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.
Jesus’ response to this woman is shocking, and her response to him is astounding. I suspect he intended the whole exchange to shock his followers, including us, and to shake us out of lazy preconceptions.
I can’t be sure, but I think Jesus’ was putting into words what his good Jewish disciples were thinking. They all knew that Israel was God’s chosen covenant people, conveniently forgetting God had chosen them to be a “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6) to bring all the nations to him. It’s as though Jesus – always so good at seeing into people’s hearts – is pushing her to give voice to the extraordinary faith that he knows is in her. Twice in Matthew’s gospel Jesus describes someone as having “great faith”, and both are Gentiles and outsiders: the centurion in 8:5-13 (despised as Israel’s conqueror); and this Canaanite woman (despised as conquered by Israel). Yet both came in dramatic humility but with firm conviction that Jesus would hear their cry and respond in compassion.
It challenges me. Who have I made into an outsider? Who have I assumed there would be no point introducing them to Jesus because they would never put their faith in him? What preconceptions and prejudices obscure my view of what Jesus is doing?
Jesus, give me at least some this extraordinary woman’s humility and faith in you. Please shatter all of my preconceptions that would limit what you’re doing.
Written by David Cornell