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Puppy Faith

June 16, 2016

To escape the constant pressures of the crowds Jesus traveled north into the Gentile regions outside Judea. He was met by a Syrophoenician mother pleading for Jesus to heal her daughter. Jesus’ response is troubling. He tells her He did not come for the Gentiles, but for the Jews. He tells her it is not proper to give the children’s food to the dogs.

During Jesus day most of the dogs of in Palestine were wild dogs. They were like jackals or coyotes, slinking scavengers that lived off death and refuse. To call someone a dog was to call him a cowardly carrion eater. But Jesus is not using racial slurs against this distraught mother. His reference to her as a dog is oblique. He doesn’t call her a dog directly, but reminds her that the Jews consider her a dog. That is not quite the same thing, and it is an importance distinction. Jesus does not use the harsh word the Jews typically used. Instead of using the general word for all dogs, He uses the more familiar word for a house pet. The same kind of contrast can be heard in English by saying puppy instead of cur. This gives a very different tone to the conversation. Jesus is not calling her names but reminds her of how Jews view the Gentiles.

The Syrophoenician woman doesn’t respond like the Pharisees by insisting on her own goodness. She says, “Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.” She doesn’t claim full rights. She does not insist on getting all the Jews were getting, but says even the puppies are given scraps from the table. She just asks for a crumb, a bite, a leftover bone to be tossed her way.

She doesn’t shake her fist at Jesus and demand He hear her cry. She doesn’t scream at Jesus when He reminds her she is despised by the Jews. No, she takes Jesus own words, claims them for herself and clings to them. Look at the humility! No arrogance. No pomp. No bluster. Just a humble clinging to what Jesus said. She pleads that even the little puppies get to sit under the table and eat what the kids drop. That’s all she wants. She wants the bits dropped and discarded by the children. She doesn’t demand Jesus alter His plans to suit her. She humbly stays within His plan, but pleads for kindness within that plan.

The humble faith of the Syrophoenician woman shows a vivid contrast to the self-righteous unbelief of the Pharisees. They were proud in their Jewishness and in their law keeping. The Pharisees had no salvation because they saw no need of salvation. Jesus answered her prayer because she was humbly sought whatever Jesus might give her. This is genuine faith. Faith humbles itself before the Word of God and the Son of God. Faith acknowledges you have nothing to offer, are not worthy of God’s kindness and pleads for His mercy.

This kind of faith gets put to the test in the Christian life when we don’t particularly like the plan of God. The process He has laid out is at times uncomfortable. We imagine we can come up with a better way of doing things. Instead of raising ourselves up in pride against the seemingly unfair and certainly difficult plan of God genuine faith submits to His perfect wisdom and trusts His graciousness.


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