And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 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.” 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.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
(Matthew 15:21-28 ESV)
Yesterday we read about a Gentile woman whose troubled life lead her to Jesus. Today we read Jesus’ response to her. At first the woman was crying out from afar for Jesus to heal her daughter. But He did not answer her. This may seem insensitive, but as the story progresses we see Jesus’ strategy.
Next the woman took her request to the disciples who get so annoyed with her that they came and begged Jesus to send her away. Notice that the disciples “came” to Jesus. This tells us that the woman did not approach Jesus directly. She was trying to get to Him through the disciples. But again Jesus rebuffs her by saying that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.
From the passage we can tell that Jesus said this within earshot of the woman who likely followed the disciples as they took her request to Him. But then her approach changes. Rather than approaching Jesus indirectly and from afar, she came before Him and knelt. This is what Jesus wanted her to do all along. He wanted her to come directly to Him.
Notice that this was the last place she could go. She had now gone as far as she could – to Jesus Himself. And her prayer at this point is a great one: “Lord, help me”. This prayer is short and simple, yet so full of humility and truth. This woman could not help herself. Her religion could not help her, as we learned yesterday. Only Jesus could help her.
By putting up barriers to this woman’s request Jesus was not treating her unkindly. He was teaching her that approaching Him distantly does not work. He was also teaching her that she need not be afraid of Him. Considering the fact that she was not only a Gentile and a woman, but a Canaanite – a people who were bitter enemies of the Jews for centuries – its likely she was not fully convinced Jesus would help her.
But notice that Jesus never said “no”. Each of His responses, including the silence, left the door open to her request being fulfilled. Who she was had nothing to do with it. How she approached Jesus was all that mattered.
At first the woman approached Jesus timidly, perhaps out of fear or because of a lack of belief that He could/would help her. Either way, she was in error. This entire scene is Jesus correcting her error.
So many people are afraid to approach Jesus. Some keep their distance entirely. Others go through a priest, as Catholics do during confession. Some ask others to pray for them rather than praying for themselves. But this is not what God wants.
God is not aloof. He is not unapproachable. He doesn’t want us to be afraid of Him or to communicate with Him vicariously. He wants a close, personal, one-on-one relationship with us.
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