The Gospel writers record only two occasions when Jesus complemented a person’s strong faith. He never patted Peter on the back saying, “Peter, your faith is exemplary!” He didn’t tell John or James their faith was a worthy model for future generations. Jesus did, however, complement the faithfulness of two Gentiles. He praised the faith of the Roman Centurion saying, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with so great a faith” (Matthew 8:10). He also spoke to the Syrophoenician woman saying, “Woman, your faith is great”(Matthew 15:28).
Mark recorded the story of the faith-filled Gentile woman in his seventh chapter. “He got up and departed from there to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it, but he could not escape notice. Instead, immediately after hearing about him, a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Gentile, a Syrophoenician by birth, and she was asking him to cast the demon out of her daughter. He said to her, ‘Let the children be fed first, because it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she replied to him, ‘Lord, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ Then he told her, ‘Because of this reply, you may go. The demon has left your daughter.’ When she went back to her home, she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone” (Mark 7:24–30).
Tyre and its sister-city, Sidon, were located on the Mediterranean coast, north and west of Israelite territory. This area, once referred to as Phoenicia, bordered Syria. Thus, the people of the area were called “Syrophoenicians.” Matthew called her “a Canaanite woman” (Matthew 15:22). She was Gentile, not a Hebrew.
Jesus had travelled to the area, presumably for an opportunity to rest and spend time privately teaching His disciples. He attempted to remain incognito, but alas, He was popular even far from Galilee. The local woman approached Jesus, begging, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon” (Matthew 15:22). Obviously, the woman had heard the reports and testimonies about those that Jesus had touched and transformed.
The less-than-compassionate disciples dismissed the plea, asking Jesus to “send her away because she’s crying out after us” (Matthew 15:23). They sound like a boy complaining to his mom about his little sister. “Tell her to get lost!” Undaunted, the Syrophoenician woman fell before Jesus and begged, “Lord, help me!” (Matthew 15:25).
Jesus’ response wasn’t cruel. He wasn’t sexist or racist. He simply explained that the focus of His mission was primarily to the Hebrew people. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel... It isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:24, 26). Faithfully and humbly, she replied, “Yes, Lord... yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27).
Jesus responded to the Gentile woman’s faithful determination by miraculously exorcising the demon from her daughter. When she arrived at her home, “she found her child lying on the bed, and the demon was gone” (Mark 7:30).
Consider this: When’s the last time we beseeched the throne of God so humbly, persistently, and faithfully?
All Scripture quotations, except as otherwise noted, are from
Holman Bible Publishers’ Christian Standard Bible.