In Mark 7:24-30 and Matthew 15:21-28 we find the story of a Gentile woman seeking a miracle from Jesus. Her daughter is possessed by an unclean spirit; she hears that Jesus is in town so she seeks Him out and begs Him to heal her daughter. Jesus’ response seems odd to us. At first, He ignores her, but she is so persistent that His disciples ask Him to personally send her away. He tells her that He is “sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and that it is “not good (proper) to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.”
Wow. Did Jesus just call this woman a dog? It would seem that way, but in fact, He is using a metaphor. What mother or father would take food that was intended for their children and feed it to a dog? Instead, they would feed the children first, and if there was anything left over, the dogs would be fed. We are given a glimpse of God’s plan of salvation, which Paul says more plainly in Romans 1:16: “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” Jesus does not use the Greek word for “cur” (a derogatory term), but for “small dog” or “puppy.” He is not insulting the woman, but rather using a metaphor to explain.
Jesus came first to His own people, but they rejected Him in unbelief (John 1:12). As a result, a veil has been placed over their eyes and their hearts have been partially hardened, so they cannot see the truth of who Jesus is (2 Corinthians 3:14-15; Romans 11:25). But this does not mean that Jewish people cannot be saved. 2 Corinthians 3:16 goes on to say that “whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.” As God’s chosen people rejected the Savior, the opportunity for salvation opened for the Gentile nations.
What was the woman’s response? She could have been insulted. She could have defended herself, arguing that she was not a dog, but should be recognized as a child because of her good deeds. She could have told Him that He was unfair. She could have decided Jesus was rude and walked away, and her daughter would have remained in the same helpless condition. Instead, she accepted the wisdom of Jesus’ words. She humbled herself, recognizing that the One who had the power to heal and power over evil spirits, was in His rightful authority to determine when and how and for whose benefit that power would be used. In humility, she did not demand her own rights but asked for mercy – crumbs from the table. She knew that even the crumbs of what Jesus could do would be more than enough for her need. Jesus responds by healing her daughter and commending her great faith.
What’s the takeaway? Humility always precedes salvation. We do not come to Jesus demanding our rights or defending ourselves. Great faith recognizes that Jesus, as the Son of God, has no obligation to save us and that it is only mercy and grace that He came in human flesh to pay the price of our sin debt. Saving faith bows its knees at the cross and is thankful for the crumbs from the table – crumbs that are more than enough to meet our spiritual needs.