The Canaanite woman had nothing to lose. Her daughter was suffering from a demon-possession that no shaman or physician could cure. She was a member of a condemned race that to the Jewish nation was nothing more than a despised, long-forgotten and hopeless people.
Yet the irony that develops between this woman and Jesus is beautiful as is the result of her pleas.
Completely unlike the demons that threatened to expose Jesus earlier, this woman intimates essentially the same thing as the demons, but does so for a completely different reason. The demons cried out that Jesus was “The Son of God” and “The Holy One of Israel!” hoping to expose his identity for the sake of unraveling his mission. The Canaanite woman called him “Lord” and the “Son of David” yet amazingly, Jesus did not rebuke her for her salutations and instead rewarded her persistent faith.
The difference between the woman and the demons was a difference of the heart. The Canaanite woman did not yell out a threat, but cried a humble plea. She called him Lord and the Son of David, not to stop his ministry but to admit to him that she knew he was the Christ and powerful enough to save. Her motivation was not to stop Jesus from carrying out his mission. Her cry was not even for herself, but she begged Jesus with a believing heart for the sake of her daughter, seeking relief on her behalf.
Apart from Jesus’ wisdom in the Gospel, there may not be a wiser response in Scripture than the one this woman gave. Having no reason to suppose that Jesus would grant her request, the woman shrugs off the apparent initial rejection and replied: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
What an unbelievable statement of faith this is in face of such little outward evidence for hope. For on three occasions Jesus seems to turn her away. First, he remains silent after her initial plea, and then only answers her after the disciples insist that he send her away. After making another, more insistent plea, Jesus makes a statement that seems to reinforce the disciple’s desires that she give up asking and just go away. But then it is her third plea that changes everything, and for such a wise reply Jesus grants her request and her daughter is healed.
The Canaanite woman teaches us a great deal about the nature and practice of faith. For take just a moment and consider her situation. The woman’s traditions and her people’s history offered her little comfort when confronted with a crisis much bigger than her herself. They told her to not expect anything from the Jewish rabbi. They told her that the Jews cannot offer her any help according to their own traditions and laws. And yet this woman persisted and pushed through conventional wisdom and refused to give up. Her reward was a gift of divine mercy and the discovery of a God who gives unending grace to those who ask him.
And look at how this woman behaved at her darkest hour. She answered Jesus’ silent and initial replies by continuing to beg for his help. She essentially says: “I admit that I am no more than a dog, Jesus. But even little dogs are granted mercy from their masters’ table. Even they are permitted to eat up the scraps that fall from their children’s plates. So I don’t believe that you will do nothing more for me, Jesus because I know you are merciful. I’ve heard how you’ve helped other Gentiles. I’ve heard about the mercy you’ve shown for your people. I believe in your Gospel, and so I refuse to believe that you will not help me in my distress just as your Father helped the Syrian widow and her son (1 Kings 17:67-24) and helped Naaman the leper (2 Kings 5:1-19) through the prophet Elisha.”
Jesus was delighted with her answer. He happily granted her request and we are forever blessed with her brave example. This desperate mother pushed through her fear and believed. She expressed faith in face of her Lord’s seeming indifference and was rewarded beyond her expectations when Jesus healed her daughter with but a word.
The lesson this woman teaches us is simple. Though God may test us in seemingly strange and unpredictable ways, he will not turn away from his promises to help those who call on him in their time of need. And he will never turn his back on true faith.