An interactive sermon on the faith of a Canaanite Woman

A Good Kind of Stubborn

What can we learn from the encounter of Jesus’ with a persistent and stubborn Canaanite woman who is desperate for Jesus to cast out a demon from her daughter?  When is being stubborn a good thing, and when is it not helpful?  What are some examples of good stubbornness and perseverance in our history and in our own experience?   What gives us the strength to persevere?

Speaker: Pastor Stephen “Tig” Intagliata
Main Bible Passage: Matthew 15:21-28


           An interactive sermon on the faith of a Canaanite Woman       

Some comments about the text and the context:

Dogs– Gentiles (Non-Jews) not stray dogs, but household dogs, “little puppies”; more like a pet; more common in Gentile families than in Jewish ones.

Syrophoenician (Canaanite)- looked down upon in society; “2nd class citizen”, seen as “unclean” to the Hebrew/Jewish people.

Syrophoenician woman is the “apostolic foremother” to all Gentile Christians.  (Mark and Empire)

Barrier between Jew and Gentile is broken here.  Like in book of Acts, w/Peter’s vision and Cornelius, and the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15.

 What I noticed in this story:

  • Disciples’ response: annoyed- wanted to be left alone with Jesus.  Like feeding of 5000 “send them home”  woman who touched Jesus garment- “look at all these people around you, and you’re trying to figure out who touched you?”  Let it go and let’s keep moving.
  • Jesus is out of character here: I think of him as compassionate, responsive to people, not showing favoritism to people like Israelites.  Instead, he ignores her, then making excuses not to grant her request.  Then he changes his mind/finally gives in when he sees her faith.
  • Woman’s persistence/perseverance:

Woman wouldn’t take “no” for an answer:

1st,  She cried “Have mercy on me!”; Jesus ignored her.

2nd, She keeps crying out for help;  Jesus said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”;

3rd, She kneels before Jesus, “Lord, help me!”.  Jesus replies,  “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”

4th, She replies “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table.”

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


How to explain that Jesus seemed out of character and rude/condescending to the woman:

  1. Nonverbal communication:  Maybe his tone of voice and his facial expressions were not as harsh as it appears to be.   Communication loses a lot when it’s just a written word in front of us instead of a real person.  How many have ever had an email come across differently than you had intended it to be?

Studies have shown that 70-93% of communication is nonverbal. –tone of voice, facial expressions, hand gestures, body posture.  When verbal and nonverbal don’t match, most people will be believe the nonverbal cues over the verbal ones.  Was such that he was more tongue in cheek, lighthearted about it than it appears.

It might have also gotten heated—with some yelling on the woman’s part.

Sent to the house of Israel first- start with those around you, then branch outward.  Growth of church in book of Acts happens this way.


Maybe Jesus was testing her to see how much she would persist and persevere.  Once she reached a certain point, he would give it to her.

Similar to stories of people asking, seeking, knocking.

Canaanite woman’s interaction with Jesus, and her persistence:

Her motivation:  She deeply loved her daughter and was broken by her suffering.  She was desperate, would do anything to get healing for her daughter.

Her belief:  She knew that Jesus could do something about it; he had the power to heal her daughter.  She had faith in him.

Her standing:  She knew her place in the pecking order—woman, Gentile.  But had enough dignity to believe that she deserved at least some crumbs/leftovers of God’s grace/mercy/power.

Woman wouldn’t take “no” for an answer; she was stubborn and persistent.  One commentator calls her “sassy”.     She could’ve been offended and just put her head down and walk away.  It was like saying, “Look, I know that Jewish folk have priority over us Gentiles.  But I will take whatever you can give me right now, even if it’s just some crumbs falling from the table.”

Stubbornness makes us persevere. It helps us stand our ground when everyone else is trying to tell us that we are wrong. Used with discernment, stubbornness can be a strong leadership quality and a key determinant of success. Because stubborn people know what they want, they tend to be more decisive.

When is being stubborn “a good kind of stubborn”?  When is it not so good?

Being stubborn is not helpful when we are stuck in our ways and unwilling to change, when that change would be a good thing.  “My way or the highway” approach.


Q. What examples of stubbornness/persistence/perseverance does this remind you of? Either from history or from your own experience.

 Bus Boycott- Dec. 1, 1955  Rosa Parks –> MLK organizing the boycott.  – death threats, arrested, house bombed.  Nov. 13, 1956- bus segregation ruled unconstitutional by SCOTUS.

Abolitionists, Women’s suffrage movement.

Caring for a loved one who is sick, or dealing with your own long illness.


Q. What gives people the strength to persevere?  

Knowing that God cares about us and wants the best for us.

Knowing that God is with us in our suffering.   C.S. Lewis:  God whispers to us in our pleasure, but shouts to us in our pain

Knowing that Jesus understands what we’re going through:

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sinHebrews 4:15  

Steve Chalke  Apprentice: Walking the Way of Christ ..having the courage to struggle forward on our often treacherous journey, rather than retreating into the bland predictability of safety and familiarity.  Ultimately, there can be no success without struggle.  If we are too afraid to fail, we will never succeed.  P. 124


Knowing who we are in relation to who God is:  “Lord I am not worthy to receive you…”  Matthew 8:8  In preparation for receiving communion in the Catholic Church.

Jesus is found at the place where we understand our need for God and realize that we have no right to expect anything at all  (vs. King’s kid mentality, prosperity gospel, entitlement).


Hope for a better future:

“Midnight is a confusing hour when it is difficult to be faithful.  The most inspiring word that the church must speak is that no midnight long remains.  The weary traveler by midnight who asks for bread is really seeking the dawn.  Our eternal message of hope is that dawn will come.”  MLK  p. 127  A Knock at Midnight

“weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning”   Psalm 30:5

Romans 8:35, 38-39: nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God.