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There is a lot of tension in our country today. People seem to want to argue about anything and everything. Politics seem more divisive than ever. People are divided over race, despite the fact that there is only one race. We are all humans no matter what our color. People are divided over what to do or say about the virus. Despite the fact that even the experts don’t know a lot about the virus, people seem to think their opinion is right and are willing to call you names or cancel you if you don’t agree with them. Satan is surely smiling as we experience what happens when more and more people put themselves, their feelings, anything and everything above God and his word.
We tend to think that it must have been better in Jesus’ day. But was it? We are told that Jesus left that place. That place was Galilee where he had been teaching and performing miracles. The reason he left was that Pharisees and teachers from Jerusalem had come all the way to Galilee to stir up the people against him. The specific incident recorded for us was that they accused him of not making sure his disciples followed the tradition of ceremonial hand washing. After all, if you are out in the marketplace you will surely come in contact with some unbelieving gentiles, especially in Galilee which borders on gentile countries. You would want to be sure that none of their unbelieving filth stuck to you. How could God bless you and your food if it did? The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day were among the most prejudiced, judgmental people who ever lived.
Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy. He tried to help them see what we all need to see. If we think we see a speck of sawdust in someone else’s eye, it might just be that we have a whole board in our own. Jesus tried to help them see the importance of judging yourself by God’s law before you even think about judging others. God doesn’t ask us to be better than others. He asks us to be perfect, to keep his law perfectly. When you understand that fact, you realize what Paul said. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In God’s eyes everyone is equal. Everyone is a sinner who deserves the same eternal punishment.
Unfortunately, these Pharisees and teachers didn’t get it. And since his time for suffering had not yet come, he withdrew. In fact, he left the country. He went to the region of Tyre and Sidon, a gentile area. It was an area known for disgusting forms of idol worship. You might remember that 700 years earlier, Jezebel was Queen in Israel. She was the daughter of the king of Sidon. She is the one who tried to make the worship of Baal the state religion of the northern kingdom of Israel, an area that included what in Jesus’ day was called Galilee. She was the one who murdered the prophets of the one true God and put a price on Elijah’s head.
Think of it. After being accused of not being Jewish enough, Jesus leaves the country and goes to the region of Tyre and Sidon, gentile country. Not just by his words, but by his actions, he was showing that he would not be ruled by hypocritical traditions or opinions of others. He would show God’s love equally to all, Jew or Gentile.
When he arrived in Gentile territory, A Canaanite woman from that territory came and kept crying out, “Have mercy on me.”
What would Jesus do? When the Israelites came from Egypt and conquered the land, God had instructed them to wipe out all the Canaanites, every last person. He had warned them that if they didn’t, the Canaanites would lead them away from him and into idolatry, and be thorns in their sides forever. Israel failed to fully carry out God’s command and the Canaanites did lead many away from the true God and were a source of constant trouble for Israel. Would Jesus hold this past history against her?
At first, it seems like Jesus was holding it against her. He ignores her. When the disciples ask him to send her away, he tells her that, as the Messiah, he was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. When she persists, he tells her, it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to their little dogs. Wow! If that’s all you read in Scripture, you would have to come to the conclusion that Jesus was judging this woman for the sins of her ancestors, that he was a very racist, prejudiced person. But that’s not the whole story, is it?
Why was Jesus silent? We often answer that Jesus was testing this woman’s faith. That may be the case. He knew she had faith, not just because he is God and knows her heart, but because of the way she addressed him. She called him, Lord, Son of David! Those words came from the mouth of a gentile! Somehow, she had come to know the promises of Scripture. She believed that the Messiah was coming and that he would be the Son of David. She publicly confessed that Jesus was that Messiah.
Was Jesus testing her faith as he tested Abraham when he asked him to sacrifice Isaac? It could be. But there is another reason Jesus was silent. He was testing his disciples. What had they learned from the recent incident where they were accused of not being Jewish enough because they didn’t follow the Jewish tradition of hand washing? Had they learned that God does not look at the outward appearance, but looks on the heart? How would they react to the pleas of this gentile? Did they look at her as a gentile sinner, an unclean dog? Did they hear her amazing confession of faith? It’s hard to tell. Send her away, could mean “just get rid of her she’s not worth your time,” or many believe it means, “just do what she asks so that she can stop begging.”
Why didn’t Jesus do that? Why did he keep testing her, seeming to say “I would but I can’t because you aren’t Jewish.” It wasn’t just for her benefit. He wanted his disciples and people of all time to witness the strength of her faith. In fact, it’s very interesting that the only two times in Jesus’ ministry that he says someone has great faith, he says in regard to gentiles – this Canaanite woman, and a Roman Centurion.
What was so great about her faith? Unlike the Jewish leader Nicodemus who came to Jesus at night, this gentile woman was willing to publicly confess that Jesus was the Son of David, the promised Messiah, the Son of God who had the power to heal her daughter from afar.
When God seems to be silent what do many do? King Saul turned to a Medium. Many just give up and assume that either God doesn’t exist or that he doesn’t care. This woman persisted in prayer even when Jesus seemed to be ignoring her and her request.
When people seem to put you down because of who you are or where you came from what’s your reaction? Isn’t it to become angry, to call them names, to accuse them of being racist? This woman fell down at Jesus’ feet. She worshiped. She asked for mercy. She begged, Lord, help me. She showed the humility that comes from knowing that you are a sinner who is no better than anyone else, who deserves nothing from God except his punishment. All any of us can say is, “Have mercy Lord, help me.”
If someone implied that you were not worthy of anything from them because you were from the wrong group of people, wouldn’t you get angry and leave in a huff? But this woman said, Yes Lord, I know I’m not worthy of what I ask. But, little house dogs like me get to eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table. I’m willing to rejoice in any crumb you can give me.
Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, your faith is great! It will be done for you, just as you desire.” And her daughter was healed at that very hour.
What did the disciples learn? What do we learn from this incident that the Holy Spirit caused to be recorded for us?
The very pious, outwardly religious leaders of the church failed to see that Jesus was the Messiah the Son of David. They judged him because he wasn’t Jewish enough, he didn’t follow all their customs and traditions. They let cultural pride move them to reject Jesus and keep the good news of the gospel from others. That’s always a danger for us who have been in the church for our whole lives.
The disciples heard Jesus remind these leaders that it is what is in the heart that matters to God, not outward piety, and definitely not cultural tradition or color of skin. Then they witnessed great faith, certainly realizing that, if they had been this woman, they would not have demonstrated such faith. And she was a foreigner, a Canaanite.
Who did Jesus come to save? Isn’t it obvious? He came to save everyone. No one, no matter who they are, no matter where they came from, no matter what their ancestors have done, no matter what their culture or color, Jesus came for all. All have sinned. All need a savior. Jesus came to pay for the sins of the world. God so loved the WORLD. God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. God our Savior wants all to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth. The Bible says it, and Jesus showed it.
Do you know what that means? It means he came to save you. There is no reason to doubt it. You are a human, a sinner, living in the world, and the Bible makes it absolutely clear that’s who Jesus came to save. You are not an exception.
As the disciples learned this lesson, we see that they brought Greeks to Jesus. Philip went to Samaria. Barnabas helped people in Antioch, north of Tyre and Sidon, carryout ministry specifically to Gentiles. And Paul served as the Apostle to the Gentiles proclaiming the good news to people in Asia minor (modern Turkey), Greece, Italy and probably even Spain.
Like this gentile woman, God has graciously brought us to realize that we are sinners who deserve nothing from God. He has graciously brought us to realize that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of David, our Savior. He fills us with joy and gratitude as we see how he gives us much more than crumbs from his table every day.
What a blessing it is to know that Jesus came to save every person. He came to save you and everyone you meet. Let that good news govern how you treat everyone with whom you come in contact every day.