A Canaanite woman comes to Jesus, seeking healing for her daughter who is tormented by a demon. Jesus initially ignores her and tries twice to dismiss her. Finally, in response to her persistence and her pluck, Jesus relents, praising her faith as he instantly heals her child.
I struggle with Jesus in this story. I am not entirely sure what to make of his initial response (or lack of response) to this woman’s entreaty. Is he worn out from all the healing and teaching and travel? Was he hoping to get away from the crowds and the needs of the people by leaving Jewish territory and going to a gentile area? Does he really not intend to help this woman? Or is this just a story-telling device that helps to illustrate the vital point that Jesus’ mission extends beyond his own ethnic and religious group?
In contrast, I really like the woman in this story. She is an outsider from Jesus’ community, a non-Jew who is from Cana. She brings to Jesus her pressing need. Her child is being tormented and she is asks for mercy from Jesus. Her passion, her persistence, her shameless pestering of this healing rabbi touches my heart. When he tries to dismiss her, she comes close, kneels and says, “Lord, help me.”
Jesus attempts to tell her he hasn’t come to help people from her community, that she is outside his mission. “It’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” But the woman knows otherwise. She doesn’t miss a beat, responding, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Jesus relents. “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” Instantly, her daughter is healed.
I admire this woman. She is insistent and practical, and can banter even in the midst of a desperate situation. Her daughter was in peril and this mother is willing to bother, beg and argue until Jesus helps her. She did not give up until Jesus saw the dire situation and intervened on behalf of her child. And she helped Jesus see (or show us?) there are important needs that extend beyond our own community.
What do we learn from this Canaanite woman and her story? God’s healing and mercy extends so much further than we initially think. . . so much further than we can imagine. We learn that there is no shame in asking, even begging for mercy, for healing, for help. We see that persistence and even a sassy response brings transformation.