If we read the narrative of the Canaanite woman, something might strike us odd. This is one of those lesser known narratives in tucked away in the gospels that we don’t normally pay any attention to. Part of this is probably because it seems so uncharacteristic of Jesus. This woman comes to Jesus with a real felt need. Her daughter is losing her life to a demon. Certainly there can be no greater felt need for a parent. Even so, Jesus seems to completely ignore her. He seems to, because the text says that He basically ignored her. This is the same Jesus that has been out healing people, who has asked for the poor, broken, hungry, and innocent to come to Him. Now, when this woman does come to Him, He ignores her. That doesn’t seem very Jesus like. What could Jesus’ purpose possibly be in this?
What makes this narrative so special is that it is one of four in the New Testament in which gentiles are commended for their faith. Jesus was in the midst of His ministry to the people of Israel. While He had a lot of people coming to be healed by Him, the people of Israel had largely rejected Jesus as the messiah. The irony here is that, if anyone should have recognized the messiah it should have been the people who had long been reading, writing, and traditionally looking for a messiah. They seemed to miss the boat. They came to Jesus to meet some of their felt needs, but their greatest need was completely ignored. Here, we have a woman, from the infamous Canaanite lineage. These were the people that were so wicked that God wanted them wiped from the face of the earth. Certainly, she would be the last to recognize the messiah. Not only might she be the last to recognize the messiah, but even if she did, she would be the last for the messiah of the Jews to save. We know that, but the uniqueness of her story is that she acknowledged this too. When Jesus reminds her that He is the messiah to the people of Israel, she recognizes this, and the true reason that she is asking for Jesus to meet her felt need is that she recognizes that she is not worthy of Jesus to meet her greater need. It wasn’t that she didn’t recognize Jesus as the messiah it was that she recognized Jesus as the messiah and in recognizing this she also recognized her own distance from salvation. We see this in her response to Jesus.
She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”-Mt 15:27
She recognizes that Jesus came to offer salvation, but she thinks that it is out of her reach. Since it is out of her reach, her argument is that Jesus might at least heal her daughter. Jesus doesn’t answer her request, because He wants to give her more than a band aid for her daughter. He wanted her to recognize that faith in Christ can bridge the gap between us and God. What she didn’t know about Jesus when she came to Him was that no one is out of reach of His salvation. Her faith was in Jesus as a savior. What she didn’t understand is that Jesus could be HER savior.
The encouraging thing about this passage is that it is a reminder that we are never outside of the reach of grace. When we recognize our own brokenness and we recognize our savior, we are in the position to be rescued from our brokenness. We should never underestimate out savior and His ability to rescue even us.