Yesterday I wrote about a few statements that Jesus made to a Canaanite woman in Matthew 15:21-28. I split the blog so you could digest and ponder on how this all ties in together and why Jesus acted in such a harsh way.
We know why Jesus reacted the way he did to this woman. It was because she was a Gentile from an area known for its wickedness. We know that the Jews stayed away from these types of people because they did not acknowledge God. Jesus specifically told her that he was sent for the Jews. So why did he heal this woman’s daughter after he ignored, rejected, and insulted her?
Jesus was not giving into the cultural bias that existed. Jesus did what he did for a reason. So let’s dig a little deeper and find out why he reacted in such a way.
If you read the passage right before that of the Canaanite woman, the story begins to make a little more sense. Take a look at Matthew 15:1-20. In this passage, Jesus was arguing with the Pharisees about the issue of cleanliness.
You must remember that Jesus quite often used shocking, yet effective, ways to get his point across and teach what needed to be taught.
I can picture Jesus just tearing into the Pharisees. The Pharisees were angry because the disciples didn’t regularly wash their hands before they ate which, according to Jewish tradition, made the disciples unclean. Jesus quickly defended the disciples and basically threw the Jewish idea of cleanliness (a.k.a. purity) right out the window. He explained that purity was not about how clean a person was on the outside but, rather, how clean the person was on the inside.
“While He explained His perspective to the Pharisees, they got angry and walked away. He explained it further to the disciples with a word picture, but they missed His point. Everyone around Him seemed unable to grasp that fundamentally, purity is about the heart. It is not about what you eat or do not eat. It is not about whether you wash or do not wash.”
After this argument with the Pharisees and Jesus trying to explain purity to his disciples, he went to Tyre and Sidon. This brings us to the story of the Canaanite woman. So do you see why he went there? He went to the most unclean place possible to teach his disciples about real purity.
Jesus knew exactly what he was doing. The woman cried, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” Jesus ignored her. Jesus rejected her. Jesus insulted her by calling her a dog. “Rather than respond to Jesus with contempt, she simply expressed her great need: ‘I might as well be a dog, because that is how much I need you to work in my life. I need you. I need you. I need you. Help me, please.’ That is precisely the response Jesus wanted. Her expression of need is the ideal picture of true purity.”
So let’s think about that for a minute. If this woman’s response is a picture of true purity, then we need to examine our view of true purity. “When Jesus wanted to illustrate real purity, He did not choose a woman commended for her moral perfection; He chose one who knew how much she needed Him. In that dirty place, Jesus found something clean. What could be clean about her being willing to be called a dog? Desperation. Desperate situations make for pure people, because in that desperate moment, those people see their need most clearly.”
Did you get that? “This desperate woman wasn’t thinking about her motives. She wasn’t thinking about how foolish she looked. She wasn’t thinking about the judgmental glances from those around her. She was thinking about one thing: her need for Jesus. Isn’t that what real purity is? Is it not single-mindedness? Is it not whole-heartedness? Is it not complete dedication? That is purity – not necessarily the complete absence of the immoral. Jesus saw the purity of desperation in this woman – the very thing the Pharisees and even His own disciples lacked.”
“Those who know they have nothing before the Lord come in purity because they know they are needy. What we see in this woman – this unclean, ‘second-rate’ Gentile woman – is purity. Not only is she a lesson in purity, she is a lesson in faith, and maybe those two attributes are linked more closely than we realize.”
He didn’t say, “Woman, you have great purity!” He said, “Woman you have great faith!” He said this because when we express our need, we are saying something about Him. It’s not easy to be in need and ask for help when it’s frowned upon by our whole society. So when we are willing to go to God with nothing and express our need for Him, in desperation and humility, what we say about Him is that He is our Great Provider. We acknowledge that we need Him more than anything in this world. Isn’t that why we go to Him in the first place? When we approach the throne of God in this manner, we lower ourselves and exalt Him. Isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be – less about us and more about Him? It sure is. And that, my friend, takes great faith.
I am going to leave you with an ending quote from the author, Michael Kelley. Think about the questions he poses. Feed on them. Be real with yourself and with God.
“In a culture of abundance, of relative economic stability and suburbia, of 401(k) plans and insurance policies, we have to wonder: Are we ever really conscious of our need? Our desperation? If not, do we ever approach Jesus whole-heartedly? Without being cognisant of our need, do we ever come in purity?”
** All quotes from the Bible and Michael Kelley.