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THE FAITH OF THE CANAANITE WOMAN

Matthew 15:21-15:28
Key Verse: 15:27

In the previous passage Jesus rebuked some Pharisees and teachers of the law who were clean outwardly but unclean inwardly when they nullified the word of God for the sake of their tradition. In today’s passage Jesus praises a Canaanite woman, an unclean person to the eyes the Jews, for her faith. Let’s think about the faith of the Canaanite woman that pleased Jesus.

First, the woman’s coming to Jesus (21-22). Look at verses 21. “Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.” At this time Jesus wanted to have private time with his disciples; this was before they headed to Judea and their final destination, Jerusalem. So Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon, which was considered a Gentile territory. But Jesus could not keep his presence secret. He was found by a Gentile woman. A Canaanite woman came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” When she heard about Jesus, she believed that Jesus was the Lord, the promised Messiah who would come as a descendant of David. She knew that Jesus was the right one whose mercy she needed, although she was a Gentile whom the Jews thought had no part with God’s blessing. This was the first time she came to him. Yet, she could not just talk to him in a gentle way. He had to cry out because of her broken spirit and aching heart. In her crying she said, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” She did not say, “…have mercy on my daughter”, but “…have mercy on me.” Why? We don’t know why the daughter was demon-possessed. Probably it was because of the mother’s lack of care or the daughter’s own wayward life in pursuit of human freedom. Anyway, she felt that her daughter’s misery was her misery, and the daughter’s suffering was hers. Among all sicknesses, what can be worse than demon-possession? The daughter was no longer herself in demon-possession. She moved and acted according to the demons in her directed. All mothers in the world want to see their daughters growing beautifully. No mother wants to see her daughter suffering in demon-possessed. But this Canaanite mother had to see day by day her daughter suffering terribly from demon-possession. Her misery and suffering as a mother of a demon-possessed daughter was more than one could say. She came to Jesus and cried out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!

In the Bible there are several beautiful stories of parents’ coming to Jesus on behalf of their sick children. Once, a father whose son had seizures came to Jesus. He said, “Lord, have mercy on my son. He often falls into the fire or into the water.” Jesus said, “Bring the boy to me.” Then he rebuked the demon, and it came out of the boy, and the boy was healed from that moment (Mt 17:15-18). Another time a father came to Jesus for her daughter. The father was a man of high position in the society. But when he came to Jesus, he humbly knelt before Jesus and said, “My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will be live.” Jesus was very pleased with this father and went with him. Coming to his home, Jesus raised the dead girl accepting the father’s faith (Mt 9:18-25). On another occasion a Roman centurion came to Jesus on account of his ill servant. He said, “Lord, my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering.” The centurion believed in the authority of Jesus’ word. Then on the spot Jesus said, “Go! It will be done Justas you believed it would. And his servant was healed at that very hour (Mt 8:8-13). It is indeed beautiful to come to Jesus for our children, friends or other needy ones participating in their sufferings. Coming to Jesus with their problems can be the best expression of love for them, and Jesus is pleased with such a coming.

Second, the woman rejected (23-26). How did Jesus respond when she came to him, crying out? Look at verse 21. “Jesus did not answer a word…” This was a very rare case in Jesus’ dealing with people. Jesus always was happy with people’s coming to him for his mercy and willingly gave them what they had asked for. His compassionate heart was sensitive to their needs and quickly responded. But at this time Jesus seemed to be different. His initial response to her crying out was silent rejection.

Then his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out for us.” The disciples felt that they were bothered by her continuous crying out. So they asked Jesus to send her away. The disciples did not know at all the broken heart of the mother with a demon-possessed daughter. At this Jesus should have rebuked the disciples, as he did when they wanted to send away the hungry crowd and also the little children who were brought to receive Jesus’ blessing (Mt 14:15-16; 19:13-14). However, this time Jesus seemed to side with his disciples. He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman could finally hear a word from Jesus. Yet, it was a stronger verbal rejection after the rejection in silence. Jesus seemed to discriminate between the lost sheep of Israel and those of non-Israel.

When Jesus gave instructions to the disciples as he was about to send them out for fieldwork training, the first instruction was “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel” (Mt 10:5-6). Of course, to God all people are equal. His desire is to bless all people of the world. For this he chose one man Abraham and raised him up as an ancestor of faith. Then he formed a nation Israel through him and his descendants. In the Old Testament how one man Abraham could be a nation was written. Jesus came to this world, not out of no where, but through this line of Abraham. In chapter one Matthew traced the ancestry of Jesus as he wrote the genealogy of Jesus. In his lifetime Jesus did not travel abroad but stayed in the land of Israel and preached to the lost sheep of Israel. He raised 12 disciples among them and then gave them world mission command. Before his ascension he said to his disciple, “…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” So what Jesus was quite true, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” And in doing the gospel work, this principle is very important.

At Jesus’ consecutive rejections how did the woman respond? Of course, the woman must have understood when Jesus said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Yet, her understanding of Jesus’ words was not superficial. She could read the heart of Jesus hidden in his words to bless all people of the world eventually. So she did not go away in sorrow and bitterness. No. Look at verse 25. “The woman came and knelt before him. ‘Lord, help me!’ she said,” She is like a child, who comes nearer to the bosom of the parents when rebuked by the father or mother. She did not go away but came to him and this time knelt before him. She was not weakened in her spirit but more intense in coming to Jesus for his help. Putting aside all the theoretical things, she simply pleaded with him, “Lord, help me!” Her unyielding yet soft heart was so beautiful.

Jesus must have moved by her beautiful attitude. Then how did Jesus respond at this time? Look at verse 26. “He replied, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’” Wow! It is likely that the closer she came, the colder Jesus’ response was. At first Jesus treated her as not as a lost sheep of Israel but a Gentile, who is outside of God’s blessing. Now Jesus’ reply implied that she was a dog. And Jesus differentiated between children and their dogs. This was an unbearable humiliation to her, to any woman.

There are so many people who cannot overcome humiliation and the subsequent painful feelings. It is not easy to overcome rejection and humiliation, much more so when it comes from loved or trusted ones. One day a smart and capable vice-president came to work. She and her boss seemed to co-work together well with a great business vision. But after talking with her boss in the morning, she disappeared; no one in the company saw her anymore. Her company colleagues wondered why she suddenly disappeared in a day. Most of them imagine that when her pride was hurt, she could not tolerate it. Families can be broken when a husband or a wife cannot bear the spouse‘s momentary humiliation. We must know that there are rejections and humiliations in life. Proverbs 18:12 says, “Before his downfall a man’s heart is proud, but humility comes before honour.” It is important to be accepted by people in our society. But if one expects only to be accepted, he will soon confront many troubles. Again, we can be disappointed, rejected or humiliated even by loved ones or trusted ones. Psalm 41:9 says, “Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.” Life can be in a sense how to handle rejections and humiliations from people or from God. We remember Cain. When God rejected him and his offering while accepted his brother Abel and his offering, he could not bear the situation. Although God’s rejection meant giving him a second chance, he could not accept it. He was angry toward God and finally killed his brother. He became a restless wanderer to the end of his life. There was a valiant soldier. He was a commander-in-chief in his country. But he had a fatal weakness, leprosy. In the midst of many victories and success in life he was fatalistic. Then he heard about a prophet in Israel who could heal the leprosy. In a great expectation he came with the king’s letter, a large amount of money and precious gifts to the place where the prophet resided. He thought that the prophet would welcome him and put the hand on him for the healing. However, the man of God did not even come out of his room to see him, but just sent a message through a servant, “Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.” At that moment the man felt so humiliated that he turned and went off in a rage. But through the help of his servant he returned and went to the Jordan River and did as the man of God told him. Then his leprosy was gone and his flesh was completely restored. As for us, when our prayer topics are not answered despite our earnest and unceasing prayer, it is not easy to bear with it. We can easily become negative about prayer, thinking that prayer does not make a difference. It is more difficult to bear when we see that God answered others’ prayers but not mine. We can feel God’s rejection and become disheartened. However, our Lord Jesus wants us to ask until we receive, seek until we find and knock until the door is opened, as long as our prayer topic is according to his will to please and honour him and reveal his glory. Again, let’s remember that humiliation comes before honour. Apostle Peter in his old age advised young men, saying, “Young men…All of you, clothe yourselves with humility… because ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time” (1 Peter 5:5-6).

Third, the woman’s faith recognized (27-28). How did the woman respond when she was humiliated as a dog? Look at verse 27. “‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’” Even in such a time of unbearable humiliation her response was “Yes.” She knew who she was and recognized herself as a Gentile, who could be regarded as a dog before God. She admitted that she deserved such a humiliation. She was truly humble before God.

She said, “Yes, Lord.” Still to her Jesus was Lord. At the first encountering with Jesus, she said, “Lord, Son of David…” When Jesus rejected her saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel,” she still said, “Lord…” And at the time of awful humiliation still she said, “Yes, Lord…” She was consistent in calling Jesus “Lord.” Lord is one who has lordship over heaven and earth and all people and all things in them. Certainly, Jesus was the Lord over her at all times, in time of favour and rejection. The Lord rules over people as he wants. The Lord is not directed by anyone, but he directs as he wills.

We remember Mary, the mother of Jesus. When the angel Gabriel delivered God’s message that she could be with a child before her marriage, Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant, may it be to me as you have said” (Lk 1:8). Although accepting God’s message could ruin her future marriage and life, she recognized God as the Lord and put her deep trust in him, believing in his words and admitting herself as the Lord’s servant. Then she sang a song of praise to the Lord God, “…His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble…” (Lk 1:50-52). Because of her humble submission in faith, God could use Mary as the mother of Jesus.

The woman said, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” This was an amazing wisdom. When she recognized the Lord in such a situation, wisdom sprang up in her humble heart. There are different kinds of dogs, dogs on the streets or dogs under the table of their masters. The dogs under their masters’ table are endlessly happy eating the crumbs that fall from the table. And children masters are more generous than adult masters. Her words could imply that Jesus is the Master of all masters and most generous. In this way the woman persistently yet wisely begged for the mercy and grace of Jesus, even a small portion of his grace, which would be sufficient to heal her demon-possessed daughter.

At this Jesus answered at last, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Jesus was so much pleased with her, admiring her great faith. During his messianic ministry, Jesus rarely praised for anyone. To the Son of God nothing could be so impressive. But Jesus praised her for her faith, the great faith of a Gentile woman. And her daughter was healed from that very hour. In the end she received what she wanted from the Lord Jesus. To Jesus what really counts, whether from Jews or Gentiles, is faith. This woman makes a sharp contrast to Jesus’ hometown people, for whom Jesus could not any miracle because of their lack of faith.

Here we see why Jesus treated her so harshly. It was to help her to be refined and polished in her faith. No one but Jesus could train her in faith. God trained Abraham in faith even commanding him to offer his one and only son as a burnt offering so that he was assured he loved God more than anything else in the world and thus be established as an ancestor of faith. In Job’s life there were so many sufferings which no one could understand. Yet Job confessed, “But he knows the way that I take; when he has tested me, I will come forth as gold” (Job 23:10). Jesus trained the Canaanite woman in faith out of deep love for her so that she might not only receive what she wanted but glorify God through her faith in her life.

May God help us to receive any kind of rejection or humiliation with “Yes, Lord” faith so that our faith be tested and refined until we can please God and glorify him with faith in our life journey in this world.

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