The Canaanitish Woman

Scripture Reading: Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus seems to have gone out of His own country into the borders of Tyre and Sidon seeking a little quiet. He needed rest. He entered a house and would not have it known that He was there. But He could not be hidden. A Canaanitish woman somehow heard of His being there and came straightway to Him. Her daughter was in a distressing condition.

This woman was a Gentile, and yet she must have known something of the true God. How she had learned about Jesus we are not told. No doubt the fame of His ministry of healing had reached her. So when she heard that He was in the house of a neighbor, she became instantly determined to see Him.

The world is full of sorrow. Few are the homes in which there is not some grief or affliction. Many are the sad mothers who move about through the world, carrying their heavy burden of pain or grief. No wonder this mother was glad when she heard of Jesus coming to her neighborhood. No wonder she was so persistent in her pleading that He would heal her child.

We may notice here that while the trouble was in the child it was the mother’s heart that carried the burden. Whenever we see a child sick or in any pain or distress, and the mother watching, the mother suffers more than the child. Children never can understand how the hearts of their parents are bound up in them.

To this woman’s intense pleading with Jesus, her appeals to His mercy, her cries of distress, Jesus answered her not a word. This is one of the strangest incidents in the entire story of Jesus. Usually He was quick to hear every request made of Him by any sufferer. Scarcely ever had anyone to ask twice for His help. His heart instantly responded to cries of distress. Often He gave the help unasked. Yet now He stood and listened to this woman’s piteous pleading, and answered her not a word. Like a miser with hoards of gold, at whose gates the poor knock, but who, hearing the cries of need and distress, yet keeps his gates locked and is deaf to every entreaty, so Jesus stood unmoved by this woman’s heartbroken cries. Why was He thus silent? Was this a weak hour with Him, when He could not give help? The most compassionate man has days when he can do nothing, but there never were such hours in the life of Jesus. Was it because He was so engrossed in His own coming sorrow that He could not think of any other one’s trouble? No, for even on the cross He forgot His own anguish, and prayed for His murderers and cared for His mother. He was preparing her to receive in the end a far richer, better blessing than she could have received at the beginning.

Our Lord sometimes yet seems to be silent to His people when they cry unto Him. To all their earnest supplications He answers not a world. Is His silence a refusal? Does it indicate that His heart has grown cold, or that He is wary of His people’s cries? Not at all. Often, at least, the silence is meant to make the supplicants more earnest, and to prepare their hearts to receive better blessings.

The woman’s cries seem to have disturbed the disciples. They grew almost impatient with their Master for keeping her waiting so long. They wanted her daughter healed because they could not endure the mother’s crying. Yet Jesus was in no haste to yield to her imploring. He is not so tender-hearted that He cannot see us suffer when suffering is the best experience for us. He does not immediately lift burdens from our shoulders when it is needful for our growth that we bear the burdens longer. There is about some people’s ideas of Christ a mushy sentiment, as if He were too gentle to endure the sight of suffering. Here we get a glimpse of a different quality in Him. He does not promise always to save us from suffering — His promise rather is to bless us through the suffering. It is possible to be too tender-hearted toward pain and distress. It is possible for parents to be too emotionally kind to their children. Uncontrolled pity is positive weakness, and often works great injury.

Christ’s gentleness is never too tender to be wise and true as well as tender. He never makes the mistake of yielding to anyone’s entreaties so long as denial is better than the granting of the favor. He never lets us have what we want because He cannot bear to say “No” to our tearful cries. Nor is He so emotionally kind that He cannot bear to punish sin. He will not let even His truest disciples go unchastened when only by chastening can he save them or best promote their spiritual growth.

But one thing we must not forget — it is love that prompts what seems severity in Christ. He was silent here that in the end He might give the full, rich blessing which He wished to give this woman, but which in the beginning she could not receive. He denies us our requests and is silent to us when we cry, that He may draw out our faith and give us His best blessings in the end.

Jesus told the woman that it was not “meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to dogs.” This seemed a strange word to fall from the lips of the gentle Christ. If it had been some Pharisee who spoke to this poor woman as a dog, it would not have seemed out of keeping. Even if Christ’s own disciples had spoken thus to her, we could have understood it, for they had not yet departed from Jewish prejudices, nor had their hearts grown gentle with love for all humanity. But it certainly seems strange to hear the sympathetic, loving Jesus speak to the lowly sufferer at His feet as a Gentile dog. We can understand it only when we remember that in all His treatment of her He was trying her heart, training her faith, schooling her into truer submission and more earnest believing.

Both the woman’s humility and here alert, eager faith appear in her answer, “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” She was not hurt by the offensive words Jesus had used. She was willing to be as a little dog under the Master’s table. She was ready to grant to the Jews the children’s place at that table. The position Jesus had assigned to her quite satisfied her. For the dogs under the table did not starve. The children were first served, and then the pieces of bread they let fall, rejected, or did not eat, belonged to the dogs at their feet. All she asked was the portion which usually went to the dogs. Even the crumbs from that table were enough for her. Thus her humility and also her faith were shown in her answer, and in both she is an example to us. We should come to Christ with a deep sense of our unworthiness, ready to take the lowest place; and we should believe that even the crumbs of His grace are better than all the feasts of this world.

Not worthy, Lord, to gather us the crumbs
With trembling hand that from Thy table fall,
A weary, heavy laden sinner comes
To plead Thy promise and obey Thy call.

I am not worthy to be thought Thy child,
Nor sit the last and lowest at Thy board;
Too long a wanderer and too oft beguiled,
I only ask one reconciling word.

It is most interesting to trace the growth of this woman’s faith. There were many difficulties in her way, but she surmounted them all. She was a Gentile and her Healer was a Jew. When she first came to Jesus she was repulsed and called a dog. But none of these discouragements chilled the ardor of her faith or hindered her in her determination. So at last she got the blessing and won from the lips of Jesus one of the highest commendations ever given by Him to anyone — “O woman, great is thy faith.” Large faith gets large blessings; small faith receives but small favors. We should go to God making large requests, believing His promises. We should never be discouraged by delays, by seeming repulses, by obstacles and hindrances. We should fight our way to victory. With infinite fullness in our Father’s hand, we should not live in spiritual hunger as so many of God’s children do. This is a wonderful saying — “Be it unto thee even as thou wilt.” These words simply throw heaven open to our faith. We can get — we do get — what we will. So upon ourselves comes the responsibility of the less or the more blessing which we receive from the bountiful God.