“It’s not right to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26).
This may be the strangest thing Jesus ever said.
It happened when he ventured outside the confines of Israel and entered the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon. When Mark gives us his version of this story (Mark 7:24-30), he says Jesus retired to a house, evidently seeking rest from the rising tide of controversy with the Pharisees. But it did not work because Jesus could not escape notice.
Word had spread far and wide that Jesus had supernatural power to heal the sick and raise the dead. Even in this Gentile territory, people knew about his ministry, and that’s why one particular woman came to see him.She is called a Canaanite, meaning she descended from the Canaanites in the Old Testament who were mortal enemies of the Jewish people. She had many things going against her that day:
Jesus had come to her region to rest, not to minister.She was a pagan, not a Jew.She was a woman, not a man.Although there was no reason to think Jesus would help her, she came because he was her last hope. The story as Matthew tells it begins this way:
Jesus left that place and went to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that territory came to him and began to shout, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” (Matthew 15:21-22).
Every parent can understand this. If you have a sick child, how far will you go to help your son or daughter? To ask the question is to answer it. It’s not a matter of time or distance or money. When your son is sick or your daughter is ill, nothing matters except getting them well again.
I remember talking with a gifted physician about this. He commented that when your child is sick, you don’t care about test results, x-rays, percentages, new medicines, research protocols, or anything like that. “People just want to know one thing: ‘Is my child going to be all right?’” Nothing else matters.
We don’t know how this woman’s daughter came to be tormented by a demon. Somehow this little girl’s life had been taken over by a malignant evil spirit. It wasn’t a matter of medicine, for no medicine could cast out the demon. Because the problem was supernatural, only a miracle could cure her. That’s why the woman came to Jesus that day.
We love miracle stories because they have happy endings, but this one starts in a strange way. Jesus’ response to this woman seems peculiar and perhaps even cruel. Did our Lord not believe her story? Did he not care about her daughter?
The most obvious way to answer those questions is observe that our Lord varied his methods. He treated each person he met as an individual. He dealt with Nicodemus one way, another way with the woman at the well, yet another way with the deaf mute, and yet another way with Zacchaeus. He met people where they were and found a way to communicate divine truth to each one.
To understand how Jesus dealt with this Canaanite woman, let’s ask and answer two key questions about this story.
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