Desperate for an answer to prayer (Matthew 15:22-28)

Lessons from medieval times to encourage us to pray more fervently

And, look! A woman from the seacoasts of Canaan cried out to him, saying, “Lord, son of David, have mercy on me. My daughter is terribly troubled by a demon.”

He did not answer her with even one word.

His disciples came and pleaded with him, saying, “Leave her behind because she keeps calling out to us!”

He answered and said, “I am only sent to the perishing sheep of Israel’s house.”

Desperate for an answer to prayer: Canaanite Woman, Très Riches Heures<br /> Duc de Berry circa 1410

So she came and bowed before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”

He answered and said, “It is not good to take bread from the children and throw it to the hound dogs.”

So she said, “You are right, Master. However, puppies will eat some of the crumbs which fall to the ground from their master’s board.”

Then Jesus answered to her, “Ah! Woman, great is your faith! May it be done for you as you wish.” And from that hour her daughter was healed.

– Matthew 15:22-28 (MWNT)


The world of Jesus’ time was much, much different from our time.

What we do in modern America

Feeding the dog at the table in modern America

Photo: seniordoglovers.com

In modern America, the dogs need to be fed.  So we get out the dog food we bought at the store, and scoop a few cups full into their bowls.  Then we go eat at the family table, perhaps eating steak and potatoes.  We wipe our mouths with paper towels and paper napkins.

When we’re done, we throw the bone from the meat and the potato skin into the trash can with the plastic bag in it.

Some of us will throw scraps of food to our cat or dog while we’re eating, even though the common wisdom in our society is that this is unhealthy for them.

What they did in medieval England

Dining room scene from Sir Geoffrey Luttrel's Psalter. Desperate puppies would run under the table.In John Wycliffe’s day, there was no public garbage collection service, plastic bags or electricity.  Paper was precious and only used for books and letters.  The floors were either made of stone or dirt.

Whether you were wealthy or poor, the living and dining room were the same.  Each living room would have large, solid boards standing against the walls.  When it was time to eat, these boards were put on stands that we would call saw horses today.  The benches were then pulled up to the table, and it was time to eat.  At each meal, you brought your own cloth napkin to the table.

The dogs needed to be fed back then, too.  So the bones, table scraps, etc. were thrown on the floor, and the dogs would eat them.

how people eat around the world

Photo: planetnomad.wordpress.com

If there was a desperate, hungry puppy or two involved, they would rush around, trying to get whatever they could.

When the meal was over, whatever the dogs did not eat would be swept out the door.

Medieval mealtimes were very efficient: all at once, people ate, dogs were fed, and the trash was taken care of.  All that was left was to wash the dishes.

This is the similar to the way they ate in Jesus time.  In fact, meals are still eaten this way in most of the world, beyond the cities where electricity is easy to find… even though the board and saw horses may be replaced by a straw mat or what we would call a coffee table.

A modern misunderstanding

When an American Christian of the 21st Century reads this story in Matthew, she sees the cute little puppy begging at the table, and being given something that is bad for them, something that will make them sick.  Thus, we imagine this unnamed foreigner humiliating herself before Jesus to get what she is desperate to receive.

And we feel that this is what God is asking us to do.

I won't stop asking until You answer my prayerHowever, this is not what’s really happening.  Given the context in which Jesus told the parable, when Jesus refuses to heal her daughter, she calls His bluff.

In modern lingo, she replies, “It’s supper time.  You’ve prepared a huge feast for the lost sheep of Israel.  But eventually, some of this abundance will fall to the ground.  And when it does, I am SO desperate for this answer to prayer, that I’ll be the first to get a hold of it, even though I am on the outside with all these obstacles against me!”

Thus, she acknowledges that Jesus has more than enough power to do what she is asking Him to do.  He has so much, that what she wants is super easy for Him to do.  And, like a little puppy at the table, she is not leaving until she gets what she is desperate to see Him do.

She’s tough.  She’s strong.  She isn’t moving until she gets what she’s asking for.

Let’s get desperate for an answer to our prayers!

Get desperate for your answered prayer (photo by loonwatchman.wordpress.com)This desperate faith is what is lacking in our world today.  And Jesus is still searching for faith like this in our world.

We are not serving a poor, weak Savior, unwilling to help us.  We serve the One who said, “All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth.” (Matthew 28:18, MWNT)

So, run after Jesus!  Run at Him like a hungry puppy.  Don’t leave Him alone until He gives you what you, your family and your town need!

What do you need God to do for you today?  Please let us know if we can pray with you by leaving a comment on our contact page.  Your prayer request will be treated with the strictest of confidence.

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