Read Matthew 15.21-28
Jesus was more than a teacher, he was also a great healer. As he traveled from town to town, teaching people about the kingdom of God, people with all sorts of diseases and illnesses came out to be healed. His touch and word of forgiveness helped the lame to walk, the blind to see, those possessed with evil spirits to come to their senses. This healing caused his fame to spread. People from all over who struggled with illness sought him out to be healed by his touch and his word of grace. Jesus was a divine healer.
Jesus was also human. He was limited by his humanity. We see this in our gospel story this morning. He and his disciples are traveling through Gentile territory. A Canaanite woman comes out to meet him. “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” Out of love for her daughter, she has come to seek healing.
Jesus ignores her. The disciples urge him to get rid of her. Jesus tells them, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The focus of Jesus’ ministry was with Jews. His mission has limits. Maybe he is concerned about stretching himself too thin. Maybe he wants the disciples to take the initiative and respond to the woman. We only see that he doesn’t initially respond to the woman’s plea for healing.
But the woman persists. She approaches Jesus directly. “Lord, help me.”
Then comes the most troubling part of the story. Jesus answers her, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus uses the prejudicial language saying Jews are children and all others are dogs. This could be construed as a racial slur. Trying to understand this uncharacteristic rudeness from Jesus, commentators have suggested a number of possibilities:
One thought is that this saying didn’t come from Jesus, but a later editor, who opposed mission to the Gentiles, added it.
Another thought is that Jesus was simply using a popular expression to test the faith of the woman.
Another is that Jesus was playfully teasing the woman, using the expression “dogs” tongue-in-cheek.
We only know what the story tells us and in it, Jesus abruptly dismisses the woman and her people, as beyond the range of his healing touch.
But the story doesn’t end there. The woman has a quick wit. She comes back. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
I imagine there was a long, pregnant pause as Jesus took a moment to let this sink in. She was right. He was treating her even worse than a dog by refusing to deal with her. A lesser man would have launched into rage-filled denial, “How dare you speak to me like that!” Instead, Jesus says,
“Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
Healing does not come easily. Many people struggle with illness and disease throughout their lives. Some physical and emotional suffering lingers for years as people search for healing and find none. Over the years, we’ve become more and more dependent on the medical technology for answers, for healing. We’ve relied on new treatments to take away our pain, our suffering, and when it doesn’t work, we get frustrated and discouraged, wondering, “What’s wrong with me?”
In the story of this woman, we learn that healing doesn’t come easily. She must go to Jesus, face the scorn of his disciples, even risk his rejection. She stands firm. She is persistent. She desperately wants her daughter to be healed and she is keeps crying out in faith until it happens.
This Gospel story has a happy ending. The woman is unrelenting and her persistence pays off. Her daughter is healed. Healing is possible. It happens, according to God’s will. It is promised to us through Jesus Christ, our Savior. Be persistent in seeking healing, for yourself and for others.