Today’s lesson is presented by Trey Adams and covers Lesson 13 from the Gospel Doctrine Manual.
“In the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Matthew we begin to see signs of the tide turning against Jesus by the leaders of the country, and accordingly Jesus turning more to the Gentiles. In chapter fourteen John the Baptist was beheaded, a clear sign of the opposition to the movement. But Jesus fed the five thousand, showing that He could meet the needs of Israel; and then He walked on the water, showing that He is the Lord of creation. In chapter fifteen Jesus challenged the teachings of the elders because those teachings had been elevated to the status of Scripture. Then, following that confrontation, Jesus went out of the country to the region of Tyre and Sidon and met a Canaanite woman.” (“The Faith of a Canaanite Woman”. Study by Allen Ross)
21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.”
In his study, Ross observes that Jesus was not simply getting out of town due to social conflict in Israel, nor that his encounter with the woman was quite by chance. No, “The Lord was going to this Canaanite area, to this Canaanite woman”.
As Ross points out, the Israelites were continually challenging Him to prove with a sign that he was the Messiah; whereas this gentile woman – despite knowing the low status of her historical social position with respect to the chosen race – was convinced of his divine authority and would not be dissuaded. This was to be the first gentile healing in gentile territory, a foreshadowing of the redemption of the gentiles. In time, they too would be invited to the Lord’s Table.
“The timing is most significant--the Jewish leaders were rejecting Him, and [a] Gentile woman who hardly knows Him was seeking mercy.” (Ross)
Cried the woman, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” These words are significant in that they demonstrate her knowledge that Christ is the Jewish king, the promised Messiah – and her sovereign. And so out of desperation over her daughter, she begs mercy from the King of Kings, despite having no place in his kingdom.
Jesus’ response, according to Ross, was typical of other recorded instances where He tested the faith and perseverance of those seeking His help. He was silent and continued on His way while she followed, all the while crying out for help. The disciples became annoyed and importuned Him to “Send her away; for she crieth after us” (Matthew 15:23). Jesus’ answer seems a bit out of context to me: “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 15:24). Hmm . . . “what does that have to do with sending her away?” one might ask.
Ross’ insight at this point helps to make sense of Jesus’ response:
“Now this could mean a couple of different things. They could mean, “Send her away because she is a nuisance.” Or they could mean, “Send her away by healing her because she won’t go away.” This last interpretation makes the best sense, because Jesus’ answer in verse 24 speaks to it and not the other. In other words, “I am only sent to the lost sheep of Israel” would explain why he was not healing her, and would not explain a request to dismiss her without healing her.”
“Jesus wanted the disciples and the woman to understand fully that His ministry in the brief time He had on earth was very focused. He was the Son of David, the Messiah. That fact did not admit this Canaanite woman to the benefits of the covenant made with the Jews. The kingdom had to be fully offered to them first, in fulfillment of the Old Testament prophecies of the kingdom. (The passage is like John 4:22 where it was recognized that “salvation is from the Jews.”) So all the woman could do is ask for mercy, general mercy as a non-Israelite.”
But the woman “was unrelenting” and knelt before Him and begged. “Lord, help me”. When Jesus rebuked her by saying that the children’s bread was not to be cast to dogs, the woman’s answer was marvelous: even the “dogs” eat the crumbs that the children drop.
I believe that Ross’ conclusion is worth thoughtful consideration:
“Jesus honors the faith that seeks mercy. She had no resentment, no anger about her situation; she only knew that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who came to heal people, and for some reason He was in her town. She sought mercy from Him. And this time Jesus responded with emotion (“O woman” has emotional force). Her faith was rewarded.”
At the risk of overstating the obvious, the story has metaphorical significance to many of us – especially those with a religious-cultural background. In a sense, cursed and banished from family and church, we have felt the isolation and socio-cultural distinction from the chosen. Some have maneuvered with tentative, timid steps through life, feeling self conscious at the family as well as at the Lord’s Table (Packer’s conference address), eating the crumbs while hungering for acceptance.
While I believe in respect and equality, and in efforts to obtain then, I nonetheless suggest we consider the manner of the Canaanite woman: “She had no resentment, no anger about her situation; she only knew that Jesus was the . . . Messiah who came to heal people.”
I will end this discussion with what I consider one of the most poignant and reassuring poetical depictions of the Savior’s love: “Love Bade Me Welcome” by George Herbert. Herbert was a 17th century cleric and metaphysical poet. Years ago I committed his poem to memory; it has been a personal comfort to me through tough as well as good times in my life; I pray it may be for you as well.
Love bade me welcome
Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
Guilty of dust and sin.
But quick-ey'd Love, observing me grow slack
From my first entrance in,
Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning
If I lack'd anything.
"A guest," I answer'd, "worthy to be here";
Love said, "You shall be he."
"I, the unkind, the ungrateful? ah my dear,
I cannot look on thee."
Love took my hand and smiling did reply,
"Who made the eyes but I?"
"Truth, Lord, but I have marr'd them; let my shame
Go where it doth deserve."
"And know you not," says Love, "who bore the blame?"
"My dear, then I will serve."
"You must sit down," says Love, "and taste my meat."
So I did sit and eat.
-- George Herbert
Below is a recording of Sir John Tavener's musical setting of this poem, performed by the Total Youth Aberdeen Choir.