And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon." But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying out after us." He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 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. (ESV)
I took the opportunity to jump on a hobby horse today (yes, I admit it). I’m sure I was guilty of not sticking to the text, but I took the opportunity of the sheep (Israel) and dogs (Gentiles) context to speak to the current evangelical fascination with the modern state of Israel. I am indeed out of step with current fashions in eschatology (like the Left Behind Series). An over emphasis on modern Israel and end times teaching that has ‘a newspaper in one hand and a Bible in the other’ (ala Jack Van Impe) leads to an unbalanced theology and can be detrimental to our evangelism.
For the introduction, I used Pat Robertson’s infamous pronouncement that God struck Ariel Sharon with a massive stroke because the Israeli Prime Minister dared to divide God’s land (the withdrawal from Gaza). Though he later apologized, we know where he stands!
After a brief synopsis – setting the location and historical context – I considered the biblical evidence for the separation of God’s people from the nations and the prophetic hope of the redemption of the nations through the Promised Deliverer.
What about the apparent rudeness of Jesus and the disciples? The text doesn’t give us the whys and wherefores, but biblical context makes reasonable inference (speculation?) possible.
- Jesus wasn’t playing games – salvation is to the Jews first. There is an order of biblical revelation that is followed in the New Testament. From Jesus instructions before and after the resurrection to the pattern of the Apostle Paul in preaching in synagogues first, Jews were the first to hear the good news.
- Jesus’ two responses to this Gentile woman represented a teaching moment for the disciples. They had bought into the doctrine of extreme separation of the times (and we can’t blame them, given the first century context and the miserable history of compromise in Israel). When the door was opened to the Gentiles later on (Acts 10), I imagine the disciples remembered this incident (together with the healing of the centurion’s servant in Matthew 8).
- Perhaps most significantly, Jesus words open the door to underline this woman’s testimony to Himself. This is worth thinking about: A Gentile woman provides a powerful testimony to the Jewish Messiah! The winds of change are blowing! This woman displayed true humility. She addressed Jesus as ‘Lord’ and ‘Son of David.’ She came and bowed before Him. She was not offended at Jesus’ initial rejection of her appeals, nor at his characterization of her as a ‘dog.’ However, the significance of this account is not the woman’s faith, but her confession of Jesus. She recognized that even ‘the crumbs from the table’ would be enough to deliver her daughter from demon possession (compare ‘the finger of God’). Who does that make Jesus?
Jesus is not only the King of the Jews, He is the King of the Nations – the Lord of all creation. Certainly, God’s choice of Israel serves His purposes (Romans 9-11), but God’s salvation through the Promised Deliverer is universal.