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.
From the May 2011 issue of The Christian Science Journal
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.’ ”
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).
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