September 17, 2017 Sermon Titled: Jesus Meets the Syrophoenician Woman

First Mennonite Church

September 17, 2017

 Jesus Meets the Syrophoenician Woman

Text: Matthew 15:21-28

21 Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even 3the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.

In Matthew 10, verse six, Jesus gives clear instructions to his disciples regarding their primary and almost exclusive objects of outreach. “Go nowhere close to Gentiles, but go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” Jesus tells them. But here in chapter 15 we find Jesus clearly breaking that rule. And as we will see, that is not the only rule he breaks. In the gospel of Mark we are told that Jesus goes to this gentile region not only due to the increasing opposition he is having, but with the desire that no one would recognize him. Jesus wants to go incognito, yet the moment he steps in town a woman approaches him and his disciples. She is a Canaanite woman. She is a native of the land. And she follows Jesus and his disciples crying for help, but Jesus shows himself completely indifferent. He keeps walking down into town, but the annoyed disciples cannot help but request that he should send the woman away.

Here is something rather interesting: the woman has a legitimate reason for her persistent call for help. She is desperate for her daughter’s wellbeing. The daughter is demon-possessed and needs to be freed. The woman is very respectful in her address. She calls Jesus “Lord, Son of David.” The woman pleads. She does not demand nor does she challenge Jesus’ power to grant her request. It is very interesting to take note of Matthew’s setting of this story within his gospel. In the previous chapter, Matthew tells us of Jesus walking on the water (Matt. 14:22-33). There Peter says to Jesus, “Lord if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (v. 28). And although Jesus commanded Peter to come to him walking on the water, Peter was sinking. Jesus said to Peter, “You of little faith; why did you doubt?” In the case of the Syrophoenician woman, she pleads, “Have mercy on me.” Yet, with all the politeness and pleading, Jesus shows himself untouched. In the end she is described as having “great faith.”

When Jesus finally speaks, he tells the woman, “God’s gift through me is not for you. It is first for those like me—the Jews.” Yet, the very reason Jesus is in Sidon and Tyre is because those whom he was sent to did not want to accept him. But the woman upon hearing that she is not the primary recipient of God’s grace, kneels before Jesus (literally, she worships him) and begs, “Lord, please help me!” And what comes next from Jesus’ mouth sounds even more demeaning. “Woman, it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” The Jews in Jesus’ time called the gentiles “dogs.” The Jews considered themselves superior to the Gentiles because of their being the chosen people of Yahweh.

Jesus seems to break away from his typical character. He has always been nice and friendly especially to those of lower social status. But here, Jesus is almost unrecognizable. It is this that makes us wonder, was Jesus only being sarcastic? Or, was he trying to abide by the rule he gave to his disciples earlier about not reaching out to the Gentiles? Yet, the crudeness of his analogy did not deter the woman. Without resentment and in fact somewhat accepting her humble position, the woman pushes her case to a new level. “Yes, Lord,” the woman responds, “Puppies do eat. Puppies eat the crumbs the children drop. If your coming here is because your fellow Jews are rejecting God’s heavenly bread, is it not fair that the puppies eat the crumbs?”

Jesus cannot help but exclaim, “Woman, great is your faith!” And the woman’s daughter was healed at that very moment.

The crumbs of God’s grace are enough to make us whole. The crumbs of God’s mercy are enough to give us peace. The crumbs of God’s bread sustain our life. We live by the crumbs of the Bread that has come from heaven. Yet, one day we are promised a banquet, the wedding supper of the Lamb of God (Rev. 19:9). And on that day we will forget the crumbs because we will be fed with the very life of God. And then we shall live the life in fullness of God’s power, glory and holiness. But for now, crumbs will do. And not because God is withholding his grace, mercy and peace, but simply because we sometimes seek satisfaction from other things instead from God.

Besides this reminder about crumbs and banquets, this story can also be a mirror to us. The disciples were annoyed by the woman’s persistent cry for help. The disciples asked Jesus to send her away. And they might have concurred with Jesus that “bread is for the children first, not for the puppies.” But later, they found that God’s grace reaches even to those who are outside the prescribed group of beneficiaries. Let that be to us a reminder. We, like the disciples cannot comprehend the magnitude of God’s grace. It is for those we might consider not entitled to it.


Again with regards to crumbs, Jesus said the dogs get the crumbs. Crumbs represent the leftovers, food that inadvertently falls from the table. Obviously, crumbs are not the main dish. It is not what we set before our guests. So let me ask you, who gets the crumbs of your time, money, abilities, love, or attention? In church, who gets the crumbs of ministry? In your family and among your children and grandchildren, is someone getting the crumbs of your affection or attention?


I want to invite you to give God only the best. I want to encourage you to give God your whole being.

Finally, allow me to touch on a very difficult topic of conversation: the problem of racism in America. To many, racism is not a pressing issue that should call our attention as Christians. First, let me tell you that racism can possibly be unimportant if you have never been a victim of it. So may I ask you, have you ever been a victim of racism?

Racism can be subtly disguised, like holding the notion of the possibility that someone is illegally living here or doing all things illegally simply based on the color of his or her skin. Again, racism can be very subtle, like when people pretend someone is not around them, or like when a person greets someone only to get a contemptuous stare in return. And sometimes racism can be clear as the mid-day sun. Here at FMC we have our annual fundraiser days during the Mid-State Fair. Except for one year, I have volunteered every year. Lilian (my wife) laughs at the way I invite people to come into our parking lot. There are drivers who pass by and smile at how I announce our parking lot. There are some who mouth words, whatever those words would be. Someone once raised to me his middle finger. But there was one time when a quite expensive car came in. Two ladies came out first, whom I greeted and thanked for using our parking lot. They asked me which the safest way to the fairgrounds was. I told them. And behind these women came a gentleman. The moment he approached me he started talking with a faked heavy accent. “Do you espick English? Can you speak English? Have your learned English?” He asked me these questions repeatedly. And would not allow me to respond. “You like dollars, huh? You have found where to make money, right? Lots of money?” What was worse was when he paid me. He held the $5 bill by one corner with his index finger and thumb and slightly raised the bill so I would take it from the bottom, as he was walking away. His contempt towards me was so obvious.

My dear brothers and sisters, every form of discrimination divides and hurts; hence, social cohesiveness and healing in this great country cannot be possible, much less thrive, if the ugliness of racism and discrimination is not called out and eliminated. There is great danger when being American is defined by a particular skin color, as some define it. If that were the case, it would not matter how many generations there might be down my line, but the color in the face and hair of my grandchildren and great grandchildren will never change. And it would not matter if they were born here or how acculturated they would be, their skin color will never change. Therefore, if the problem of racism is not addressed, being born in this land will still never qualify those of a different skin color as being American.

Let me go back to our story. The woman’s persistence was rewarded. Her daughter was healed. The woman endured indifference, rejection, and humiliation. She was determined to get something from the table of God, even it was the crumbs. The crumbs were enough to give her the peace and joy of having her daughter freed from the power of Satan. In Matthew 11, verse 12, Jesus says, “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” A free translation would read like this: From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been advancing forcefully, and those who are forceful enjoy its benefits.” The Syrophoenician woman was one of those who was forceful in taking advantage of the kingdom of God. May we be as determined as she was. Amen.

Pastor Romero