Have you ever been in a situation in life where you were fervently seeking the Lord, and yet, it seemed like He was ignoring you, like your prayers weren’t getting through. In times like these, it can feel like you’re on the outside looking in, like He’s a million miles away, like He’s left you alone in your time of greatest need.
You’re not the only one to feel this way, I promise.
But, it is in these difficult moments when our response to the situation means everything.
We see this principle at work in a rather peculiar story found in Matthew 15:21-28.
“Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.” But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.“
I have to be honest, this is one of those passages that I have kind of pushed into the background, not really doing much with it — at least until recently. And, with a quick glance through the story, you can probably guess why.
It creates a deeply visceral reaction. To the casual reader, it’s likely offensive to some degree. I mean, “What the heck was Jesus thinking!?!” He’s not supposed to act like that! Seriously, how many times is it written in scripture that He healed all of those brought to Him, the sick and the afflicted. And, seemingly every time someone cried out for help, like the Canaanite woman, Jesus always intervened, meeting their needs with compassion and grace. So, what’s up with this passage?
Let’s go a little deeper.
You see, Jesus and His disciples had just left a contentious confrontation with the religious leaders of the day and were trying to keep a low profile. After all, they were in a remote region near two gentile cities that were known for their immorality and barbarism. But, word got out about Jesus, just like it always did.
And, that’s when the Canaanite woman came on the scene.
Think about it, when you have a daughter who is “cruelly” demon possessed, you’re going to move heaven and earth to get her help. And, when you hear about a man who has miraculously healed and delivered multitudes, with tremendous love, mercy, and grace — you’re going to find Him and you’re going to do whatever it takes for Him to move on your behalf, even if you are a gentile stranger.
So, she did — she found Him and began to cry out for help.
But, she was ignored, even by Jesus.
Determinedly, she kept crying out, kept pursuing Jesus, as if her daughter’s life depended on it.
The disciples, once again showing their penchant for occasional bouts of callousness, became fed up with her annoying persistence and begged Jesus to send her away. But, Jesus didn’t respond to their request; He wouldn’t send her away. Yet, at the same time, He also refused to help her, saying that He was sent only (or at least first – See Mark 7) to the House of Israel, not to the gentiles (Mt: 10:5; Acts 3:25&26; Romans 1:16; 15:8-9).
Time Out! Although you may not have considered this, Jesus was sent to teach and minister to the Jewish people, the ones through which the divine covenants and messianic prophecies would be fulfilled — that was His mission, that was God’s strategy. Now, this is not to say that He did not care about everyone else — He did. But, Jesus turned that part of the mission over to His disciples, who were commissioned to go into all of the world, ministering to everyone, making disciples in all of the nations. (Matthew 28; Mark 16; Acts 10; Romans 15:8-12). Ok, break!
Seeing the intensity of the disciples’ discussion with Jesus, and perhaps sensing that their annoyance stemmed from her, the Canaanite woman rushed to bow at Jesus’ feet. And, with the complete desperation of an exhausted, final plea, she cried, “Lord, help me!”
But, using a simple, if not crude, parable, just as He had done while teaching and addressing the people of Israel, He repeated His mission and purpose through an analogy. The bread (Jesus) was to be given to the children of Israel (the Jews), not to the dogs (the rest of the gentile world), even those who were eagerly waiting.
And, had she been like most of those who had heard Jesus’ parables (see Mt 13:10-15), those whose hearts were too dull to understand, she, too, would have lacked comprehension. Maybe she would have gotten offended; maybe angry; maybe so deeply hurt and emotionally devastated that she storms off, telling everyone she encounters that it’s all an elaborate charade.
But, she wasn’t like everyone else, and her heart wasn’t dull — it was full of faith, great faith. And, her faith gave her understanding, so much so that she responded to Jesus with a statement in-kind, “Yes, what you say is true, Lord, but there’s always a little leftover, isn’t there? Maybe just a few crumbs of grace, falling, at times, from the master’s table — crumbs that that even us dogs can enjoy?”
It was a response, full of steadfast faith, the likes of which Jesus had scarcely seen, even in His own disciples (Mt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8; 17:20; 8:10). And, it was a response that changed everything, for her and her daughter.
Jesus, full of awe, replied, “O woman, your faith is great. It shall be done for you as you wish!”
You see, even in the midst of God’s sovereign plans and purposes in this world, there are still opportunities for divine interruptions, momentary outpourings of grace. And, they most often result from a person’s response of steadfast faith.
Sometimes, God’s perfect will for our lives seems anything but perfect. And sometimes, it makes little sense to us, the byproduct of our limited, finite perspective (1 Corinthians 13:12). Often, it remains a mystery, hidden from all natural understanding (Ephesians 1:9; 3:1-3; 3:5; Colossians 2:2; Colossians 4:3; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Cor 2:6-8; Romans 16:25). But, ultimately, it is our response, even in the midst of the divine mystery, that God can honor and bless.
So, the real question is how we will choose to respond when these situations arise?
Will we take offense, question His loving character, and angrily walk away? Or, will we remember and respond like the Canaanite woman, choosing to maintain our steadfast faith in Jesus, even when we don’t fully understand?
Our response of faith can create the opportunity for a similar interruption of grace in our own lives, the miracle we desperately need.
God honors steadfast, heartfelt faith.