And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, 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 15:21-28 ESV).
In the one year lectionary, the Gospel reading of the Canaanite woman is juxtaposed with the Old Testament reading of Jacob wrestling with God and…winning. Here comes along this pagan woman, of a people whom the Lord instructed Israel to drive out of the land in the Old Testament conquest, and she strives with Jesus Christ, the God-man and she…wins!
She comes to Jesus crying out words she, as a non-Israelite, should not have: “Lord” and “Son of David” were Jewish terms for the Messiah. She begs the mercy of this “Lord, Son of David” for her daughter who is afflicted with a demon. Her request is wholly unexpected. So far in Matthew there have been only one or two other instances of Gentiles making a request of Jesus (e.g. chapter 8). So far in Matthew, the focus has been on Israel and Jesus’ priority in coming to them as those who have been given the Promise. So when this Gentile woman comes to Jesus with a request for healing and with His sacred titles on her lips, it is quite surprising. And Jesus ignores her! However, she strives with God and men by persisting in crying out loud to the point of the disciples’ annoyance. Still, Jesus resists, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.”
This is certainly true. The Promise was given to the Israelites through their fathers, like Jacob, who strove with God and man and won (see the OT lesson). The feast of salvation, the Messiah — all was promised to and meant for the children of the house of Israel. Yet, some Jews of the time did have an idea that the Messiah’s salvation, His feast, would be so abundant as to overflow to “righteous” Gentiles. The Canaanite woman seems to have a familiarity with this concept, so she continues to strive, undaunted. As Jesus turns to her to tell her that it is not right to throw the children’s bread to the dogs — it is not right to give what is meant for God’s Chosen people to those outside of that group — she boldly answers back in faith, trusting that the Messiah’s mercy will overflow. “Yes, Lord,” she answers, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
As she speaks these words of faith in a promise that was not given to her — of faith in a promise that perhaps would only overflow to her — Jesus turns to her in admiration. “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” He heals her daughter immediately. He doesn’t just give her crumbs, He gives her access to the whole feast and all it means for the restoration of herself and her daughter. She strives with God, clinging to even the overflow of the Promise meant for another people, and she wins.
We, too, come as dogs to our master’s table. We come as those outside of salvation because of our sin and our unbelief. We come as those to whom the Promise was perhaps not originally given, who strive with God and man, begging for the crumbs. But God in Christ does something extraordinary. Instead of giving those outside of Israel just the crumbs, He creates a new Israel for Himself. He creates an Israel made up of those, like the Canaanite woman, with receptive faith. This new Israel is one with a faith that clings to the Promises of God and understands them to be for all. A faith which trusts in even the overflow of that Promise. When He takes to Himself this new Israel, He makes us all the children of God. We do not lick at the crumbs, rather we receive the feast and sit at the table with all the other dogs made children. We strive with God in faith…and we win.
Let us Pray: Heavenly Father, we give You thanks and praise for taking us, while we were still dogs, and making us Your children; grant that we may be continually fed at the table of Your Son’s body and blood so that on the Last Day we may enjoy the final feast You have prepared for us; through Your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord, Who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
- Read last week’s devotion.
- Check out this Lenten Season in Song hymn from last year’s series.
- Be sure to come back during the Easter season for our next Season in Song hymn series: Easter hymns.