Monday, August 08, 2011

Matthew 15:21–28

Matthew 15:21–28 (ESV) : The Faith of a Canaanite Woman


This passage continues from the previous one. Jesus moves on to a new location, and is approached by a Canaanite woman who has a demon-posessed daughter, and wishes Jesus to heal her. However, he doesn’t answer her.

She starts “crying out after” the disciples (verse 23 (ESV) ), so they come to Jesus and beg him to heal her daughter. But Jesus tells them that he was only sent to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” (verse 24 (ESV) ).

So the woman approaches Jesus one last time:

But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (verses 25–28 (ESV) )


This passage probably seems strange to a lot of modern-day Christians. 2,000 years after Jesus left the planet we’re by now well acquainted with the fact that Jesus came to save the whole world, not just the Jews. What we sometimes forget, however, is that Jesus’ original message was preached primarily—in fact, almost exclusively—to the Jews, not to the Gentiles. There are a few instances where non-Israelites come to Jesus for help and he gives it to them because of their amazing amount of faith, but I think those passages have probably lost their impact to modern-day Christians, since we’re now used to the fact that… well, most Christians in the world today are Gentiles, not Jews.

Just in case it’s not clear to some readers—as it was originally unclear to me, before my pastor explained it to me—what is happening in this passage is this: This woman comes to Jesus to ask him to heal her daughter. Jesus, however, initially refuses because she is not a Jew and he was sent to minister to the Jews (“It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”). She eventually convinces him that even though she’s not a Jew she still has great faith in him, so he tells her so, and heals her.

The ESV Study Bible points out that … Well, I’ll just quote it:

Jews frequently insulted Gentiles by calling them dogs, which in ancient Palestine were wild, homeless scavengers. But the form Jesus uses here (Gk. kynarion, “little dog”) suggests a more affectionate term for domestic pets. Jesus is not insulting the woman but testing her faith.
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