And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once. (Matthew 15:22-28 NASB)
The setting is in what is now Lebanon, north of the border of present day Israel. Why our Lord went there I do not know. It was a place mostly inhabited by a people wanting nothing to do with the God of the Hebrews. It is as if these seven verses describe a sort of side trip outside of the usual routes of travel Jesus took. Knowing that He does nothing from mere whimsy, it is as if He went there for the very purpose of coming to a woman desperate for all that He is. Does He not do the same today, always drawing near to those who cry out to God for mercy and help with passionate sincerity?
Note too, her plea. The asking of mercy is for herself although it is her daughter that is cruelly demon possessed, not the mother. It might as well be, though. For isn’t the heart of motherhood such that it takes upon itself the trials and sorrows of her children? And in doing so, reflects the heart of God towards we who are his children.
The daughter’s plight involves being possessed by a demon. How this came about we aren’t told. Nor do I understand how it is she knew that, whatever troubled her daughter, a demon was the cause of it. This was no external force pushing from the outside and striking the occasional angry blow in passing. This was an internal cancer. A malignancy from within. An awful invasion of the deeply personal. God never created the human form to be inhabited by anything other than the soul for whom he created it – and his own Spirit. Christ in us, the hope of glory. The devil would supplant the life-giving nourishment of the Father with the life-robbing emptiness of his own corruption. So on behalf of her daughter, the woman cries out to the visible God who has come near.
How she, as a Canaanite, came to have faith is a mystery. The depth of her faith is seen in her calling Him “Son of David” – a declaration of His being the Messiah, the One who fulfills the prophecy of the seed of David. (2 Samuel 7:12-16) Her faith is well founded. She knows to whom she cries out, for surely she has called out to God in her heart at other times in her life to be in such a place of recognizing Jesus for who He is. The Father who has made himself known to her has come to her in the person of his Son that she might know him all the better.
On the surface, her pleas seem to fall on deaf ears for the Lord “did not answer her a word”. Has God come to her only to taunt her faith with silence?
It is encouraging to me to note that His silence only serves as a platform by which the mettle of her faith can better be seen. It is true for us as well. God’s silence stretches our faith making it reach out to him all the more fervently if what we seek him for has deep enough roots. The need for perseverance clarifies our motives and our longings – not to God but to ourselves. We strive the hardest for what we care about the most.
She is undeterred by Christ’s silence and cries out all the more, to such an extent that she is getting on the nerves of His disciples. For all the time they have spent with Jesus they misinterpret His silence as ambivalence and call on Him to get rid of her. They want her sent away.
I think that in Christ’s silence is their opportunity. A chance for them to show that they have grown in their understanding of God and that his ways are far different than that of men. Their ears hear the same plaintive appeals for mercy and help that the God-Man’s own ears hear. But the impact of those words upon their hearts is markedly different. When faced with the facts of her plight they would toss mercy and compassion aside, bind love in chains, and send her from their sight that they might keep the riches of Christ for themselves and their race. Their kind. When given the opportunity to intercede on behalf of the distressed woman and her daughter, they choose to disdain her. To treat her as if she were a dog. Beneath them and utterly unworthy of God’s grace.
Our Lord’s response to the disciples’ asking Him to send her away seems to me just another step in His prodding of their collective conscience. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” He says. True enough, for all that Jesus says is true. Indeed, He was sent to the nation of Israel. For in His Father’s scheme, salvation for the whole world was to come through the Jews. (John 4.22) Yet the Father’s plan, though beginning with the Jews, wasn’t to end there. Christ came to save everyone who would come to believe the good news, starting with the Jew first, yes, but reaching out to the Gentiles, breaking down the division between the two to create one. (Eph 2.11-15) Nowhere was this division between the two more apparent than in the attitude of His disciples towards this desperate woman. His disciples have been handed a grand opportunity to side with this woman, and in doing so, find themselves siding with God as well.
Sadly, their hearts remain hard against her. She cries out to Jesus for help and they, in turn, petition Him to send her away. Oh, how easy it would have been for them to champion her cause with the Master, and in so doing, show that they understood the very heart of the Gospel! It is not what goes into a man that defiles him but what comes out of his mouth from his heart. This is the lesson that Jesus had given them just prior to meeting this woman and it is a lesson they have failed to grasp.
How many times do we find ourselves in a similar situation? Confronted with someone who is not our kind we shrug them off as a nuisance and hope God will take them out of our life, instead of imploring the Lord’s help on their behalf and possibly being part of delivering His answer through our own lips and limbs. It is as if we say, God has sent Christ to me but not to you. Stop bothering me and just go away! How many opportunities to love do we squander? As for myself, I shudder to imagine! God help us to love one another as he loves us in his Son.
The Canaanite woman remains steadfast in her faith. If there is truly a God, he will not dismiss her. If there is truly a God, then his love enfolds every one of the creatures he has made for he is the Father of them all. Firm in her conviction, she comes and bows down in worship before him – for the Greek word proskuneo implies so much more than the adoption of a mere physical posture. The child is before her Father in the form of her Elder Brother. Her petition is refined to its purest form: “Lord, help me!”
It intrigues me to note that the woman does not say how our Lord is to help her in as much as what form the help is to take. This she leaves to Him who knows our every thought even before we speak it. Her words are simple and few. By faith, she brings her petition to God and lays it at His feet. Contrast this with so many of our prayers whereby we so presumptuously assist God by detailing to him the exact form by which he is to help us, as if we know better than he how to best accomplish what needs to be done. We sometimes act like patients who prefer to write our own prescription and come to the doctor only for the power of his signature.
It is the Lord’s answer to her cry for help that, at first blush, seems cold. Even harsh. “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” He replies. Is He implying that he thinks of her as a dog? I think not.
All during this episode we find His disciples acting towards her as if she were no better than a pesky dog. In doing so, they are reflecting popular Jewish sentiment of the day. Jehovah belongs to them. He is their God. The woman knows how they feel about her. She has been experiencing their hardness of heart towards her plight. Perhaps she has even begun to think of herself as they do, someone undeserving of the grace of God. A dog. Jesus’ words do not offer immediate relief but challenge her thinking, her understanding of God. It is as if He is saying to her, “You are not of the Jews yet you believe in and have sought their God. They think of you as a dog. Do you believe that God thinks of you the same way? Are you one of his children as they are his children or are you nothing more than a dog to him?” He does not encourage her with kind and gentle words. If God is who she believes him to be she must shake off the disdainful words of this world and fix her eyes upon the kingdom that can only be seen by the heart. She must not abandon her faith but cling all the more fiercely to it!
In beautiful humility and wondrous faith she risks all. “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”
It is only at this point in the dialog that Jesus directly calls her by a name. It is the same title as he used with his own mother when she too, asked of Him help for someone else. Far from calling her a dog, He affirms to her God’s perspective of who she is. She, like his mother, is a “woman” made in the image of God and dear to his heart. So much so, that the Father himself has sent his beloved Son to her that she might know him all the better through the Son.
“O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” This is God’s reply to her cries to him for help.
Notice too that the exact form of help He gives is unspecified. She is given what amounts to a blank check. The One who knows all things knows her heart and what longings it holds. God grants to her the desire of her heart and her daughter is instantly free. What else is hers besides is a wondrous speculation. One thing is sure; a heart such as hers can be trusted with the riches of Christ.
We are told nothing more. The story ends and we are left to our own musings as to any reaction His disciples may have had or what expressions of joy the woman might have uttered upon returning home and finding her daughter healed. What we are left to ponder is an example of faith that Jesus proclaimed as “great”. A faith that stood in stark contrast to that rejected by her own people, denied to her by those through whom it came, and endured the loving challenge of Jesus that it might be shown to be genuine to the glory of God and her eternal good.
© Michael Kimball 2017 (This writing may be freely copied in its entirety without prior permission from the author.) Listen to the audio version at FatherBound.com.