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October 18, 2020 | Doug Sauder
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“Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.’ The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said. He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.’ ‘Yes it is, Lord,’ she said. ‘Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed at that moment.”—Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV)
Today’s verse can be a difficult passage to understand because a quick read suggests Jesus is acting out of character with His compassionate nature, and that He didn’t come to save the Gentiles. So, what is He up to exactly, and what does God want us to see here?
First, some context: It says Jesus “withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.” Bible commentators agree Jesus headed north to let things cool off with the Pharisees because His time hadn’t yet come. And let’s not forget Jesus never ended up somewhere accidentally; He had a divine appointment with this Canaanite woman.
As she cries out to Jesus to heal her daughter; however, He remains silent. It’s as if He’s indifferent to the woman’s cry for mercy, but we know that’s not possible. Then, in the next verse when Jesus finally does speak, He says something shocking: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” What’s really going on here?
When the woman persists and kneels before Jesus, He says something that sounds insulting: He implies she’s a dog and not deserving of the bread given to children. This sounds even more cruel than His first comment, but as one Bible commentator points out, in the original language He uses an endearing term for “little dogs” or domestic pets who live with the household and are near the table. What point is He making? Jesus loves and came to pay for the sins of all people, but as Bible commentator Allen Ross clarifies: “Jesus wanted the disciples and the woman to understand fully that His ministry in the brief time He had on earth was very focused. He was the Son of David, the Messiah. The kingdom had to be fully offered to them first, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom.” His ministry was to the Jews, to fulfill the prophecies given and the promises made to Abraham, David, and the rest.
While some may have taken offense, the woman’s response reveals that she not only understood, but she was still desperate for Jesus to intervene—and what a stark difference she reveals between herself and the people of Israel. As Ross says, “The contrast is truly striking: In Israel, Jesus was trying to convince people He was the Messiah and was being challenged to prove it with a sign. But here in Gentile territory, He met a woman who was convinced He was the Messiah, and He could not discourage her efforts. His apparent attempt to put her off was therefore a test, and her great faith must have been gratifying to the Savior.”
And we know her persistent faith pleased Jesus, because her request was granted and her daughter was healed instantly. Regardless of what it looked like on the surface, transformation was His intention all along.
DIG: What can we learn from this Canaanite woman’s faith? What does it reveal to you about Jesus?
DISCOVER: How have you interpreted this passage in the past? How do you see it now?
DO: If you feel like God isn’t listening to you or answering your prayers, be encouraged by today’s verse. It may be that Jesus wants you to persist in your faith and keep asking, seeking, and knocking (Matthew 7:7)—and He will answer in His time and in His way!