Summary: A Canaanite woman approaches Jesus pleading with Him to heal her daughter who was possessed by a demon.
Have you noticed how some people just keep going and going like that energizer bunny even when they seem to be fighting a lost cause? Take Rob Ford for example. In his first public appearance since being hospitalized, Toronto Mayor Rob Ford vowed to supporters to 'beat cancer' the same way he says he beat his addiction problems. Perhaps you know of others who, when diagnosed with cancer, vowed to fight it to the end. How do these people like Rob and others have the strength and courage to keep on fighting despite the odds? Probably what drives them is the belief in the rightness of their cause no matter what the odds promise or what the world says. Arnold Palmer, an American professional golfer, said it like this, “I’ve always made a total effort, even when the odds seemed entirely against me. I never quit trying; I never felt that I didn’t have a chance to win.” That’s part of what keeps some people from losing hope and pushing forward for their cause.
In our Gospel reading this morning, Jesus and his disciples were passing through Gentile territory of Tyre and Sidon. Jesus was not on a mission of ministry, for as He says, He was sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. A Canaanite woman and her daughter met them as they were passing through her territory. She approaches Jesus and begs Him to heal her daughter of her affliction. This was likely her last resort in finding a cure for her daughter’s illness. She undoubtedly heard about Jesus and His ability to heal and saw in Him a chance to help her child. But as you noticed from the Gospel reading, there was complete silence when she made her first appeal. Matthew says, "But He said not a word in answer to her." (Matthew 15:23 TNJB)
How do you think you would feel if you were hungry, had no money and went up to someone on the street asking for a couple of dollars to buy some food? But, instead of helping you, the man walks right past you, ignoring your plea for help. How embarrassing would that be first to beg for help and then be totally ignored. What would you do? Would you keep on looking elsewhere?
Well, not this woman! She would not take no for an answer. She continued pleading with Jesus to cure her daughter. In her persistence, she made quite a spectacle of herself as she pleaded with tears streaming from her eyes. Finally, when Jesus spoke to her, He came out with a very strange response. He said: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. (Matthew 15:25 TNJB) It’s like saying to a migrant worker, since you are not Canadian, you are not allowed to work in this country.
What Jesus was saying to her was, "You don’t qualify for my services, because you are not a Jew." For most people this would have ended the conversation right there and then. This woman's only response was to repeat the same appeal, "Help me, Lord." She really believed in her cause, and the love for her daughter moved her to act as she did. She cared more for someone else than for herself. Her only request was for her daughter. When we genuinely love people, we do not need to be afraid of going out on a limb and do what needs doing. God is more interested in why you do what you do than what you do.
Then Jesus made another strange remark to her pleading. He said to her, "It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.” (Matthew 15;27TNJB) She, in response quipped back from His humiliating insult to reinforce her appeal. She said, "Ah yes, Lord, but even the little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table.” (Matthew 15:27b)
In those days, calling someone a dog was a great insult. But, this doesn’t stop her in her tracks. She didn’t seem offended by His remark otherwise she might have said something derogatory. But, it didn’t bother her at all. Jesus noticed that her reaction to the insult displayed only humility and a deep abiding faith she had in Jesus. She felt that if you believe something and do not act upon it, that belief is completely useless to you.
Jesus responded: "Woman, you have great faith. Let your desire be granted."(Matthew 15:28)
This Gospel about the Canaanite woman has baffled and bothered readers and apologists for centuries. Jesus is portrayed here as a contradiction to what we really know of Him. For example, why does Jesus seems so harsh toward this Canaanite woman? He does so probably to test the seriousness of her faith. It’s not that He loved her less because she was a Gentile. He wanted to see how persistent she would be in seeking an answer to her problems.