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Church Talk: Did Jesus just ignore her?

Friday 23 February 2024 | Written by Supplied | Published in Church Talk, Features


Church Talk: Did Jesus just ignore her?
A woman who was not of the Jewish race, but belonged to the old Canaanite people, heard of Jesus' coming. She sought out Jesus, and fell down before him, and begged him to come to her house and cure her daughter, in whom was an evil spirit.

It is in God’s nature to be gracious, and compassionate, full of mercy, so quick to forgive and so slow to become angry, and many verses in the Bible testify to His nature, writes Pastor Paul Kauri, the General Superintendent of Cook Islands Assemblies of God.

There is an account in Matthew’s gospel of a Canaanite woman who begged Jesus for mercy to heal her daughter. She cried out, “Lord, Son of David have mercy on my daughter.” Matthew 15:22

There is something peculiar about the woman’s cry, it is an idiom used by Jews only. So, for a Canaanite woman to be using this slogan meant that she was either pretending to be a Jew or she had no idea that it was a Jewish term – my guess is, that she knew and was pretending to be a Jew. Either way, it appeared that Jesus ignored her, at least that’s what verse 23 says in Matthew’s gospel. But did he ignore her?

The answer to this question lies in the narrative that follows and in the nature of God revealed in scripture.

Let’s read the text together from Matthew chapter 15: 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

Did you notice that Jesus responded, once his disciples spoke to Him about her? (Did you also notice her persistence in their comment?)

What Jesus says next reveals the boundaries of His calling, “I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel.” While we understand that Jesus’ work of salvation purchased redemption for all creation, it needs to be understood that he was limited by God the Father during His three years of ministry on earth to the lost sheep of Israel.

We see this again in Matthew chapter 10, where Jesus commissioned His disciples to “The lost sheep of Israel”. He could only commission them to where he was commissioned.

After the Resurrection, the boundary lines changed, and the commission was to the nations.

The woman’s persistence, however, had not waned: 25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

This is a small but significant detail, ‘she knelt before him’. The word for worship is defined as bowing down low. When this Canaanite woman knelt before Jesus, it was an act of worship on her part and her cry for help triggered a response from The Lord.

26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

There are two questions here:

  1. Who are the Children? and
  2. What Bread?

Because Jesus was only sent to the sheep of Israel – it stands to reason that the children He is referring to are the Children of Israel. And Jesus declared in John’s gospel that He is the Bread of Life. (John 6:35)

So when Jesus responded to her, He was emphasising His (the Bread of Life) mission to Israel (the children)

However, when she came back with her answer, the One who is pleased by Faith, could not help but respond to her faith.

27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

There is another similar account where Jesus responded to the request of a Roman soldier (definitely not a lost sheep of Israel) but Jesus’ response in this account is completely different! (Luke 7:1-10)

Was it because this Roman soldier helped the Jews? Was it because he wasn’t pretending to be something? Or (Lord forbid) was it because he was male?!

The answer is – none of the above! The difference in Jesus’ response to both scenarios is there, but firstly let’s look at the nature of God.

It is in God’s nature to be gracious, and compassionate, full of mercy, so quick to forgive and so slow to become angry, and many verses in the Bible testify to His nature.

So, to think that Jesus was slow in coming forward with healing the woman’s daughter is an error in judgment. He eventually did, but what was the difference between these two scenarios?

We have observed two parties in these two stories (Jesus & her, Jesus & him) but there was a third party that has been overlooked, the Jews.

Jesus’ mission (while he was on earth) was to the sheep of Israel. It was because the Jews spoke up for the centurion that Jesus was able to enter the world of this Roman soldier. Likewise with the woman, once the Jews spoke up Jesus could then engage her request despite her pretenses.

In Isaiah 59:15&16 we read:

The Lord looked and was displeased
    that there was no justice.
16 He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene.

God was looking, waiting for someone to administer justice and He was so displeased that there was no one to intervene. In the case of the Centurion, it was the Jewish elders who pleaded his case that moved Jesus outside his mission field. In the woman’s case, it was his disciples’ request to dismiss her that was the segway He used to bring about the woman’s miracle. All kudos to her.

This is where the personal application comes in for you and I.

Is God still looking for people to intervene, and to administer His justice? Most definitely.

Could it be that when God is silent it is not toward those who bother you that He is silent, but rather He waits to see how you will respond? If you will respond to invite Him in?

Will you plead the case of others to Jesus as the Jewish elders did for the centurion, or will the Lord have to take a segway when you complain to him about the ones who bother you?

You see, I don’t think Jesus was ignoring her, I think He was waiting for someone to plead her case so that He could be Gracious, and Merciful, Quick to Forgive and Slow to Anger.

In the woman’s case Jesus worked the miracle for her to fulfill the words of Isaiah 59:16:

He saw that there was no one,
    he was appalled that there was no one to intervene;
so his own arm achieved salvation
    and his own righteousness sustained him.