(Think of this post as two-weeks worth and it won’t seem so long.)
Some Scripture passages are very hard to understand, especially those in which Jesus is not the Jesus I’ve grown to know. For example, take the account of the Canaanite woman coming to ask Jesus for her daughter’s healing from demon possession (See Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-29): On the surface, Jesus appears very mean and insulting. He is not the Jesus who treated a “sinful” woman with compassion and forgiveness (See Luke 7:36-50). He is not the Jesus who talked with the Samaritan woman at the well (See John 4:7-26), when it was unheard of for a Hebrew teacher [rabbi] to talk to a woman in public, let alone a Samaritan (foreign) woman. This is not the Jesus who obeyed His mother, even though it was not His time to begin his ministry, and turned water into wine at a wedding feast in Cana (See John 2:1-11) (You can learn a lot about a man by how he treats his mom). What happened to Jesus that made Him respond to the Canaanite woman in such a harsh way? This is when I need help from reliable biblical resources to get answers. After reading many, the website that makes the most sense to me is: christianthinktank.com/qcrude.html.
In the passage found in Mark, it reads “Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre” (v. 24). It’s always good to read a passage of Scripture in its context. In Mark 6:53-56, we read that Jesus and His disciples left Gennesaret and neighboring villages and towns, after being mobbed by the people who wanted Jesus to heal them. In the beginning of Chapter 7, Jesus and His disciples were questioned by the Pharisees and teachers of the law about their “unclean” habits. This is why Jesus took his disciples near Tyre, not to the town itself but, to a secluded house for a REST. Jesus wanted His disciples to rest, much like He wants us to rest in Him and recharge our batteries from time to time, even weekly or even for a time each day. Let’s look at the parallel passage in Matthew 15:22-28:
“Leaving that place, Jesus and His disciples withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sydon. 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 the dogs.’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ she said, ‘but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.’ Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour.”
How did this woman find Jesus and His disciples? Answer: She was a courageous mother who would stop at nothing to help her daughter. She knew more about Jesus than many of the Hebrew religious leaders did or would admit. She was a Gentile and even considered to be a “pagan” by the Jewish religious leaders. She knew that Jesus was the One everyone was waiting for. She knew that Jesus would help her daughter.
Why didn’t Jesus answer her at first? Answer: Jesus used this as a teachable moment for His disciples. He was waiting for them to respond to the woman. From a theological point of view, Jesus, the Messiah, was sent to the Jewish Nation, who would accept Him as the Messiah, receive the Holy Spirit and, in turn, evangelize the world (See Romans 11 and 15). This is why Jesus answered the disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (v. 24). [See christianthinktank.com/qcrude.html]
What was Jesus doing calling the woman “a dog” (v. 26)? Answer [christianthinktank.com/qcrude.html]: “Jesus uses a mini-parable or household image about children getting temporary priority at feeding time over their play-pet puppies….Seeing exactly the subtle hint that Jesus has provided in the image, she agrees with Jesus…and points out that sometimes the puppies get little morsels BEFORE their regular feeding time, by simply hanging around the dinner table and catching the parts not used by the kids. Jesus is deeply moved by such a powerful faith – He addresses her with ‘O, Woman!’ (v. 28)…indicating deep emotional response.” [This same response was also used by Jesus in addressing His mother in John 2:4a: “Dear woman…”]
“Then Jesus answered, ‘Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.’ And her daughter was healed from that very hour” (v. 28). The Canaanite mother, not the Pharisees and teachers of the law who knew all about the coming of the Messiah, had “great faith” in Jesus. Unlike the Hebrew religious leaders, she did not take offence with what Jesus was saying to her. Instead, she knew what Jesus was doing and answered Him with a response that showed her great faith and boundless courage in getting what her daughter needed – to be healed and made whole. In the secular world, “courage” and “humility” are often thought of a being polar opposites. The account of Canaanite woman gives an excellent example of how “courage” and “humility” are both found in a genuine faith in Christ.
This explanation of the interaction between Jesus and His disciples, and Jesus and the Canaanite woman makes the most sense to me, because it fits in with the other encounters, recorded in the Gospels, between Jesus and women. Unlike the rabbis of the day, Jesus spoke with women and gave them the dignity and respect all people are given by God Who made us all in His image, both male and female (Genesis 2:27).
(For a more in-depth study, go to christianthinktank.com/qcrude.html, “Why was Jesus so mean and insulting to the Canaanite woman?”)
Sometimes, as with the Canaanite woman, Jesus remains silent to see what His present-day disciples will do when a child is born with “special needs” into their church family”. It states in the christianthinktank website that when Jesus kept silent, his disciples let the Canaanite women into the house they were staying in. Later on, in the Gospels and Book of Acts, we see these same disciples performing healings themselves because they were mandated by Jesus to do so. As we read more of the Book of Acts and the rest of the New Testament, we read less about healings and miracles and more about telling people the “Good News” of Christ reconciling the world to God by His death and resurrection (See II Corinthians 5:14-21). Not many of us have the Spiritual Gifts of Healing and Miracles, but many of us do have the Spiritual Gifts of Mercy, Helps, Giving, Hospitality, Teaching and all of us have the Fruit of the Spirit because the Holy Spirit indwells all Christians (See Romans 8:9-11). As Christians belonging to the Family of God, we are called to help parents of children with “special needs” and incorporate them into church (body) life by doing whatever it takes to minister to them, from ministering to the child, while the parents take part in worship to building ramps and installing elevators. Spiritual gifts are to be used in practical ways, as well as spiritual (prayer).
The Canaanite mother is no different from the mothers of today who fight for their children to be well and to be accepted. She reminds me a lot of my own mom who tirelessly advocated for me. Mothers of children with “special needs” will go to many doctors, hospitals and therapy clinics, trying all sorts of treatments and medications and surgeries, using all sorts of adaptive equipment, tearing down walls to make their homes more accessible, going to great lengths and doing everything it takes to make their children’s lives happier and more productive and more “normal”. They also pray unceasingly for their children. No one can fully understand the anguish they are going through, except others who themselves have children with various disabilities. But, there is Someone else who knows a mother’s broken heart – God Himself. God knows their deepest hurts and wants to fulfill their deepest needs. God listens to their every prayer and answers them one by one or all at once, right now or later, and He teaches us all, through their children, to grow in our faith in Him and to also rest in Him. God knows what it is like to see a Child suffer. God gave His Only Son because He loves us and wants to make us whole. God wants us to be His children. Healing of the body and mind may not happen on this side of heaven, but the healing of the soul means so much more. God is not limited by disabilities to save us all from sin and death and give us eternal life with Him, where “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or pain, for the old order of things has passed away…I [Jesus] am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4 and 5b).
“For God so loved the world that He gave His One and Only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him (John 3:16-17).
“How great is the love the Father has LAVISHED on us, that we should be called children of God!” (I John 3:1a).
What’s this “demon-possessioin” all about? This will be the topic in 2 weeks.