A Dog’s Faith

Matthew 15: 21-28

“O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” 

How cruel Jesus’ silence must have been to this poor woman with a demonized daughter! “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me.” She’d said all the right words in all the right ways, yet receives nothing but stony silence from Jesus. And she didn’t stop. She kept urging Him, praying over and over, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me” like a persistent panhandler begging for money.

“Send her away,” the disciples urged Jesus. “Get rid of her. She’s a nuisance and a Canaanite. She has no business addressing you as ‘Son of David’ and ‘Lord.’ Tell her to get out of here. She’s bothering us. She’s making a scene. She’s making us uncomfortable.” That’s how the disciples would have dealt with her. Perhaps you and I might have done the same.

Jesus seems to agree, at first. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He says to no one in particular. He knows who she is. She’s a Canaanite, not an Israelite, and she has no business hiding behind her pious “Son of David” talk as though she were a real Israelite. And I’m sure the disciples nodded in vigorous agreement. “That’s right, Lord. You tell her, Jesus. Who does this Canaanite think she is?”

But the silence and the rebuff don’t stop this woman. They push her even closer to Jesus. She comes up to Him and kneels before Him, this Man who refuses even to acknowledge her presence much less speak to her. “Lord, help me,” she whispers quietly. No more Son of David talk. Just a desperate mother begging on behalf of her daughter. “Just as I am, without one plea.” “We are all beggars, this is true.”

“It’s not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Jesus seems to add insult to injury. That’s what the Israelites called the Canaanites. Dogs. It’s an ethnic slur. We all know a few ourselves, perhaps you’ve used a few for those who are not one of “your people.” Canaaintes were the ancient enemies of Israel, and vice versa. God commanded the Israelites to wipe out this woman’s ancestors. Her very existence was testimony to Israelites failure to obey. Granted, Jesus does say “little dog,” which sounds kind of cute and maybe softens the blow just a bit (or does it add to insult?) but a lap dog is still a dog. Jesus’ words seem crueler than His silence.

You would have thought this would have crushed the woman completely, but it doesn’t. She’s finds an opening. “Yes, Lord. True enough. A dog I may be, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table. I’m not looking for a seat at the table. I’m just asking for a few crumbs off the floor.” She catches Jesus by His own words and now, like a bulldog, she won’t let go.

We can only imagine the look on Jesus’ face, that hard look of rejection turning into a warm smile, with perhaps a sideways glance at His puzzled disciples. “Did you hear that? You know what that is? That’s faith talk. That’s what faith sounds like.” Faith simply won’t take no for an answer. Not when your fervent prayers are met with silence. Not even when God calls you a dog and kicks you under the table.

“O woman! How great is your faith! Greater than in all of Israel. Greater than these twelve Israelites standing here with me. Be it done for you as you desire.” And instantly her little girl was healed of the demon.

God often hides His greater “yes” inside of a lesser “no.” And faith’s persistent prayer doggedly clings to Jesus, even in the darkest of the dog days when God seems to turn His back and the crumbs on the floor seem scarce. 

“My God, my God why have you forsaken Me?” Jesus cried from the cross in His own dark hour with the dogs. He knows the silence, the darkness, the despair. He went there for you. He will surely be there with you on your dog day. Cling to His words like a dog searching for crumbs. Under His table there is a rich feast of salvation.