Summary: Jesus has been very busy in ministry and opposition is becoming stronger against him. He needed to withdraw. Jesus is tired, away from home, among non-Jewish people, one of which was a woman who had very little to offer to Him, but who wouldn’t go away.
Opening Statement: Have you ever been frustrated by a test or an exam that was unclear or needlessly confusing? I have and I am reminded of a story that I read this week in this regard. A guy was taking a class in ornithology (ôr´nə-thŏlʹə-jē), the study of birds. It was a class with a lot of students enrolled and the professor had a reputation for being extremely difficult, so the guy studied really hard. He went to take the exam feeling confident that he was ready. But instead of a normal test, there are 25 pictures on the wall of birds’ feet. He is supposed to identify the birds by their feet. The guy just goes ballistic. He marches straight up to the professor and told him, “This is crazy. Nobody can take this test and pass it. I’m not taking it.” The teacher told him, “You have to take it or you fail the class.” The guy said, “Fine, go ahead and fail me. I’m not going to take this test.” The teacher said, “All right. That’s it. You’ve failed. Tell me you name.” The guy thinks for a second, rolls up his pants to his knees and says, “You tell me.”
Transition: There’s a passage in Matthew’s Gospel that’s always puzzled me a bit, kind of like that college student. A Canaanite lady came to Jesus for help with her demon-possessed daughter and he appears to ignore her. It seems odd that Jesus would do such a thing to this one woman and her request for her daughter because he so readily helped so many other people. Why did Jesus do this? Why does he appear to be rude and just shrug off her request? He was testing both the disciples and her faith.
Title: A Test of Endurance
Text: Matthew 15:21-28
Background: Jesus has been very busy in ministry and opposition is becoming stronger against him. He needed to withdraw. Jesus is tired, away from home, among non-Jewish people, one of which was a woman who had very little to offer to Him, but who wouldn’t go away.
Recitation: 15:21 After going out from there, Jesus went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 15:22 A Canaanite woman from that area came and cried out, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed!” 15:23 But he did not answer her a word. Then his disciples came and begged him, “Send her away, because she keeps on crying out after us.” 15:24 So he answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 15:25 But she came and bowed down before him and said, “Lord, help me!” 15:26 “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” he said. 15:27 “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 15:28 Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! Let what you want be done for you.” And her daughter was healed from that hour.
Question: How could Jesus be so inconsiderate and cold? Some of you may be thinking, “Man, that’s a crumby passage!” He’s testing her.
What She’s Got Against Her
Jesus is tired. He was withdrawing from the crowds as he often did to replenish his spirit and rejuvenate himself. The last thing he wanted to do was see somebody with another need! Jesus had become a resource for people and they were constantly after him to do something for them. Matthew used the key word "withdrew" many times (cf. 2:12, 22; 4:12; 12:15; 14:13). Divert daily. Withdraw weekly. Abandon yearly.
Canaanites were not “friendlies.” She was a Canaanite. The Jews hated Canaanites. Tyre and Sidon stood on the Mediterranean coast about 30 and 50 miles north of Galilee respectively. This was pagan Gentile territory. This hatred for Gentiles was tied all the way back to the time of the Judges when Joshua and the Israelites had to fight them to possess the land that God had promised to them.
Women were not high-priority, especially a Canaanite woman. According to extra-biblical sources, women had very few rights and were not held in very high regard in these days. Sometimes, this viewpoint bleeds through the biblical text and it bleeds through the disciples’ actions. They kept urging Jesus to get rid of her (v.23). I get this feeling that they were enjoying the notoriety that they were a part of here. Jesus was extremely popular and they were enjoying the popularity. They had very little concern for her. And Jesus appears to side with them, as He wrestles with what to do, he says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” In effect, he told her, “Hey, you’re an outsider. You don’t have a stake in this enterprise. You’re not within my mission. Maybe some other time.” Now Jesus did care for and heal Gentiles, but he did so on Israel’s soil (the Gentile centurion whose servant was sick made his request to Jesus in the friendly confines of Palestine when Jesus entered Capernaum (Matt 8:5).) Here, he’s actually in Gentile territory; to extend his mission here at this point would have detracted from his primary mission of offering the Promised Kingdom to Israel. So after the silent treatment, he in effects says, “I know my parameters and this place and your needs are not within it.”