From Matthew 15-17
In today’s passage a Canaanite woman demonstrates amazing faith in Jesus. Jesus was only sent for the lost sheep of Israel. Despite numerous rejections she clings on to her hope that he will cast a demon out of her daughter and heal her. We all need faith like this woman. Her faith anticipates the future when through Jesus death and resurrection God will bring all nations into his kingdom.
This post is part of my bible in a year series.
Passage and Comments
Jesus has just pointed out how the Pharisees and Scribes overlook the commands of God to promote their own traditions (Mt 15.1-9). Afterwards, using a bit of common sense and his own authority. He institutes a major change in what his followers consider makes one unclean (Mt 15.10-20). These matters concern the Jews and their law. In today’s passage Jesus is approached by a Gentile.
21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” (Mt 15:21–22)
The woman is a Canaanite woman, a Gentile. Descended from the original residents of the area. The Jews are supposed to remain separate from people like her.
She has a daughter oppressed by a demon. How would you know if someone was being oppressed by a demon? Seems common knowledge then.
The Canaanite woman is seeking mercy for her daughter. She has heard about Jesus and what he can do. She calls him the ‘son of David’. She recognises he is the Christ.
The text doesn’t say it explicitly, but …
What we see here is faith in action. Do you have faith like this woman?
23 But he did not answer her a word. (Mt 15:23a)
The Canaanite woman is rejected by silence. Yet she persists.
And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” (Mt 15:23b)
The Canaanite woman is rejected by the disciples. The disciples try and get Jesus to speak to her. They dont want to deal with her either. Yet she persists.
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Mt 15:24)
Jesus, tough as nails, answers her. Perhaps at the insistence of his disciples. The disciples don’t want her around. She would make them unclean. They don’t seem to care.
Jesus makes it clear he was sent only for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. He did not come to call the righteous, but sinners (Mt 9.13).
The Canaanite woman is rejected once again by Jesus. Yet she persists!
What is driving the woman? She is clinging on to something the others don’t see. Something about Jesus. She won’t let go. She is doing it for her daughter.
Love drives her to go further.
25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” (Mt 15:25)
She humbles herself before the Lord. Kneeling.
To him every knee shall bow and confess he is Lord (Phil 2.10-11).
Jesus, the only one with the power and authority to cast out the demon and protect her child. ‘Help me’ she pleads.
26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Mt 15:26)
Jesus rejects her one last time. This time making it very clear how the Gentiles stand before God compared against God’s children, Israel.
The Jews thought of themselves as the true humanity. All other nations were like animals. Dogs in addition were unclean. Will this finish her off. Will she walk away disillusioned? No she doesn’t.
Jesus has called her a dog. Yet like a dog with a bone she won’t let go.
27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Mt 15:27–28)
She quickly responds to Jesus rejection. Firstly, She acknowledges the truth of it. She is willing to humble herself before the Lord. Accepting she is like a dog compared to God’s children.
Even so, she doesn’t want everything, or the best. She is prepared to accept the crumbs and leftovers.
“The Canaanite woman has approached Jesus with the ideal dispositions of a person seeking aid:
- she requests help (15:22, 25),
- prostrates herself before (worships) Jesus (v. 25), and
- humbles herself before Jesus’ objections (v. 27; cf. 5:3, 5).”
(Saldarini, A. J. (2003). Matthew. In J. D. G. Dunn & J. W. Rogerson (Eds.), Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible (p. 1036). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, U.K.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.)
Look how long she persisted. What are the truths about Jesus she clung to? We could all use faith like hers. We give up too soon.
Jesus publicly recognises her great faith. Hinting in advance elements of salvation coming to the Gentiles.
Perhaps Jesus made a silent prayer to the Father. Perhaps he dealt with the demon through his own power, willing it to happen. Jesus obviously knows who and where the child is. Maybe angels dealt with the demon.
Whatever the case. The Canaanite womans daughter was healed instantly. The demon was cast out. Jesus didn’t have to say anything. It was done.
29 Jesus went on from there and walked beside the Sea of Galilee. And he went up on the mountain and sat down there. 30 And great crowds came to him, bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them, 31 so that the crowd wondered, when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled healthy, the lame walking, and the blind seeing. (Mt 15:29–31a)
The woman was only one among many. More and more people approached him in faith. Jesus powerful and compassionate healed them.
And they glorified the God of Israel (Mt 15.31b).
The woman’s faith anticipated what would happen in the future. The events of easter would usher the Gentiles into the faith of Abraham. More and more Gentiles would call on Jesus as Lord and be saved.
“Being a Christian in the world today often focuses on the faith that badgers and harries God in prayer to do, now, already, what others are content to wait for in the future. In the early nineteenth century many Christians agreed that slavery was evil and would eventually have to stop, but not many wanted to do it just yet. William Wilberforce and his friends worked and prayed, devoting their lives to the belief that what would happen in the future had to happen, by God’s power, in the present as well. That is the ‘great faith’ upon which Jesus congratulated this woman.
What, then, are the issues we face today? Which promises of God have we imagined might be fulfilled in the distant future, but ought to be claimed in the present with a prayer and faith which refuses to be put off?”
(Wright, T. (2004). Matthew for Everyone, Part 1: Chapters 1-15 (pp. 201–202). London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.)
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