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 demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”
23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.Matthew 15:21-28 (NIV)
I am a dog lover. We currently have two dogs who I greatly love and enjoy. Like humans, dogs get used to a routine and pick up on clues which communicate what is about to happen. At meal time in our home, one dog lays on the floor near the table while the other one lays at our feet under the table. The minute they hear us put our silverware down, they both stand up beside us. They know that is a clue we are done eating. Both of them also know that when we are finished with the meal, they are likely to get some scraps or a container to lick out.
After reading the passage for today, our mealtime routine came to mind. Jesus refers to dogs not receiving bread and the Canaanite woman says they at least they get the crumbs on the floor. The woman had come to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter. Jesus tells her that his ministry is focused on the Jews. But the woman is persistent, as she had been before Jesus talked with her. When Jesus uses the food and dog imagery to illustrate his point, she makes the point that Gentiles deserve even a small amount of Jesus’s ministry. Jesus sees in the woman that she fully believes in his power. This is more than many Jews acknowledge. He has experienced her persistence in accessing that power. Her daughter is healed because of what Jesus sees in the woman’s understanding of faith.
This is a passage which can make us uncomfortable. First, we do not understand why Jesus appears to be excluding groups of people from his ministry. Second, we struggle with the connection of faith and healing. We struggle with these things in part due to a lack of understanding. The understanding which the writer of Matthew has is that Jesus comes first to the Jews to offer a way of salvation. This way is then extended to all people on Easter morning.
Another aspect of understanding necessary is the writer’s view of the actions of the woman. She has not “bested” Jesus so he relents. Instead, she demonstrates that she has unrelenting faith in Jesus. As a Canaanite woman, she would be seen as an outsider. Yet the boundaries of the Lord’s compassion are shattered by a demonstration of faith not always witnessed in the people Jesus was first sent to and of which he was a part.
This passage’s focus is on the importance of a persistent faith. Faith does not correct all the troubles of our lives. Faith does not promise a problem-free existence. Realizing that during times of trouble, we have someone always walking with us is what faith provides. Not being overwhelmed and giving up is the power faith offers. Trusting that in the end, the Lord will defeat the troubles and heal all brokenness, is what faith is about.