Cruelty and Insult to Blessing and Honor
Matthew 15: 21-28
Do you find Jesus' interactions with the Canaanite woman offensive?
Published July 1st, 2019; Updated July 1st, 2019
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Main point summary
Don't be so shocked...
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Matthew 15:21-28
g And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.
And behold, h a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, i “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, j “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.”
He answered, k “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
But she came and l knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.”
And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and m throw it to the dogs.”
She said, “Yes, Lord,
yet even the dogs eat n the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, o great is your faith!
p Be it done for you as you desire.”
q And her daughter was p healed instantly. 1
The wide view In the middle of this passage (Mat 15:21-28), Jesus cruelly refuses to help this woman who has fallen at his feet begging him to heal her demon-oppressed daughter-- and he adds insult to injury, essentially calling the woman a dog. And yet things are not as they seem. Moments later, not only has Jesus granted the woman's request and heals her daughter, but he has given her the greatest compliment that Jesus (indeed God) ever gives to anybody. "Oh woman, great is your faith!" Jesus is not impressed with people. Only a few precious times does he encounter someone who's faith is so great that he comments on it, and this is one of those times. From seeming cruelty and insult, to blessing and great honor. What is going on here? Let's put ourselves in our place But wait--why is this passage so surprising to us? Why do so many of us (at least upon first reading it), take offense at Jesus' actions and words? To put it simply, because we are prideful. How dare Jesus treat that woman that way! Why? He is God. She is a sinful human. She's not Jewish, and He was working primarily with the Jews (God's chosen people) at that point... Stop! Right now, look at your heart. Are you offended? Are you struggling with the story or with the facts above? Now, imagine a person who has no pride, who deeply understands that they are sinful (meaning corrupted, unclean, evil, not okay, not good, not deserving-- you're going to have to chuck postmodern self-esteem mantras in order to get this). Would this person with no pride, this humble person, be offended by Jesus? No. The Canaanite woman is humble. She knows that she is nothing, and she's right. She's desperate to save her daughter and that's more important than her reputation. She's humble enough to come begging at the feet of a Jewish man in public, crossing cultural taboos and inviting criticism and mockery. She's humble enough to persist when she is ignored and rejected, because she's not demanding her rights; she's begging for mercy (which is completely different). Jesus' comment about children and dogs? Doesn't phase her. Insults only hurt pride. No pride? No insult taken. Yes, I am a dog, she thinks, but I've heard about you. I know that you can help me, and I know that you are merciful. "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Humility and faith win the day So uncool. Where is the modern everything woman? Where is the strong, determined, conquering all obstacles, proud, smart, CEO/doctor/supermom/feminist all-in-one package of awesomeness? What is this sniveling, self-demeaning creature begging at the feet of a man?! Shameful! Yes, humility is rather detested today, and faith (in anything other than yourself) is equally yucky. But if we stop posturing for a second and take an objective look we will perhaps have a Solomon moment: The modern self-made, self-believing superwoman (or man), can spend their life and energy in pursuit of progress, wealth, social good, or power. An unwanted child born in the slums of Katmandu can spend their short, miserable life begging for food. But both will end up dust, their earthly accomplishments (or lack thereof) wholly meaningless. They will stand before God and answer for their actions, their thoughts, the intentions of their hearts. Pride will be exposed in all its shamefulness. Humility will shine. Faith will be joyfully victorious, having received its heart desire, and honor to boot. Good and uncomfortable I love this story. I didn't love it the first time I read it. Or the second. I was confused, yes, about some of the details, but mostly I was just offended. It took a long time, some humbling doses of reality, and some spiritual maturing to begin to see the beauty of this passage. Now my prayer is a fearful one of "Lord, I want to be humble and have great faith. I want to be immune to insults, and not daunted by cultural taboos." I suppose that the fact that my prayer is fearful is proof that I'm not there yet (yeah, not by a really, really long shot.) If you're not there yet, keep praying and keep reading. If you are still offended by this passage, keep praying and keep reading. Because we really are sinful, and he really can help us, and he really is merciful.
Duretta Anderson
An excellent commentary on this passage Sarah! I learned so much and will spend more time rereading and rethinking all of your insights.
Thank you for your candid honesty/genuine humility and much time pulling it all together.
Disclaimer: The opinions and conclusions expressed on this page are those of the author and may or may not accord with the positions of Biblearc or Bethlehem College & Seminary.