You and I have a mental image of Jesus and what he is like in different situations. That visual may be based on what we have read in Scripture about Jesus, or it may be based on what we have heard others say or just ideas that we developed from something we read or heard. But Jesus is impossible to pigeonhole. There are times when his actions just don’t fit that image we have, and we either have to change our image or ignore things that the Bible tells us about Jesus.
In Matthew 15:21-28 we have such a picture of Jesus. He and the twelve apostles had traveled from the predominately Jewish areas of Galilee to the district of Tyre and Sidon which were primarily, Gentile in population. He was trying to get away from the crowds to be able to spend some quality time with the apostles training them for the mission that was quickly going to be laid on their shoulders. “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.” Suppose we stop at that point for a moment and raise the question, with that introduction, how would you fill out the rest of the story about this woman and her daughter? If you aren’t already familiar with the story, you would likely complete the story with that mental image of Jesus that dominates your thinking. For most of us, it would mean the story continues with Jesus having compassion for the woman and her little girl and telling her to go home for her daughter is now well and the demon has gone out of her. But is that the way the story continued?
The truth is that story goes forward with Jesus not answering her a word. The disciples came to Jesus and begged him to send her away, for she is crying after us. Jesus then answered her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Already, this is difficult for us since it seems like rejection because of her race. The woman reacted by coming closer and kneeling before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” He answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” Wait, this can’t be right. Surely Jesus didn’t act that way toward a woman and her daughter because she was a Gentile rather than a Jew. I’m quite sure if such a thing happened in our own time we would begin to shout that he was racist, filled with prejudice and elitist. It must have been tempting for the woman to turn and rush away from Jesus, telling everyone what he had said to her. If it were our time, it would have led to all kinds of remarks on Facebook, Twitter and would have been carried as a lead story on the different cable news channels. The woman would have been interviewed on all the news shows, and her hurting daughter would have still been in agony.
What really happened? After Jesus answered her that it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs, the woman said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s 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.”
The Bible doesn’t tell us why Jesus said what he did to the woman. Maybe it was to test her faith. If she had run away to shout to the world how Jesus had spoken to her and hurt her feelings so deeply, her daughter would have remained demon possessed and afflicted. But her longing to have her daughter healed led to her refusing to be upset and pushing for her child to be made well again. It is somewhat like going to a doctor who is an excellent surgeon but who has a horrible bedside manner and says things that hurt your feelings at times. Would you exchange them for a doctor who was kind to you but not as good a surgeon?
I’m for caring, gracious and considerate words in all situations. But the words used don’t matter near as much as the healing of the demon-possessed child. No one ever cared for all people like Jesus who took our sins upon him and paid the price that sin deserved on the cross so we could be forgiven and have new life in him. “Greater love has no one than this, to lay down his life for his friends.” Whatever the reason Jesus spoke to the woman as he did, it didn’t take away from what he did in healing her daughter that same day.