Today’s Bible reading is Joshua 3 and Matthew 15.
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” But he did not answer her a word. (Matt 15:21-23a)
After all, she’s a Canaanite woman. That’s what would have stood out and disqualified her of attention and intervention in the eyes of the Pharisees and scribes who had come from Jerusalem to investigate this troublesome teacher from Nazareth.
And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Matt 15:23b-24)
After all, doesn’t she know who we are? Why would we, the descendants of Abraham, take away from our God-appointed blessings and privileges and share them with a filthy Canaanite? And beyond that, we are Jesus’ disciples! Some of us have been handpicked as apostles. Stop following us, crying out to our Master, and distracting us from more important things.
But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” (Matt 15:25-26)
That’s right! You tell her, Jesus!
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matt 15:27-28)
Unless you read all of Matthew 15, you probably won’t feel the weight of the irony. But when you do…
On the front end of the chapter, Jesus has condemned a bunch of Pharisees and scribes as hypocrites. “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me.” On the back end of the chapter, Jesus is unwilling to send the multitudes away hungry. “I have compassion on the crowd because they have been with me now three days and have nothing to eat.” The disciples’ response? “Where are we to get enough bread in such a desolate place to feed so great a crowd?” We are one chapter–one CHAPTER removed from Jesus miraculously feeding five thousand men, besides women and children, with five loaves and two fish.
But sandwiched between hypocritical Pharisees and slow-to-believe disciples is a Canaanite woman whose faith is great. You know what that tells us? You don’t have to be a physical descendant of Abraham. You don’t have to be a religious lawyer. You don’t have to be male. You don’t have to be “great” or even “worthy” in the eyes of others in order to be recognized by God as having great faith.
A Canaanite woman–despised in the eyes of Pharisees, a bother in the eyes of the disciples–knelt at the feet of Jesus and cried out with all her heart. “O Lord, have mercy. Help me. Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” We’re not even told her name.
But Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith!”
How could anyone ever be described in terms more meaningful and important than that?