Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting 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.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food 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, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
I have always seen this event where Jesus put this woman in a class with dogs always seemed so unlike a compassionate Lord. Yet, Jesus was human, and he asked this brash Canaanite woman if it was proper for a Jewish rabbi to give Jewish things to a gentile. In other words, is it proper to take the children’s food and give it to the dogs? Was this an offensive question? O yes, but probably not as offensive to her as it is to us. Since Jewish things were meant for Jewish people by Jewish religious standards, and non-Jews were not worthy of them, the metaphor is apt. We are offended today because we are hung up on our own inborn dignity and worth standards and generally not trained in those first century Jewish standards.
This woman’s reply however indicated that her appeal came from her faith and not from a desperate attempt to try just anything she might have heard about. When she said, “Even the dogs eat the children’s table scraps,” she showed that she was not just looking for a magic trick; she recognized Jesus’ standing and authority and the genuineness of His ministry, she admitted her own unworthiness to receive it, and she prevailed upon His grace. This is where God’s Grace in action overruled religious doctrine and tradition.
Whatever you want to call it, chutzpah, gall, guts, boldness, or faith that this Canaanite woman demonstrated, she was on her knees in the dirt at Jesus’ feet not giving in to the cultural and religious teachings of the Jews. Her persistence at seeking healing for her daughter and believing in her heart that Jesus could heal her child cut through the religious argument that Jesus has been taught as a Rabbi, that Canaanites were evil and unsalvageable by God. There she was bowed down and begging Jesus for the life of her child and her total dependence on Him in faith unlocked Jesus’ heart. Dogs may live off of scraps, but Jesus did not give her scraps. He had compassion and healed her daughter of the demon at that moment.
I wonder about us today, we who have been raised in the church, and remained faithful to worshipping and serving God in the church.
- Have we allowed any religious traditions to prevent us from seeing how the power of God’s love reaches beyond any of our cultural or traditional religious boundaries?
- Are any of our religious practices or traditions preventing us from reaching out to those who see the church as biased or it’s people as hypocrites?
- Is it time to check our own religious practices for what may prevent others from knowing the healing grace of God?
- Do we need to change in some ways to offer the saving grace of God’s love for all people, not just those who might come occasionally to check us out on a Sunday morning?
Sue is NLS Spiritual Director, since 2019 and is a retired Lutheran Pastor (ELCA). Active in VdC since 1995, she has served two terms on the Board of the Texas VdC Secretariat, and also on the Texas Gulf Coast VdC Board as Spiritual Director since its start-up in 2017.