Sunday, April 7, 2013

Jesus and The Gentile Lady

Jesus by Rembrandt

Matthew 15:21-28

Then Jesus left Galilee and went north to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
 A Gentile woman who lived there came to him, pleading,
 “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David!
 For my daughter is possessed by a demon that torments her severely.”
But Jesus gave her no reply, not even a word.
 Then his disciples urged him to send her away.
 “Tell her to go away,” they said. “She is bothering us with all her begging.”
 Then Jesus said to the woman, “I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”
 But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!”
 Jesus responded, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”
 She replied, “That’s true, Lord, but even dogs are allowed to eat the scraps that fall beneath their masters’ table.”
 “Dear woman,” Jesus said to her, “your faith is great. Your request is granted.”
 And her daughter was instantly healed.

  On the surface, this story in the life of
Painting by Henryk Siemiradzki
Jesus seems like an anomaly, with the normally kind, compassionate Son of Man seeming cold and indifferent to a Gentile lady who has come to Him for mercy. But if we dig deeper and meditate upon it we find that it teaches us much about our Lord, faith, and prayer.

The woman who sought Jesus for deliverance from a demon for her daughter was a Canaanite, a Gentile. She has some knowledge of the "Son of David," Israel’s promised Messiah. Yet where did she get that knowledge? She is not a Jew. “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (~Romans 10:17)  She must have heard Jesus preach before and is familiar with His ministry. She knows He can perform great miracles and she needs one for her daughter. Though she cries out to the Lord earnestly, Jesus steadfastly ignores her persistent cries for mercy.

 The disciples represent intercessors in the family of God praying for those in need. "Tell her to go away," the disciples urged Jesus. "She is bothering us with all her begging.”

 Divorced from the context of gestures and expression, Jesus’ response to the woman on the surface seems rude. The bible authors give us only the words. However, Hebrews 13:8 says that “Jesus Christ it the same yesterday, today, and forever.”

The Lord, who has created each person who ever lived, knows exactly how to speak to each individual in such a way that they will understand Him. At this point I believe that Jesus, His eyes filled with love, for He is the God of love, looked this woman in the eye and said, "I was sent only to help God’s lost sheep—the people of Israel.”

It is interesting that Jesus tells her He was sent to help God’s lost sheep.
This Gentile lady who has been following Jesus’ ministry long enough to know He is the Son of David must have at some point heard Jesus call Himself the Good Shepherd.
In the Gospel of John Jesus tells His followers: “I am the Good Shepherd. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:27-28)

Jesus has also publicly told His disciples: No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day.” ~John 6:44

So although Jesus told this woman that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, something in what He said or the way He said it did not discourage her. No, for she then fell down and worshiped Him!

But she came and worshiped him, pleading again, “Lord, help me!” ~Matthew 15:25
 The Heavenly Father Himself must have drawn this woman to Christ, and she herself must have been one of Christ’s true sheep though not outwardly a child of Israel,  because nothing discouraged her faith in Christ, not even His seeming indifference toward her:
 (John 6:37-38 “However, those the Father has given me will come to me, and I will never reject them. For I have come down from heaven to do the will of God who sent me, not to do my own will.”

 At some point she may have heard Him say as He preached to the multitudes: (John 3:16-17) “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”

 Even though Jesus said to her that He was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, she would not be deterred, and begged Him to have mercy on her.

Even as Jesus Christ tested her faith, this Gentile woman had the awesome privilege of meeting her Creator, face to face in the flesh, though He was humbling her. “I know my Redeemer lives, and that He shall stand at the latter day upon the earth.” (Job19:25)

Jesus responded to her in a way that sounds very harsh to us. And there were multitudes all around witnessing this interchange between Him and this woman seeking His help. For everywhere Christ went, there were crowds for He was a popular teacher.

The Bible does not say whether this woman was rich or poor: she could have been a nobleman’s wife, the wife of a ruler and here was a common Jewish rabbi first refusing to speak to her and now speaking such words! He said to her, “It isn’t right to take food from the children and throw it to the dogs.”

The dogs!  Did Jesus, the God of love, call this Gentile lady a dog? And by implication, her whole race at that?! Actually, the word Jesus used for “dog” was “puppy” and He was making a word picture for the woman to understand a spiritual concept.

“My words are spirit and they are life. The flesh profits nothing,” Christ says in John 6:63 But to us who read what He said divorced from their gestural and expressional context seems shocking! Yet the words are personal and meant especially for this woman.

And I believe He is looking right into her eyes, the God of love and no one can see the love and compassion in His eyes but her. She knows exactly what He means for she humbly responds: "True Lord, but even little dogs are allowed to eat the crumbs that fall from their masters table."
“Dear woman,” Jesus said to her“your faith is great. Your request is granted.”
 And her daughter was instantly healed.”

~ Jesus did not use a derogatory word for dog nor did she in this interchange. They both used the word as it would be used for a household pet—“puppies.”

However, if this woman had had any sinful pride in her she could not have endured this spiritual test and would have fled in anger and bitterness from Him.

For no matter what form of the word dog Jesus used, pride will not submit to being humbled. It will not allow Christ to be its Master nor see itself as lowly in its own eyes; especially to the point of the image of a dog beneath its Master’s table. It is self-righteous. Jesus said to the proud self-righteous souls who did not believe in Him, “Anyone who belongs to God listens gladly to the words of God. But you don’t listen because you don’t belong to God.” John 8:47

Jesus had spoken to her in word pictures. In other words, the Gentiles were not part of God’s original family and Christ was sent to feed God’s children, the House of Israel- at this point in time. The Gentiles were like the puppies gathered round the Master’s table-- Part of the household but not enjoying all the rights of the children. 

 It was God's will for Jesus to heal her daughter, but the woman had to persevere by faith to prove that she was in fact spiritually one of Christ’s lost sheep He had come to claim. Had not the Father drawn her to Him that day?

 She may have been a Gentile outwardly, but because of her great faith, when she gave her heart to Jesus, she became one of God’s very own children spiritually. She became a symbol of how the Gentiles would become grafted in to God’s own family after Christ’s death and resurrection.
She symbolizes what St. Paul would go on to write:
“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision.
 No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by God’s Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.” (Romans 2:28-29)
“For Abraham is the father of all who believe.” ~Romans 4:16

 How might this story apply to believers today?

We should imitate the faith of this Gentile lady who heard the word of God which sparked such a great faith in her. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.” Romans 10:17

If we pray and God seems silent as Christ remained silent to the Gentile lady, we must learn to wait on God. God does not always answer us right away. (Psalm 27:14) “Wait patiently for the Lord. Be brave and courageous. Yes, wait patiently for the Lord.”

Sometimes God is testing our faith and humbling us. A great bible teacher once said that God always greatly humbles those whom He intends to exalt in this life. Think of King David, the prophet Jeremiah, and St. Paul and all of the apostles and all of the trials of suffering they endured for God. God must test our faith to prove it is genuine as He tested the Gentile lady’s faith to prove that she was in fact one of His lost sheep spiritually.
Yet if we are Christ’s, we will not stop following Him no matter how hard the trial.
“But He knows the way that I take; When He has tested me, I shall come forth as gold.”( Job 23:10)

If we are one of Christ’s own sheep we will hear our Shepherd’s voice and nothing will keep us from coming to Him, just as nothing discouraged the Gentile lady from coming to Christ. God may challenge us with trials and humble us to test our faith. He may seem indifferent to our prayers but we will love and pursue Him yet if we are truly His.
“Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him.” (Job 13:15)

 “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ, whom having not seen you love.
 Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory, receiving the end of your faith—the salvation of your souls.” ~(1 Peter 1:6-9)

Jesus promises that He will never let go of those who belong to Him. He is our Great Good Shepherd.
“And I will make an everlasting covenant with them: I will never stop doing good for them. I will put a desire in their hearts to worship me, and they will never leave me.”~Jeremiah32:40

 Although our Lord may allow us to go through hard times of humbling and testing, He goes through the fires and the floods with us. He is personally within every one of His children through His Holy Spirit. He will never forsake us. Underneath are His everlasting arms. And He will never let go.

 It is in our times of testing and humbling that we are drawn closest to our God. To onlookers, what we are enduring may seem shocking: “How could God let this happen to her/him?” they may say and be tempted to judge as Job’s friends judged him.
Yet even as Christ’s words were meant just for the Gentile lady as a special word picture just for her to help her understand the times and seasons of God’s will, God will speak to our hearts in our times of suffering in a way we can understand. It does not matter what other people may think, or how they may judge us or God for our allowing our afflictions. God is drawing us closer to His heart. He will honor us in the end as He did the Gentile lady with His great mercy and compassion.

The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him.
So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord.
Let them sit alone in silence beneath the Lord’s demands."~ Lamentations 3:25-26

St James writes, “Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.” ~James 4:10
“Though the Lord is on high, Yet He regards the lowly; But the proud He knows from afar.” ~ Psalm 138:6

The Gentile lady persisted despite the Lord's stony silence, His seeming indifference to her misery, her hopelessness, her cries for mercy, and the intercession of the apostles even.
Her faith in her knowledge of Christ's compassion and God the Father's ultimate will helped her to persevere and encouraged her not to give up even when Christ Himself told her He was not sent to her people.

Christ knew all things. He knew what was in her heart before He even set out for the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. He knew He was going to heal her daughter that very day. 

Jesus wanted to cast the devil out of her daughter! For 1 John 3:8 says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” 

Jesus told His disciples in Luke 18:1; “People ought always to pray and not give up.”
“For with God all things are possible." Luke 1:37
In Luke 18:8 Jesus asked His disciples, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
God wants us to be people of faith. Throughout our lives, God challenges our faith to help us grow.

Heavenly Father, help us to persevere in prayer and keep our eyes on Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our Faith, even as the Gentile Lady did in this bible story. May You give us such a great faith as hers so that when our faith is tested it will come forth as gold to Your glory and honor. In Jesus name, Amen.

Jesus and the Gentile Lady: Suzanne Davis Harden © 2013 All Rights Reserved. Unto The Least of These.