The Canaanite Woman
esus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.
The Canaanite Woman
e might be excused for feeling a little taken aback at the way Jesus treats the Canaanite woman. It is out of character. She pleads for her daughter. He ignores her. She uses the same plea as Peter when he was drowning: ‘Lord help me’. Immediately Jesus stretches out his hand to help Peter. He ignores her.
The Gospel records one of two occasions when Jesus leaves Jewish territory and steps into a foreign country. In Mark’s account he entered a house and did not want anyone to know it. He wanted to rest. Is he worn out? He is seen; this poor Canaanite woman steps in front of him – desperate for healing, she pleads for her daughter. Jesus ignores her. Walks past. If someone ignores you, cuts you stone dead; how do you feel, what do you do? Walk away, treat them in the same way? Feel angry! The Canaanite woman cannot afford the luxury of anger. She is desperate, she refuses to be snubbed. As he passes by she continues to shout, persisting in her request – healing for her daughter.
The disciples come to Jesus and beg him to send her away. She is getting on their nerves. Send her away! Was Jesus having a bad day? Do we allow him to have a bad day or is there another reason for his strange behaviour? When the disciples plead with him to send her away, Jesus pleads for their understanding: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." As if to say: The Jewish people, my people, are my first concern. He can barely cope with the demands of this mission.
It must have taken great courage for a Canaanite woman to ask a Jew for help. The Canaanites hated the Jews and were in turn hated by them. Jews referred to the Canaanites - as dogs.
She brushes the disciples aside. She will not take silence for an answer: She kneels before Jesus: “Lord help me.” She is desperate, persistent and powerless. “Lord help me”.
Jesus still refuses her, even goads her. “It is not fair to give the children’s bread to dogs”. She refuses to take offence. In fact, she outwits Jesus. She is his teacher. In effect she says: Call us what you like, I don’t care: “Lord, even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.”
She overwhelms him. “Woman you have great faith!” She breaks through his silence, his belittling of her people, challenges Jesus in her need. “Woman you have great faith. Be it done for you as you desire”Her daughter was immediately cured.This incident changes the direction of Jesus’ mission in Matthew’s Gospel. The work of Jesus is no longer limited to the Jews but reaches out to non-Jews as well. “Go and make disciples of all nations…” The message for us is: Be persistent, insistent and come to him with a sense of our own helplessness. Seek ways of becoming part of his mission to others.
This is the Story of Jesus drawn from the four Evangelists
Gospel passages accompanied by a number of brief commentaries