Jesus thence departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, where one of the more touching incidents of His entire ministry occurred. He went there apparently to rest, yet he could find no peace and solitude because a Syro-Phoenician woman besieged Him with pleas to show mercy and heal her demon-possessed daughter. It is always pleasing to observe how many supplicants began their plea by acknowledging Jesus as Messiah. This is precisely what is intended by the title “son of David.” That was, in fact, the first title given to Him by Matthew in this gospel: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” This woman, though a heathen by birth, still acknowledges Jesus as God’s anointed, and entreats Him as such.
Yet Jesus answered her not a word. This is a remarkable action by our Lord, for we do not find Him behaving so anywhere else in the gospels. But it is certain He had a purpose in so doing, and that was to test her faith. The disciples must have mistaken His silence for contempt of the Gentile woman, for they requested leave to have her sent away. Like He so often did, Jesus refrained from giving a direct answer, but instead responded, “I am not sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” This was both a statement of the mission the Father had given Him, and a severe test for the Gentile woman. Although the graces of the Messiah were bound to be sent to the Gentiles, yet all the prophets had made it clear that the Messiah would come from Israel, and be sent to Israel. Thus we find Christ only very rarely reaching out to those outside His own nation. The fullness of the Gentiles would not be gathered in until after He had ascended back into glory.
In spite of the apparent rebuff, this woman persisted. Though she may have never heard it, yet she acted upon the same principle enunciated by Christ, “Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.” Desperate, and knowing that no help could be found for her devil-ridden daughter except in Christ, the woman persists. She worships Him, and begs for help. Again she meets with the discouraging words, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs.” These words were sharper yet, for Jesus intimates His grace was for the Jews, and that the Gentiles were mere dogs who did not deserve to partake of the children’s meat. But this did not shake off the woman. She was content to lie as a dog under the master’s table, so long as she could enjoy some crumbs of His bounty. She pleaded for a crumb, and received the entire dish. Jesus did not mean to send her away empty-handed, nor to stint with His grace. He meant to draw her out to a full confession of her strong faith, doubtless doing so in order to show His disciples that great faith could be found even in those not of the stock of Abraham. When the woman acknowledged herself to be but a dog, but still one who might perhaps have a claim upon the Lord’s mercy, Jesus bountifully answered her request, and gave her everything she wished. The woman then returned home to a daughter sound in mind, to rejoice in the rich reward of faith.