Matthew 15:21-28

Jesus 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. Matthew 15:21-28

This story has always been a bit troublesome for me. It comes up every three years in the Sunday readings so I have written several sermons on it. I’ve looked at the story from many different points of view. It remains troublesome.

Clearly the woman is an outsider. A Canaanite. But that ought not be a problem. Jesus welcomes outsiders. Jesus welcomes women. The woman at the well is one of my favorite stories. But, in this story, there is no getting around it, Jesus is a jerk.

Well, I do remember one sermon when I suggested that we might hear the story very differently if we were there. What if Jesus had a big smile on his face? What if Jesus was joking? I didn’t buy it myself but it was an idea. Jesus still comes across as a jerk.

Why a jerk? Because everything I know and believe about Jesus is that he came to throw open the doors to the kingdom of heaven to all people who come to trust and follow him. Gone are the days when God was the exclusive possession of the people of Israel. Now all of humanity was grafted to the tree of Israel (Romans 11:17-24). This Jesus came PRECISELY for this Canaanite woman. And for you and me and every other Christian not born into a Jewish family.

God’s love doesn’t exclude Jews, it includes everyone else.

I’ve wondered before if Jesus was just having a bad day. I’ve wondered if the anti-Gentile cultural prejudice of Jesus’ earthly tribe had sunk under Jesus’ skin in ways that even he wasn’t aware. The story remains troublesome for me.

But then it turns on the insistence of the woman not to be rejected or ignored. She is there on purpose – her daughter is sick and needs help. She is not going to let a crowd of men dismiss her or the insults of the man in charge distract her. Every time I get to this turning point in the story I want to cry out, “YOU GO GIRL!”

This anonymous Canaanite woman becomes a hero to every woman who has felt the demeaning and dismissive attitudes and actions of a male dominated world. Every girl ever told that “girls don’t do things like that”. Every woman with a great big glass ceiling bump on her head. She is persistent – “Lord, help me.” – and she is smart – “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” She transforms Jesus’ attitude before he acts on her behalf. She gets what she needs. Her daughter is healed.

This has always been a troublesome story and that is a good thing. We don’t put them on greeting cards. We don’t reduce them to pithy aphorisms. Troublesome stories require us to wrestle with them. They require our imaginations. We need to engage them. As we do that, they reveal more and more.

This morning what I am seeing for the first time is that, when Jesus commends this woman’s faith, he is commending both the faith she demonstrates in Jesus AND the faith she demonstrates in herself. In her own value and worth. In her own capacity to push through the crowd and be heard. In her own intuition that Jesus can be helpful, he can be the answer, even to her daughter. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.”

Let us pray: Dear Lord, you healed the daughter of a woman who persisted in coming to you for help. She was undeterred by those who told her to go away and even by your failure to immediately welcome her. May she be our model of faith today – that we might entrust ourselves fully to you and that we might trust ourselves enough to hang in there and be patient in the face of things we cannot control or change. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


4 Responses to “Matthew 15:21-28”

  1. Marthe Hildreth Says:

    Maybe the purpose of the story is the persistence of the woman. Jesus telling us to be persistent, to learn to ask again and again if necessary, for fair treatment.

  2. Diane Conneman Says:

    This one has troubled me also. Today I wondered if he knew she would have a good argument for helping her daughter and he wanted the deciples to see that we need to listen to people’s stories. Jesus certainly sounds like a human jerk.

  3. Mark Sundberg Says:

    The Markan version is the toughest, because the disciples are not there to be taught, and nothing is mentioned about the woman’s faith!

  4. Bill Decker Says:

    Maybe the story is more about the silence of Christ and less about how we always expect Christ to act. All of us, no matter who we are or what status in life we have, would resonate with God not answering our prayers and pleas as we expect. Helmut Thielicke, a 20th century German pastor, published a book of sermons called The Silence of God. One of his sermons was focused on the Canaanite women. His insights are worth pondering.

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