Summary: This sermon addresses how Jesus ministered to the Canaanite woman when others, including Jesus’ own disciples, would have just brushed her off.
JESUS AND THE CANAANITE WOMAN
Text: Matthew 15:10-28
It seems that Jesus was indifferent toward this Canaanite woman who was in need of His help. Matthew 15:24 could give one that perception on the surface: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 15:24 RSV). But Jesus’ ministry was not exclusive: “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV). Jesus came to be the Savior of the world, even though his ministry was first to the Jews.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who is concerned about all of the lost sheep regardless of whether or not they are Jews or Gentiles. This story is but only one incident of how Jesus reached out to those who were not Jews. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him" (John 3:16-17 RSV).
We need to remember that many of Jesus’ own people rejected Jesus who said that He was a prophet without honor in His own country (Mark 6:1-13). We also need to remember the comparison of how well most of the Gentiles that we read about responded to Jesus and His message unlike many of the Jews who rejected His message. The Pharisees in this story stand in sharp contrast to the Canaanite woman as to how each is receptive to Jesus or not. The reasons are clear the woman needed Jesus’ help and the Pharisees were far too concerned about the traditions of men which Jesus said made void the Word of God (Mark 7:8, Matthew 15:6).
THE WOMAN IN NEED OF THE SAVIOR
This Canaanite woman was vulnerable because of her nationality. Canaanites were considered to be enemies of the Jews. The infamous historian Josephus once wrote "…of the Phoenicians it is known the Tyrians have been most of all in the same ill disposition towards us:" (Apion Book 1). It was in Tyre where Jesus encountered this woman after He had gone out of Jewish territory and into Phonecian territory where the Sidonians and Tyrians lived. Perhaps Jesus went there to escape the hostility and insults of the Scribes and Pharisees. (William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible Series: The Gospel Of Matthew. Revised Edition. Volume 2. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1975, p.121). After all, it would have been highly unlikely for almost any Jew to follow him into Gentile territory, because Jews avoided Gentiles. The Jews considered the Gentiles to be unclean because of the pagan practices of their culture.
This Canaanite woman was vulnerable because of her need. The disciples thought of this woman as if she were a nuisance. And they wanted to be rid of her. Yet, the woman was persistent because she was interceding on the behalf of her daughter who was demon possessed. Jesus was obviously the only One that could help her daughter. The way that she greets Jesus calling Him "Son of David" tells us that she already knows about His ability to heal. This mother’s love for her daughter was far greater than any social boundaries.
"A young woman left for college one autumn. Before she left, she asked her mother to look after the potted violets and her aquarium in her bedroom. Her mother, who often seemed distracted, assured her that she would water the plants and take care of the fish. The daughter left with assurances from her mother that everything would be cared for. Two weeks after leaving, the girl called home, and, in the course of the conversation asked how the violets were doing. The mother apologized that she’d forgotten to water them and that they all died. A couple of weeks later, the daughter telephoned and inquired about the goldfish, the mother confessed that she had been busy and had neglected to feed them, and had found them all dead. After a long pause, the young woman asked with anxiety in her voice, "And … how is Dad?" (William P. Barker. Ed. Tarbell’s Teacher’s Guide. 86th Annual Volume. Elgin: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1990, pp. 144-145).
Unlike this neglectful mother, the Canaanite woman was anything but neglectful. The only thing that she neglected was the social custom where Gentiles and Jews would avoid each other. This mother was not about to let a social barrier get in the way if she could help it. Can you see this mother’s loving devotion? She was interceding for her daughter who did not have the capacity to take up the matter herself because of her demon possession.
THE SAVIOR’S RESPONSE TO THE WOMAN IN NEED