By Jennifer Heeren, Crosswalk.com
At first glance, Jesus’s reaction in the story of the Canaanite woman seems to be out-of-character. What He says to this woman seems rough, but when we look a little closer at the passage, it’s not harsh at all.
What Is the Story of the Canaanite Woman?
The story of the Canaanite woman can be found in Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30. Canaanite was a Greek term, but the Hebrew people would have called this woman a Gentile. Jesus left Galilee and headed north to Tyre. However, this Canaanite woman found him, fell at his feet, and begged for him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. When Jesus was silent, the disciples tried to tell her to go away. She didn’t go. Jesus finally replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs” (Matthew 15:26). The woman kept on pleading her case by saying, “Lord, help me! Even dogs are allowed scraps that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus commended the woman’s faith and told her that her request was granted. When the woman arrived at home, she saw that her daughter was healed, and the demon was gone.
The Canaanite Woman's Faith
The Canaanite woman represents the pagan, idolatrous, and unbelieving world. Jewish people of Jesus’s time didn’t think that such people deserved to be saved by God. They thought it was right to reject her. Jesus did come to speak to the Hebrew people first. But it seems out of character for Him to use this comparison to a dog. Was He calling attention to the prejudice way of thinking that people of that time had? Was He actually putting down the woman? Or was it simply an illustration of Jesus sitting at the table with the Hebrew people while a pagan/Gentile woman saw the specialness of Jesus and sat under the table, like a dog, waiting for some kind of morsel. The latter seems to be the case because this Canaanite woman’s humility and faith shined very brightly to Jesus, and He granted her request. A lot of Jewish people only saw Jesus as a rabbi, but this woman saw him as a Savior. The woman “under the table” showed more faith than the people sitting at the table.
4 Things We Can Learn from the Canaanite Woman’s Example
1. Be Humble. The woman remained humble and demure even when she was rejected. She didn’t become defensive. She remained respectful even when the initial answer was no. She continued to worship because she realized who Jesus was even though she was outside of the Hebrew circle. We also need to remain humble when we come to God in prayer.
2. Be Bold in Faith. She continued to ask for what she needed even after she was rejected. She knew she needed help and she knew that Jesus could help her, so she persisted. She was desperate for help, so she asked until she received an answer. We also need to keep asking as long as our motives are pure.
3. Don’t Judge by Exteriors. Jesus doesn’t judge people by their nationality, race, or religious criteria. At the beginning of the conversation with this woman, He was simply sticking to His main purpose. He wasn’t judging her for being a Gentile. We have a natural tendency to judge by exteriors, which we need to fight daily. Man looks at the outer appearance; God looks at the heart. We should too.
4. Faith Should Be Applauded. When Jesus saw this woman’s great faith, he lauded her and granted her request. We need to have and show faith even when we are far out of our comfort zones. We should do what’s right even if people give us judgmental and haughty looks. When we do this, we are showing that God’s opinion is much more important than people’s opinions. When we see this kind of faith in others, we should applaud them for it.
Faith is a quality that Jesus spoke highly of during His earthly ministry. He always spoke up when He witnessed great faith. He even told some that their faith had healed them. Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see (Hebrews 11:1). Faith is powerful and without it, it is impossible to please God. Faith looks to God as the center of all things.
Sometimes in the Bible, Gentiles showed more faith than the Hebrew people. Perhaps, most importantly, the story of the Canaanite woman may have been a precursor that God was about to reveal his full plan of bringing both Jews and Gentiles into the sheepfold of his Kingdom. The cross of Christ revealed the mystery that both Gentiles and Jews can become a part of God’s Kingdom. God created one humanity out of two groups of people so that anyone that repents can find peace with Christ, no matter what nationality they were born into. All have the chance to be one of God’s children when they repent.
Rather Jew or Gentile, we are all born lost sinners. Romans 3:23 says that everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s glorious standard. No one deserves God’s grace. It came at a very high price. Galatians 2:21 says to not treat the grace of God as meaningless, for if keeping the law could make us right with God, then there was no need for Christ to die. This realization of our hopelessness should draw us to God’s glorious forgiveness and power. Hebrews 4:16 says to come boldly to the throne of our gracious God where we will receive his mercy and find grace to help us when we need it most. All people have this ability to draw near to God’s throne as long as they admit that they have fallen far from God’s standard.
All people need to be reconciled to God through the atoning blood of Christ. There is no other way to be saved. So, we should go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them that Jesus is with them as they obey his commands (Matthew 28:29-30).
When you know just who Jesus is, you will continually seek Him as the answer to your problems. You won’t give up when people look down on you. And you won’t even give up when Jesus’s answer is initially no. Maybe He is testing your faith?
Dear Lord, help me to have the faith of this Canaanite woman. I want to see You as the answer to all my problems. So much so that I will not worry about what people are thinking. When I focus on You as Savior and Lord, everything else falls into its rightful place, underneath Your Lordship. This Canaanite woman knew that and that was why she was so bold. Thank You for making a way for all people to know You and be with You in Your Kingdom. Amen.
Photo Credit: ©GettyImages/Tinnakorn Jorruang
Jennifer Heeren loves to write and wants to live in such a way that people are encouraged by her writing and her attitude. She loves to write devotional articles and stories that bring people hope and encouragement. Her cup is always at least half-full, even when circumstances aren’t ideal. She regularly contributes to Crosswalk. Her debut novel is available on Amazon. She lives near Atlanta, Georgia with her husband. Visit her at her website and/or on Facebook.