Reading Time: 6 Minutes
I love the Gospels. I love reading the way Jesus interacted with people and the way his message is vibrant and relevant to today. Today’s passage shows God’s amazing love, grace and power through his Son.
Jesus was not ready for a confrontation with the religious and governmental authorities. Therefore, he left Jewish territories and entered an area populated by Gentiles. Matthew recorded Jesus’ experience like this:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.”
But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting after us.”
He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15.21-28)
Jesus’ Mysterious Ways
Jesus’ responses to this woman are difficult for people in our culture to accept. After all, didn’t he say, “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11.28-29). But in this instance, Jesus didn’t even speak to the woman who cried out to him for mercy (Matthew 15.23).
The disciples wanted Jesus to send her away. Some people think that they wanted Jesus to grant her request and be rid of her (verse 23). This is such an honest portrayal of the failings of Jesus’ followers, the ones upon whom the church would be founded.
Jesus finally spoke and flatly said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 24). This statement was consistent with the instructions that Jesus gave to his disciples in their own mission. He said, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10.5-6).
So far, the Gentile woman is the hero in the story. We are touched by her insistence and desperation, when she came to Jesus and says, “Lord, help me” (verse 25).
Once again, Jesus put her off and implied that she was a dog. In Jesus’ day, the slang term of derision for a Gentile was “Gentile dog,” a term that the woman unfortunately knew all too well.
Have you ever wondered if the Jesus has been listening to your desperate prayers? In difficult and lonely moments, have you wondered if Jesus was “there” for you? The answer may be “yes,” to both questions, but have probably never thought that Jesus would insult you and call you names. That was the case for the woman.
The woman was still not ready to give up. She had one more response. She said, “Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (verse 27).
I think that the last thing that Jesus said to the woman is the very reason why he conducted the conversation in the way he did. He said, “Woman, great is your faith!” (verse 28). This is the only time in the entire Gospel of Matthew that Jesus told someone that they had great faith, and the person who heard it was a Gentile woman.
What can we learn?
As we are reading Matthew to learn how to live a Jesus-kind-of-life, one of our teachers today is a Canaanite woman. She reveals to us the fact that faith is shown by how it is tested.
If we only have faith when times are good, our faith is not very strong. To continue to trust in the midst of failure and frustration is a demonstration of a strong and possibly a great faith.
Our first lesson from the woman is to not stop coming to Jesus. As we struggle to make sense of difficult situations in life and the seemingly distance of God, we need to keep coming to God. He is there. He loves us. He is working, whether we realize it or not.
I greatly enjoy this passage of Scripture, because it shows the love of God for all people. It is another example of how there are no “nobodies” in God’s kingdom. Everyone is significant. In the culture of Jesus’ day a Gentile woman had very little status. Yet, Jesus gave her the singular praise of having “great faith.”
If we are going to live like Jesus, we will be ready to genuinely connect with all sorts of people. With some people, we may think like the disciples, “Send them away.” Jesus may say, “Dialogue with them and discover what gives them great faith.”
In the 1990s a Catholic priest was sent to the poorest and most oppressed region of Mexico. He said, “I went there to convert the native people, but they ended up converting me.” Because he didn’t overlook lack-of-status people, they showed him a depth of character and faith that was missing in his life. We can do the same, if we live like Jesus.
Dear Jesus, we praise you today for another reminded that you care for all people. No one is unimportant to you. Please help us develop our faith and please give us grace to see each person you put in our pathway as an opportunity.