Today’s Reading: Matthew 15
(Context: Jesus lays into the Pharisees once again, calling them legalistic hypocrites, more akin to blind men on a treacherous walk than to trained leaders. Jesus then, perhaps looking for a little “time off”, heads to Decapolis and to the area of Tyre and Sidon, the Northern Greek section of Israel. There Jesus, seemingly against His original desire, heals many, teaches the multitudes, and then feeds some 8,000 of them after 3 days together in the wilderness.)
I would like to draw attention to a little incident, where faith is illustrated brilliantly by a nameless, yet desperate mother:
[A] Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:22-28)
The emotion this passage evokes is impressive, even considering the style of Matthew’s writing, which is more akin to modern historical literature, than to memoir or fiction. This woman has come to Jesus with knowledge of Him, faith in His ability as a miracle worker, and an unquenchable desire to be helped by Him.
The fact that Jesus rejects her plea at first, must be understood in context of His preaching of the Kingdom to the Jews first. Surely He knows that the Kingdom was in the process of rejection and therefore it would open the floodgates of mercy upon all nations and people. Instead of doubting Jesus’ desire to heal her daughter, the focus must be instead put on Jesus’ desire to test her faith, likely even foreknowing how she would respond.
Imagine the scene. She was first a Gentile, then a Canaanite, and lastly a woman. All three, on an individual basis, deserved discrimination in the Jewish mind, and the sum of the three made her petition a despicable annoyance to the disciples.
This woman hounds Jesus, and He does not see it as annoyance but faith:
1. She weeps uncontrollably before Him, going after Him as He walks away.
2. She openly recognizes Him as the Messiah, as the “Son [eternal heir] of David”, something many Jews were loath to accept.
3. She kneels before Him, likely impeding Him to continue, and begging Him to listen to her. She has humbled herself before a foreigner a Jew, and a poor carpenter at that.
4. She pleads with him verbally, begging Him to help her. “Lord, help me”, she says.
5. She understands that she deserves nothing, repenting of her unworthiness, but hoping for His mercy. She asks not out of worthiness but out of her worthlessness.
She had passed the test. Immediately Jesus praises her, with the highest possible praise, likely to the shock of the disciples. I can imagine His smile, as He lifts her from the dirt, from her prostrate humiliation, then says: “O woman, great is your faith!” Few in the history of the world have ever received such high and exalted praise from God. He humbles the proud, but exalts the humble.
I wonder sometimes how many of the struggles we face in life are actually God’s doing, to test our faith. This is clearly the case many times. I also wonder how many times I have failed. Perhaps “prayer meetings” are one of the worst places where we show our failure to trust Him. There we are, sitting, and while we call our petitions “prayer requests”, perhaps they are simply glorified complaints? What if God wants us to suffer, endure, believe, and then be healed?
Here is something to think about; something for me to think about.