Before I get to the Canaanite woman, I wanted to give a little background so that the story makes much more sense.
In Matthew 11, Jesus pronounced judgment on Chorazin and Bethsaida suggesting that if the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon had experienced what Chorazin and Bethsaida did, they would have long ago repented in sackcloth and ashes (Mt 11:21–24).
"Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (NIV)
Jesus was constantly being rejected by his own people. The Pharisees accused Jesus and his disciples of breaking the law of the Sabbath. They accused Jesus of Healing on the Sabbath and his disciples of working on the Sabbath (picking heads of grain to eat), just to name a couple of events. His own people were constantly rejecting the work of Jesus and Jesus himself.
Everywhere He went, Jesus performed miracles. You would think that if people had any doubt, they’d believe in Him just because of the things he did and said. Things no man had ever done throughout history. No one understood the heart of man the way Jesus did and he proved it in the things he said and declared. He had a way to bring out the simple truth regarding the condition of man’s heart.
John 7:46 - "No one ever spoke the way this man does," the guards declared. (NIV)
John 14:11 - Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or at least believe on the evidence of the miracles themselves. (NIV)
But most people, sadly, did not believe in Him. They not only rejected him, but they became a force working against him.
The Pharisees had even done that which can hardly be imagined. They accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the Prince of Demons. Jesus said we can sin against Him all we want and we can be forgiven, but blaspheming the Holy Spirit would never be forgiven. That’s how despised Jesus was. Now let’s contrast Jesus’ own people’s response to that of the Canaanite Woman.
In Matthew 15:21, after yet another confrontation with the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law, while in the Gennesaret/Galilee area, Jesus does something different. He heads north into the Region of Tyre and Sidon. Mark’s account talks about this being ‘Phoenicia’ which was the name given to the region by the Greeks. This was the same area where God sent Elijah when the widow fed him (1 Kings 17:9). This region was the northern tip of the original promised-land but nevertheless, was Pagan territory. Mark 7:24 says “he entered a house and did not want anyone to know it, yet he could not keep his presence secret”.
I believe Jesus went there for the sake of a woman. Mark talks about this woman being a Phoenician woman and Matthew talks about her being a Canaanite woman. Both accounts are correct. Phoenicia was a region full of people of diverse backgrounds, mainly because it was a region containing many Canaanite ocean port towns. This lady was a Canaanite and a Greek.
Now that I’ve set up a little bit of the background, this passage will make much more sense.
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." 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." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. (NIV)
I’d like to point out some things that I found interesting. One, the Canaanite woman cries out ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me’. She addressed Jesus as LORD! This pagan knew He was Lord but yet Jesus’ own did not? She addresses him as Son of David, from the royal line of David and as Canaan’s captors and victors. She gave him full reverence in doing this and I find that quite simply, amazing.
Next, she tells Jesus what she needs from him and how that her daughter is demon possessed. She knew it was a spiritual matter and that Jesus was king of the spiritual realm.
I believe what happens next is a powerful test that Jesus puts her through. Obviously, at this point, his heart is bursting for her and I believe he’s there FOR her. I believe he preached in that region but I believe he went north into Pagan territory just for her. He tests her resolve by saying nothing at all and ignoring her. After much begging, even Jesus’ disciples were asking Jesus to send her away. They were tired of hearing from her (Luke 18:5-8). In Luke 18:8 Jesus said “When the son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”. Here was a woman with faith, who believed in Jesus, who believed Jesus could heal her daughter and He is ignoring her? He is testing her to see how much faith she has.
Jesus answers and says “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” or I was sent only to my own people, not you Pagans. This only emboldens her more and she runs over and kneels before him and says “Lord, help me!”. He again tests her and says “it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs”. Her reply is “Yes, that’s true, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table”. Jesus has had enough at this point and says “Woman….you have GREAT faith! Your request is granted”. Every other version I referenced said “Oh Woman…you have great faith” showing the great compassion he had for her.
I think one of the amazing things that jumped out at me was the ‘character’ of God. How he loves to prove his own. How he loves to see his children PRESSING in to him. How he loves to see someone, just for once, BELIEVE in him truly, seek Him truly, not take NO for an answer and keep pressing in. This shows a marvelous character of our God and how amazing He really is.
I was blown away by the fact that Jesus left his people and went into Pagan territory just to show his love to us gentiles (here and with the Samaritan woman) long before he commissioned the apostle Paul. He then went back to Galilee, where he came from and continued on with his original mission of being with the lost sheep of Israel. Jesus was doing only what God, the Father, told him to do. Thank you God for your love and example that even early on in your mission you reached out to us Gentiles and showed your glory and grace to the ‘thirsty’.
The Spirit and the Bride say come and take of the water of life freely. Whosoever will.