A Lesson in Faith – Weekend Edition – 03/29/2014

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I desire the equal growth and prosperity of ALL Christian Scientists, and the world in general; each and every one has equal opportunity to be benefited by my thoughts and writings.

Mary Baker Eddy

Miscellaneous Writings 291:12

 

Never, never, never give up.

Winston Churchill

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The Canaanite Woman

 

Bible insights

From the May 2011 issue of The Christian Science Journal

Heidi Winder, Media, Pennsylvania, US

* Photo – Christ and the Canaanite Women – Courtesy of allposters.com –

By: Rembrandt van Rijn Item #: 7686936

rembrandt-van-rijn-christ-and-the-canaanite-woman

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Lesson in Faith

How often do we let hurt feelings distract us? I have spent more time than I can count ruminating over a perceived slight, rehearsing it in my head, even basking in the injustice of it, when I know better.

I remember an event I went to a few years ago. I had been looking forward to it primarily for the spiritual message and inspiration it promised, but I had also been anticipating seeing friends. After it became clear that they were not going to make any time for me, I spent the rest of the event nursing some pretty hurt feelings. They were so distracting that I can’t even remember the main message of the event, but I can sure remember having my invitations for lunch and dinner turned down. I wound up spending the evening with some other friends and had a wonderful time, filled with laughter. How much more would I have gained from that event, if I had only had faith in God that I was indeed loved and wanted, despite the initial rejection?

The story of the Canaanite woman in Matthew made me realize what a lost opportunity that was. If there was ever an opportunity to let hurt feelings overshadow faith and love, this was it! This woman (whose name is now lost) had come to Jesus for help and healing for her daughter. Jesus, the man renowned for teaching love, benevolence, kindness, and gratitude to strangers, the man who gave us the parable of the good Samaritan, rejected her. He told her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” meaning the Jews (see Matt. 15:22-28, New Revised Standard Version). What impressed me was that the Canaanite woman didn’t react to Jesus’ response, other than to continue to proclaim her faith in him and to ask for his assistance. In fact, she knelt before him saying “Lord, help me.”

What follows is one of the most disturbing passages for me in the New Testament as Jesus rejected the woman again and again, and told her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” There is uncertainty among Bible scholars about what Jesus meant by this, but some rabbinical sayings refer to “godless” people and “heathen” as dogs (see Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. VII, p. 442). Rather than take offense at Jesus’ metaphor, however, the woman used his argument as a reason why he should help her. She explained that even as a dog she had a right to some sustenance: “She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ ”

If this Canaanite woman had been hurt by this insult, if she had accepted it and walked away, her daughter would have continued to suffer. But her faith was strong enough for her to kneel before him and continue to believe in the love and healing he could provide for her daughter. Jesus, moved by her faith in him, replied “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Her daughter was healed instantly.

It can be disturbing to read this passage and wonder why Jesus initially spoke to her the way that he did. Who likes being insulted by anyone? How much more painful to be insulted by Jesus, the paragon of love? Would I have had the faith to keep kneeling before him, believing in his love and healing power?

Yet it is because of the initial rejection and insult that we learn how powerful faith truly is. The story of the Canaanite woman takes us on a journey, a journey that highlights some of the main literary and theological themes in the Gospel of Matthew, beginning with religious tension and rejection but ending with healing, due to the power of faith. Faith is that conviction that God is omnipotent and that God is helping you even when you can’t see the proof. The Canaanite woman believed that Jesus could and would help her even though he himself had told her otherwise.

The Gospel focuses on the fact that Jesus was Jewish and was originally sent to minister to the Jewish people. Matthew 10 illustrates that Jesus’ mission before the resurrection was limited to the Jews. In verses 5 and 6, Jesus commands his apostles to minister to Jews only and to avoid the Gentiles. This helps explain Jesus’ seemingly harsh words to the Canaanite woman, a woman who was not only not a Jew, but also of a race that was once Israel’s enemy.

However, throughout the Gospel of Matthew it seems to me there runs an even more dominant theme: that of the power and importance of faith. For example, when Jesus encountered the centurion in chapter 8, he was moved by the man’s great faith and healed his servant. According to verse 10, “When Jesus heard him, he was amazed and said to those who followed him, ‘Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith’ ” (NRV). Jesus’ admonition of Peter inMatthew 14:31 also demonstrates the importance of faith. When Peter became afraid while walking on the water to Jesus and started to sink, Jesus “reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ ” (NRV). Peter’s fear stands in stark contrast to Canaanite woman’s great faith, a faith that withstood insult and rejection.

Did Jesus change his mind? Did he learn and grow? Was he testing the Canaanite woman and calling her to a deeper level of faith, or did he truly only want to minister to the Jews? We may never know that, but what we do know is that both the events of the story and sharp tone further Matthew’s overall message of faith and how Jesus’ mission expanded beyond the Jews.

By establishing that tension in the initial rejection and insult of the Canaanite woman, Jesus teaches us what true faith really is and just how powerful it can be.

Faith not only healed the Canaanite woman’s daughter, it also changed the world by opening it to the Christ. Faith ultimately conquered the barriers between Jesus’ exclusive mission to the Jews and his universal mission to all of mankind. The victory is all the more powerful because of that early exclusivity. By the end of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ ministry had been expanded beyond the Jewish community to anyone who had faith. As he commanded his disciples before his ascension: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (28:19, emphasis added).

Bible Story of The Canaanite Women 

A.  Tested the strength of her faith.

B.  Demonstrated that persistence in prayer pays off.

C.  Demonstrated that greater faith is often among the so-called heathen than in Israel.

(Dummelow’s One volume Bible Commentary pp 678, 679)