Jesus Responds To Every Request
But Not The Way We Expect
And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David, my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.
Jesus often responded to people and circumstances in ways that surprise us. He didn’t follow popular thinking or preferred ideas. “Normal and Usual” never figured prominently in His methodology.
He was setting a new standard not validating an existing one and He never explained Himself. He said what He said, did what He did and expected us to figure it out.
- To heal a leper, He touched him: Reckless.
- In response to the “belief” of many in Jerusalem (John 2) . . . well, He was unresponsive: Disinterested.
- When a lawyer plainly asked how to obtain eternal life He gave no direct answer: Evasive.
- When a diseased person who no doubt had been shunned for many years touched Jesus from behind and was healed Jesus loudly insisted the person identify him or herself publicly: Insensitive.
Jesus seemed to overreact in some instances (the leper) but gave the appearance of being unmoved in others (believers in Jerusalem).
All of these responses are baffling and people ask for explanations frequently. On the surface, these things don’t seem to add up.
But, be sure about this. Jesus wasn’t deviating from His purpose. He came to help people, give solid instruction, be a good example, save souls and change lives and all of His responses, whatever they were, served these purposes. It is our responsibility to study each incident carefully and isolate principles we can also employ in our methods of ministry.
Walking away scratching your head or throwing your hands up in exasperation are not acceptable responses.
The Canaanite Woman
We can’t cover every incident in one post but there is one we’ll look at now and it involves a Canaanite woman from the area of Tyre and Sidon. Her encounter with Jesus is recorded in Matthew 15:21-28.
On this particular occasion Jesus ventured into Gentile territory. He didn’t do this often. Jewish people were not allowed to associate with Gentiles and Gentiles usually responded in kind. They knew they were considered socially undesirable by Jewish folks and weren’t willing to force the issue.
But even though these two groups, like oil and water, did not mix easily, this woman, acting contrary to form, approaches Jesus very forthrightly and openly.
We have no reason to believe Jesus was uncomfortable with this. He put Himself in close proximity to Gentiles on more than one occasion and ministered to them openly.
The disciples, however, were another issue. They show themselves to be very uncomfortable and doggedly traditional in their attitude toward this woman. Jesus uses the situation to teach them an important lesson about evangelism so lets take a look.
The encounter goes like this:
Approaches Jesus and begs Him to help her daughter who was oppressed by a demon.
Seemingly ignores her. He says nothing.
Irritated by her continual begging and spurred by Jesus’ apparent disinterest, they urge Jesus to send her away.
Addressing the woman, defines His mission as “ONLY to the lost sheep of Israel.”
Intensifies her begging: coming to Jesus, kneeling before Him and pleading, “Lord help me!”
Further discourages her by making a statement which symbolically represents Israel as special (children) and gentiles as insignificant (dogs).
Parries by accepting His assessment and requests only what would normally be given to dogs.
Credits the woman with “great faith” and heals her daughter immediately.
Dumfounded, they say nothing.
People are often confused with this encounter. Why, people ask, was Jesus so insensitive to this very needy woman? Was He being cruel?
And to answer the question we need to make some observations:
Jesus Ministers In All Directions Simultaneously
We usually see the woman as needy and the disciples as privileged but Jesus didn’t see it that way at all. He saw the woman as needy in one way and the disciples as needy in another and, as usual, His efforts were aimed in both directions.
This was a common approach for Jesus. The person He addressed was rarely the only person He was teaching and in some cases wasn’t even the primary student. He always spoke or acted with the entire audience in mind.
You could say He was multi-tasking. Everything He did was aimed at teaching every person in every encounter even when the group represented very diverse and possibly opposing backgrounds and perspectives.
You could also say that Jesus was using this woman’s great expression of faith to reveal the home-grown bigotry of the disciples. They not only thought Gentiles were wrong they didn’t think they could ever be right. In this situation the disciples needed more help than the woman. In the end the woman was exonerated and blessed. The disciples had their hand slapped. It took them awhile, years, to figure out what was going on.
To start the process Jesus began by acting in such a way as to draw out the responses of both sides, the disciples and the woman, and once these attitudes were revealed, we discover the disciples were, in fact, bigots and the woman was, to everyone’s surprise, believing. She was a good example of faith, the disciples were not.
It was very traditional for the disciples to view this woman as someone to avoid but they were a little cowardly about it. They weren’t willing to reveal this attitude openly without some indication from their leader that He thought the same way. When Jesus said nothing to this woman they assumed He viewed her as trivial and non-significant also.
Note: It is interesting that many non-believers fall into the same trap. Unthinkingly they accuse Jesus of being hard nosed when, in fact, He was cleverly showing both sides to be in need of humility.
Jesus never addressed Himself directly to the disciples but it didn’t take much to draw them out. Their attitude was close to the surface and very common. They probably considered these cultural field trips a dalliance to avoid.
Once they revealed what they truly thought and how they really felt Jesus began working on the woman. It took a little longer in her case.
He needed to show these disciples and everyone else that this woman’s faith was not of the “fair weather” kind and so He continued to respond in ways that most people view as negative but the woman was never deterred. It’s almost like she understood Jesus better than the disciples. How did that happen?
And Jesus didn’t just minister to this woman, He used her to demonstrate the nature and character of real faith. Because her faith wasn’t shallow she always read His responses in the right way.
His responses were:
- He first ignored her, saying nothing, and she wasn’t deterred.
Being silent in response to a request can be interpreted positively or negatively. The disciples read it negatively and assumed Jesus wanted nothing to do with her. She interpreted it positively, thinking her request was being considered rather than rejected out of hand. If Jesus had no intention of considering her case He would have reacted like the disciples. She saw the difference.
- Next, he gave her the “I’m too busy” excuse.
It wasn’t a lie. His primary mission was to Israel and He was consumed with trying to save and change the entire nation. They were wearing His human side out and so far their response had been mostly negative. She, however, understood that “too busy” was not the same as “impossibly busy” and persisted.
She probably understood what everyone knows, busy people can always find a way to help and besides, Jesus was God and could do anything. We will see just now that she understood that.
- When she still wouldn’t go away He makes a statement that seems to be insulting, suggesting that the Gentiles as a class were much lower than their Jewish neighbors.
A brief word about class divisions is necessary. Dividing humans into superior/inferior classes is a very human thing and God doesn’t participate. As far as God is concerned we are all in the same class, lost. The people who come to Jesus in faith do so not because they think of themselves as better but because they agree with God’s assessment. They see everyone, including themselves, on the same level, the bottom.
The social stand off between the Jews and Gentiles was fueled by pride on both sides. This woman’s response showed that she was beyond that.
Through all of these responses her faith, and the humility required to exercise it, became more apparent. If faith is defined by a persistent and steadfast confidence in the goodness and greatness of God, in spite of human failure, this woman typified it as much as any person. She never claimed to deserve anything but she never stopped believing that Jesus cared for her and her daughter.
If more parents had this kind of faith today the teen culture of our world would be far less troubled.
With every statement Jesus made, the disciples felt more justified in their attitude until, of course, He made His final remark about the greatness of her faith and the story ends abruptly. O. Henry couldn’t write surprise endings any better!
When the story was finished, everyone knew exactly what each person felt and thought and Jesus played both sides very cleverly to make this happen. The only surprise was the woman’s credibility.
Jesus had already shown an attraction to less desirables so there was nothing new there.
The disciples had clearly shown themselves to be bigots, faithfully representing their background. No surprise there.
The woman, however, went from being a low class Gentile to a shining example of the accessibility of God through faith to any person.
Thankfully, the woman’s daughter was healed. Unfortunately the cultural issue was not settled. It actually took several years, some amazing miracles and quite a few confrontational moments before the apostles managed to get the point, which was…
- God is no respecter of persons.
The same culture/class distinctions exist today and Christians should avoid being fooled by this nonsense. Not only can any person from any culture get saved, they are capable of demonstrating as much faith as any Abraham, Moses or David.
- Real faith is informed, alert, tenacious and reasonable.
It is strange that Jesus uses a person who is thought to represent the lowest levels of human society to be the exemplar of faith but she models it well.
SHE WAS INFORMED.
We have no reason to believe this woman modeled an acceptable spiritual life. I doubt she visited the temple (or synagogue), offered anything to God, or received structured training from the Bible.
But, living this close to Israelite communities she would have picked up on many of the differences between her culture and theirs all of which would have informed her about God.
Israel had a long history of vying with surrounding nations around God issues. I’m sure the details not only leaked, they also stuck. The least you could say about her is she was observant and thoughtful and that should characterize all expressions of faith.
She also recognized Jesus for who He was, referring to Him both as “Lord” and “Son of David.” These were not glib references. Together they revealed a keen awareness of the most sacred prophecy in the Bible, the coming of Messiah. When she attributed these titles to Jesus she was recognizing in Him what most of the Jews had so far refused to believe.
She was no distant, shallow minded observer.
SHE WAS ALERT
She was was both surprised and unsurprised by His initial reaction.
She probably expected to be brushed off but instead she got silence. Not what she was looking for but the door was still open. She had probably prepared herself mentally and emotionally for something much worse.
When He did speak, He said nothing she hadn’t already heard or that constituted outright rejection. But, she was alert enough to realize that He did engage the conversation, which considering the cultural divide was excessively unusual.
The woman at the well was surprised only because Jesus actually spoke to her. The Canaanite woman was correct in considering this a positive sign.
SHE WAS TENACIOUS
Jesus never told her to leave nor did He flatly refuse to help and she was determined to stick around until He did.
This woman teaches us that faith operates on hope not answers. As long as there is a glimmer of possibility, faith is justified, necessary even, particularly if things appear bleak for the moment.
SHE WAS REASONABLE
She also had the sense to know that dogs, if not considered social equals, were at least afforded humane treatment and that is all she was asking for.
- Genuine faith focuses on and magnifies the goodness and greatness of God.
Faith doesn’t have an attitude and isn’t self centered.
This woman didn’t claim:
- To be who she was not . . .
- To deserve what she did not . . .
- Or to expect anything unreasonable.
She was insignificant, she knew it and wasn’t bothered about it. She understood that faith has no social boundaries and recognizes no personal qualifications.
In a relationship with God “Faith” IS the qualification.
Any person can exercise faith and it alone makes any person, from any social level acceptable to God not wealth, celebrity, morality, intelligence, advantage, religion or any other measurement of human worth.
She realized that human spiritual classifications only represent degrees of zero. She couldn’t be, nor is anyone able to be, nor is it necessary to be better than anyone else.
External symbols of spiritual, material or intellectual status are not accurate indicators of who we really are and she understood this.
When people exercise faith, they see very little of self and a whole lot of God. They stop caring who they are relative to people and only see what they can be in relation to God. Their viewpoint totally changes.
- Expressing faith doesn’t necessarily involve strange or weird things but it is often exercised outside ordinary boundaries.
Ministering properly often involves moving outside your religious and cultural comfort zone.
This woman’s great example of personal faith was demonstrated:
- In front of the disciples.
- By a person the disciples were inclined to distrust and
- In a geographical location they didn’t want to be.
This experience was a small illustration of the “go ye into all the world” statements that Jesus gave just before He ascended into heaven.
What we learn from this example and His statements is that, to reach the world we must go to the world, even the ugly parts and we can expect to find nuggets of faith when we do.
But, the disciples weren’t just culturally uncomfortable, they were religiously uncomfortable, and had been for quite some time, not just in this setting.
Religiously, Jesus had not shown Himself to be a traditionalist. Every time He showed up at traditional religious activities He always stirred things up.
The truth is, sometimes God shakes up our traditional religious formats in order to make us more fruitful.
If the disciples had always acted by the rule of “religion as usual” they would never have witnessed this great example of faith, although at the time I don’t think they fully appreciated the experience. It took a while for it to sink in.
So, was Jesus being cruel? No!
Was He being insensitive? No!
He was teaching and changing every person and was using the responses of each person to accomplish this end. Would to God we could be so effective.
What do you THINK!AboutIt?
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and lknelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. 25 For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: 26 The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. 27 But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. 28 And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. 29 And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; the devil is gone out of thy daughter. 30 And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.