“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.” – Matthew 15:22
This verse sets the stage for one of the strangest stories in the gospels. A woman desperate for help comes to Jesus and is ignored for a time, shamed, then vindicated and honored. It all seems at first to be outside of Jesus’s character to respond to this woman in the manner that He did. Yet as all things with God, He has a reason, even when we don’t see it. It might not always make since to us but His ways are never unjust and when we ask Him for understanding and wait upon Him, He always brings it.
You see, in the setting leading up to this story, the Pharisees had pridefully come against the disciples and Jesus Himself for not following their orders, programs, and traditions. Even accusing them of being filthy and defiled in an attempt to elevate themselves to some perception of power and superiority. Their pride and arrogance stirred Jesus’s heart against them as He basically tells them that they only want to rule over others and would rather have people listen to them, then to encourage them to listen to God. This only showed the reality that in their hearts they had exulted themselves above God. Then comes the Woman of Canaan…
“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” – Matthew 15:22-28
Harsh as Jesus’s initial words to this woman may have seemed, they were not without cause. The truth is that Jesus knew what her response would be and provoked it to illustrate to his disciples (and all of history) a truly humbled heart (in stark contrast to that of the Pharisees), and it’s power to move the heart of God to pour out His grace on the undeserving rather then the rebuke and wrath He poured out on the Pharisees earlier for their assumptions of deserved favor and honor. The truth is that she really was undeserving of God’s favor, but so were the Priest and Pharisees. The difference was that she knew she was unworthy and undeserving, but she also knew that Jesus was able no matter what. She had no faith in herself, but she had great faith in God. The Pharisees on the other hand, had great faith in themselves, but very little faith in God.
“Do not ye yet understand, that whatsoever entereth in at the mouth goeth into the belly, and is cast out into the draught? But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: These are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man.” – Matthew 15:17-20
These are the verses that preceded the encounter of the Canaanite woman and she proved it perfectly. You see, pure humility came out of her mouth and perfectly showed forth the reverence and faith in her heart. Therefore, while Jesus rebuked and rejected the Pharisees with all their pomp, position, prestige, pedigree, perceived power, and frivolous performances of prideful piety, He blessed the broken and desperate woman for her unshaken faith and humility in the face of opposition and an environment of oppression. It may not have been time yet for Jesus to turn His grace toward the Gentiles (as would later happen), but how could He refuse such humble faith? The answer is simple, He couldn’t, He wouldn’t, He didn’t, and He won’t.
“But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” – James 4:6