I don’t know about you, but I have often caught myself missing profoundly significant insights into the nature of God because I am either trying to quickly check ‘Daily Bible Reading’ off my to-do list, or because I am glossing over part of scripture in order to get to what I perceive as the more interesting or applicable lessons. The thing is, I have recently had to completely re-evaluate my approach to personal Bible study because I have realized that my normal way of doing things leaves me missing so much. That is certainly the case with the story of the Canaanite woman who begged Jesus to heal her demon-possessed daughter. So, take a moment to slow down with me and really look at this passage in context. I think there are some fantastic lessons to be learned about how God treats us and about how we should treat others.
When is the last time you were stressed out? Emotionally distraught? Exhausted? Depressed? I can tell you that in the last month I have felt all of these emotions numerous times. Think back to the last time you experienced one of these emotions (maybe you are living it right now) and ask yourself, ‘In the middle of my pain, how am I treating those around me?’ That’s a hard question to answer, isn’t it? I am sorry to say that often when I am stressed, exhausted, or depressed, I lash out– at my husband, my daughter, maybe I expect the worst from others as opposed to believing the best.
Now answer this question- ‘How do you think Jesus treated those around him when he went through a difficult time in his life?’
In Matthew 15:21-28 (and also Mark 7:24-30) we get the answer to that question through a kind of strange exchange Jesus has with a certain Canaanite woman. In order to put this episode in its proper context though, I want to back up a few chapters and take a peak at the kind of day/week Jesus had been having.
Wow, talk about a rough couple of days. In the 36 hours or so before Jesus encounters the Canaanite woman, the following events take place in his life:
- Jesus tries to preach in his hometown but those he grew up with opening doubt his ministry (Matthew 13)
- John the Baptist was beheaded (yes, I know I bolded that… I want to emphasize it) One of people Jesus was closest to, was unjustly executed. Jesus was grieving. (Matthew 14)
- Jesus tries to leave the crowds for a remote area so that he can be alone. Seriously, wouldn’t you want some alone time to process the bad news you just received? To grieve? However, Jesus does not get the chance because the crowds figured out where he was headed and met him there (Bethsaida). So, instead of grieve, Jesus preaches and heals all day long, and ends the day by feeding the 5,000 (which was more like 15,000). Have you ever felt like you were at the end of your rope, and then your child has a temper tantrum? Or you get a bad review at work? Or your husband requests… anything?
- After feeding the 5,000 Jesus does get away. He prays until about 3AM and then meets up with his disciples by walking on the water. I think it is important to note that at this point Jesus would be spiritually fed, but physically probably still very exhausted. I mean, it is 3AM! Additionally, could you imagine Jesus’ disappointment with his disciples, who after having just witnessed the amazing miracle of the feeding, were full of doubt regarding him walking on the water? Talk about dense, right?
- Once Jesus and the disciples cross the now-calm Sea of Galilee, they are greeted by more crowds, and Jesus continues to heal, continues to give of himself.
- In Matthew 15 Jesus is confronted by a group of Pharisees, who have traveled from Jerusalem, just to check him out, scrutinize his teachings, and probably try to trap him into saying or doing something they could ‘get’ him with.
After the confrontation with the Pharisees, Jesus finally gets a break. He travels to the region of Tyre and Sidon to hide. He needs to rest. He needs to grieve the loss of his friend. Maybe he needed just a little bit of ‘me’ time? It is at this point that the Canaanite woman approaches Jesus and pleads with him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. I personally get a little confused by this passage of scripture because it doesn’t make sense to me. At first blush, it seems like Jesus’ interaction with this woman is out of character– harsh, condescending even? Turns out I am not the only person stymied by the encounter. There are four popular options given to explain Jesus’ behavior.
- Jesus was trapped
- Jesus was being rude
- Jesus was amused
- Jesus was testing her
Honestly, since we read about the encounter in the Bible, instead of watch it on YouTube, I think it is kind of hard to discern exactly what is going on here. We can’t see the nonverbals, hear the tone of voice. I am ok with that though because I don’t think the first part of the conversation means as much as where the conversation ended.
You see, Jesus wasn’t quick to grant this woman’s request. However, she would not take ‘no’ for an answer. Jesus was her only hope and she would not turn away from him. The Canaanite woman addressed Jesus as Messiah, which is kind of strange because she wasn’t Jewish. The disciples offered to send her away so that she wouldn’t bother them with her begging. But she didn’t leave. After Jesus continues to seem reluctant to help this woman’s daughter, in verse 25 we read that she ‘came and worshipped him, pleading again, ‘Lord, help me!’
This woman– this Mom, was asking Jesus for everything. She didn’t offer to give him anything, but she relentlessly pursued Jesus all the same. The Canaanite woman went to the right person, didn’t she? Think about that for a moment. How often do we have problems, but instead of approaching Jesus for the solution, we go anywhere but him? We ask family? Friends? Facebook? WebMD? What can the Canaanite woman teach us about casting ‘all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ (I Peter 5:7)?
Another quick observation about this woman. She had no pretense. The Canaanite woman knew she desperately needed Jesus and she was under no illusion that she had anything to offer in return. Contrast her attitude with that of the rich young ruler Jesus encounters in Matthew 19. The rich young ruler didn’t really think he needed anything from God and therefore, he was unwilling to give up anything in order follow him. Ouch! I think it is sometimes hard to ‘depend’ on God when we live in a society that values independence so much, when we live in a society where we hardly ever have needs. If you contrast the rich young ruler with the Canaanite woman though, it becomes obvious that Jesus wants the attitude of this woman.
Finally, the Canaanite woman’s persistence pays off! In verse 28 Jesus stuns his disciples by saying, ‘Your faith is great. Your request is granted.’ Wow!!! This woman. This woman of no consequence, who approached Jesus when he was arguably at the lowest point in his life thus far, impressed God! Jesus didn’t ignore her. He took her seriously! Jesus didn’t just grant her request, he complimented her. Think about that for a minute. Jesus is God. This is God we are talking about. This woman impressed God! That is sooo cool! I want faith like that! Don’t you?
So, the Canaanite woman impresses God. That, in and of itself, really convicts me about the kind of Jesus follower I should be. However, the profound insights that I gleaned from a more deliberate study of this story revolve around how Jesus– how God, treated people even when he was going through a tough time personally. And that is just it– Jesus didn’t mistreat anyone! Throughout his entire ordeal, Jesus was kind, gracious, tireless, patient- the ever-loving teacher and healer that continually showed the compassion of God through his interaction with the people God created and sent Jesus to save. There were so many opportunities for Jesus to be truly dismissive, selfish, rude. But he wasn’t, and that tells me everything I need to know about my savior. It doesn’t matter if I feel unworthy, or like I have nothing left to offer him. Jesus opens his arms to receive me in love anyway. I can’t bother Jesus. He values my persistence… but he wants to be worshipped. And he wants a relationship with me.
I have to say, that reflecting on how Jesus treated his followers, even when his life was a mess, convicts me to re-evaluate how I treat those around me when I am a mess too. Maybe the next time I encounter a mean girl at work, am hurt by the perceived slight of a friend, or am just exhausted by the daily (hourly) demands of mothering a spirited 2-year old daughter, I can draw strength from the example of Jesus and react to those around me with the same grace, compassion, patience, and love exemplified by him. And in so doing, maybe, just maybe, those around me will get a glimpse of the amazing power of the grace of God.
Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? Want to join me?
Thanks so much for reading!
Want more? For the complete Bible study guide on the Canaanite Woman and the rest of the ‘Women Encountering Jesus’ Bible Study Series, click here: