In the middle of this passage (Mat 15:21-28), Jesus cruelly refuses to help this woman who has fallen at his feet begging him to heal her demon-oppressed daughter-- and he adds insult to injury, essentially calling the woman a dog. And yet things are not as they seem. Moments later, not only has Jesus granted the woman’s request and heals her daughter, but he has given her the greatest compliment that Jesus (indeed God) ever gives to anybody. “Oh woman, great is your faith!” Jesus is not impressed with people. Only a few precious times does he encounter someone who’s faith is so great that he comments on it, and this is one of those times. From seeming cruelty and insult, to blessing and great honor. What is going on here?
Why is this passage so surprising to us? Why do so many of us (at least upon first reading it), take offense at Jesus’ actions and words? I think it’s because we are prideful. How dare Jesus treat that woman that way! Why? He is God. She is a sinful human. She’s not Jewish, and He was working primarily with the Jews (God’s chosen people) at that point… Stop! Right now, look at your heart. Are you offended? Now, imagine a person who has no pride, who deeply understands that they are sinful (meaning corrupted, unclean, evil, not okay, not good, not deserving-- going to have to chuck postmodern self-esteem mantras in order to get this). Would this person with no pride, this humble person, be offended by Jesus? No. The Canaanite woman is humble. She knows that she is nothing, and she’s right. She’s desperate to save her daughter and that’s more important than her reputation. She’s humble enough to come begging at the feet of a Jewish man in public, crossing cultural taboos and inviting criticism and mockery. She’s humble enough to persist when she is ignored and rejected, because she’s not demanding her rights; she’s begging for mercy (which is completely different). Jesus’ comment about children and dogs? Doesn’t phase her. Insults only hurt pride. No pride? No insult taken. Yes, I am a dog, she thinks, but I’ve heard about you. I know that you can help me, and I know that you are merciful. “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”
So uncool. Where is the modern everything woman? Where is the strong, determined, conquering all obstacles, proud, smart, CEO/doctor/supermom/feminist all-in-one package of awesomeness? What is this sniveling, self-demeaning creature begging at the feet of a man?! Shameful! Yes, humility is rather detested today, and faith (in anything other than yourself) is equally yucky. But if we stop posturing for a second and take an objective look we will perhaps have a Solomon moment: The modern self-made, self-believing superwoman (or man), can spend their life and energy in pursuit of progress, wealth, social good, or power. An unwanted child born in the slums of Katmandu can spend their short, miserable life begging for food. But both will end up dust, their earthly accomplishments (or lack thereof) wholly meaningless. They will stand before God and answer for their actions, their thoughts, the intentions of their hearts. Pride will be exposed in all its shamefulness. Humility will shine. Faith will be joyfully victorious, having received its heart desire, and honor to boot.