38. The woman of Canaan
FROM thence Jesus went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon.
And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thouSon of David: my daughter is grievously vexed with an unclean spirit.
The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation.
Jesus answered her not a word. And his disciples came, saying, Send her away. Jesus said,
I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
He entered into a house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. For then came she whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, saying, Lord, help me.
But Jesus said unto her,
Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.
She said, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Jesus answered,
O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter.
Her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
¶Departing from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, Jesus came unto the sea of Galilee, through the midst of the coasts of Decapolis.
They bring unto him one that was deaf, and had an impediment in his speech. Jesus took him aside, and put his fingers into his ears, and touched his tongue; and looking up to heaven, he sighed, and saith,
Straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and he spake plain.
Jesus charged them that they should tell no man: but the more he charged them, so much the more a great deal they published it.
Scripture: Matthew 15:21-28
Meditation 1 of 1:
Do you ever feel “put-off” or ignored by the Lord? This passage describes the only occasion in which Jesus ministered outside of Jewish territory. (Tyre and Sidon were fifty miles north of Israel and still exist today in modern Lebanon.) A Gentile woman, a foreigner who was not a member of the Jewish people, puts Jesus on the spot by pleading for his help. She addressed Jesus as Lord and Son of David. She recognized that Jesus was God’s anointed one who would bring healing and salvation, not only to the people of Israel, but to the Gentiles as well. She asks Jesus to show mercy and compassion to her tormented daughter. At first Jesus seemed to pay no attention to her, and this made his disciples feel embarrassed. Jesus does this to test the woman to awaken faith in her.
When she persisted in asking Jesus to heal her daughter, Jesus answered by saying one shouldn’t take food prepared for their children and throw it to the dogs. What did Jesus mean by this expression? The Jews often spoke of the Gentiles as “unclean dogs” since they worshipped idols, offered sacrifices to demons, and rejected the true God. For the Greeks the “dog” was a symbol of dishonor and was used to describe a shameless and audacious woman. Matthew 7:6 records the expression: do not give dogs what is holy. Jesus was sent from the Father in heaven to first feed the children of Israel with the true bread of life that would bring healing, reconciliation, and lasting union with God. This humble Canaanite woman was not put-off by Jesus’ refusal to give her what she asked for. In desperation and hope for her tormented child, she pleads with Jesus to give some of the “crumbs that fall from the table” to the “little dogs”.
John Chrysostom (349-407 AD), in his sermon on this passage, remarks how this woman approached Jesus with great humility, wisdom, and faith:
“See her humility as well as her faith! For he had called the Jews ‘children,’ but she was not satisfied with this. She even called them ‘masters,’ so far was she from grieving at the praises of others. She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Behold the woman’s wisdom! She did not venture so much as to say a word against anyone else. She was not stung to see others praised, nor was she indignant to be reproached. Behold her constancy. When he answered, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,’ she said, ‘Yes, Lord.’ He called them ‘children,’ but she called them ‘masters.’ He used the name of a dog, but she described the action of a dog. Do you see the woman’s humility? …Do you see how this woman, too, contributed not a little to the healing of her daughter? For note that Christ did not say, ‘Let your little daughter be made whole,’ but ‘Great is your faith, be it done for you as you desire.’ These words were not uttered at random, nor were they flattering words, but great was the power of her faith, and for our learning. He left the certain test and demonstration, however, to the issue of events. Her daughter accordingly was immediately healed.” [The Gospel of Matthew, Homily 52.3]
Jesus praised this woman for her faith and for her love because she made the misery of her child her own. She was willing to suffer rejection in order to obtain healing for her loved one. She also had indomitable persistence. Her faith grew in contact with the person of Jesus. She began with a request and she ended on her knees in worshipful prayer to the living God. No one who ever sought Jesus with faith – whether Jew or Gentile – was refused his help. Do you seek Jesus with expectant faith?
“Lord Jesus, your love and mercy knows no bounds. May I trust you always and pursue you with indomitable persistence as this woman did. Increase my faith in your saving power and deliver me for all evil and harm. ”