This is why Jesus

commends her faith at the end. She freely affirmed the

truth of what He said: "Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the

crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Or, as the ESV

has it: "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall

from their masters' table." There is a confession of faith

implied in her words. Jesus called her a dog, and she

barks in agreement!

This is an amazing exchange! She doesn't argue or

contradict Him; she simply keeps pressing her case.

Nothing he has said or done can deter her. Not his

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 25

silence; not His apparent rejection; not even this barbed

comment. She absorbs what he says and interacts with it,

pressing the point. She doesn't deny or take offense at

His classification of her as a dog. Like the publican in

Luke 18:13 who "[stood] far off [and] would not even lift up

his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be

merciful to me, a sinner!'" This woman is confessing her

own uncleanness. She makes no self-defense. She just

pleads for mercy.

She seems to have at least a rudimentary grasp of

common grace. Jesus had brought up the doctrine of

election: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of

Israel." They are the chosen people.

She wasn't even stymied by that. In fact, she seemed to

understand the principle of Psalm 145:9: "The LORD is

good to all, and his mercy is over all that he has made."

That's the doctrine of common grace. God's mercies

extend beyond the elect. There is no creature under

heaven that has not benefitted from the mercy, kindness,

and longsuffering of God. Verse 16 of that same psalm

(145): "You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every

living thing." If she wasn't one of the chosen people, she

could still plead the mercy of God. That shows amazing

faith on her part.

Psalm 131 26

This woman also knew Jesus' messianic title. Perhaps

she knew other truths from the Old Testament as well.

Like Psalm 86:5: "God [is] full of compassion, and

gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth."

And I love the way she picks up on Jesus' imagery.

She paints a perfect word-picture of the principle of

common grace: "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall

from their masters' table." A scrap of divine grace was all

she wanted. Surely this was no unreasonable request.

And in the final verse of our text, Jesus responds by

removing the mask of aloofness. It was a mask all along.

He knew what He was doing, and there was a strategy to


John 2:25 says Jesus "needed no one to bear witness

about man, for he himself knew what was in man." And in

John 16:12, near the end of the Upper Room discourse,

Jesus tells His disciples, "I still have many things to say to

you, but you cannot bear them now." So He clearly knew

what this woman could bear, and He simply took this

opportunity to put faith on display, mainly, I think, for

the instruction of the disciples. And it's recorded here for

our benefit.

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 27

So we see, after all, that Jesus won't break the bruised

reed or quench the smoking flax. This woman was no

bruised reed.

In fact, Jesus pays her a profound compliment that

might have made even the leading figures among the

Twelve a little bit jealous. Remember that Jesus often

chided them about the smallness of their faith. He would

frequently say to them, "O ye of little faith." He said it just

before he stilled the storm in Matthew 8: "Why are you

afraid, O you of little faith?" He said it in the chapter before

our text, when Peter began to walk on water but started

sinkingCMatthew 14:31: "O you of little faith, why did you

doubt?" He'll say it again one chapter after this encounter

with the Canaanite woman, when the disciples forgot to

bring lunch and Jesus catches them "discussing it among

themselves, saying, 'We brought no bread.'" Matthew 16:8:

"But Jesus, aware of this, said, 'O you of little faith, why are

you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no


"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" That's what he

says to His leading disciples. By contrast, this woman

shows no doubt whatsoever. And Jesus' answer in

Matthew 15:28 is one of the most profound words of

commendation He ever gave anyone. He answers her

Psalm 131 28

prayer, too: "Then Jesus answered her, 'O woman, great is

your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.' And her

daughter was healed instantly."

This is an amazing story, and she is an amazing

woman. As far as we know from the biblical record, she

is the only person Jesus ministered to on this trip to the

region of Tyre and Sidon. In the eternal plan of God, she

was the real reason Jesus went there in the first place.

The rest and refreshment were merely temporal benefits.

One believing soul is of eternal value. And this story is a

beautiful reminder that the good shepherd will always

"leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the

one that is lost, until he finds it."

I find this woman admirable for three outstanding

reasons: The thickness of her skin. The tenacity of her

faith. And the persistence of her praying. These are rare

qualities in the church, even today. They were clearly

unusual qualities in Jesus' time as well.

She had an amazing capacity for doctrinal

understanding and moral clarity as well. You see that in

the fact that she wasn't stymied by the doctrine of

election. She seemed to grasp the principle of divine

grace. She knew and affirmed truth when she heard

itCeven those hard truths that seemed to put her in a

The Mom Who Refused to Take No for an Answer 29

difficult spot. We never once hear her try to make any

argument against the truthCtrying to deny the

inconvenient truths. She saw with the eyes of faith that

God's mercy doesn't nullify His truthCand vice versa.

She understood that divine delays are not the same as


In short, she laid hold of God's grace by faith and

refused to let go. Her persistence was proof of her faith.

She's one of only two people whom Jesus commended

for the greatness of their faith. The other was a Gentile as

wellCthe centurion whom we meet in Matthew 8 and

Luke 7. There, in Matthew 8:10, Jesus says of the

centurion, "Truly, I tell you, with no one in Israel have I found

such faith."

I said at the start that there's one thing in this story that

is much more amazing than the way Jesus treats this

woman. Her faith is what's truly amazing. She is a

Gentile from a pagan land. But faith like hers was rare,

even in Israel, among the chosen people. That's one of

the key lessons here, and it's and the reason Matthew,

writing for a Jewish audience, makes this story so


The whole account parallels in many ways the story of

Elijah, who sought refuge from Ahab in the attic of a

Psalm 131 30

woman who lived in this same region. Jesus makes that

point in Luke 4:25-27:

There were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah,

when the heavens were shut up three years and six

months, and a great famine came over all the land,

26 and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to

Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a


27 And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of

the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed,

but only Naaman the Syrian.

Here, God chose this lone Canaanite woman to be the

recipient of saving grace, and she exhibited a degree of

faith that was unheard of in Galilee and Judah. She stands

as a rebuke to the multitudes in Israel who had such weak

faith. She is a rebuke even to the disciples, because their

faith was comparatively small and fragile.

She is a rebuke to you and me as well, because of the

ease with which we grow discouraged and stop

prayingCeven though we know God has promised to

answer if we don't lose faith. She's a reminder that we

should pray without ceasing. Our prayers should be

persistent, and earnest, and offered relentlessly, with

stubborn tenacity, because that is the kind of faith that

pleases God.