Wednesday, August 11, 2010

“I Am Not Sent”

In this story I think about why the Savior may have intended to put off the Canaanite woman who was looking for healing for her daughter. I also look at what was so great about her faith that enabled her to overcome Christ’s divine sense of priority.
21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour. (Matthew 15:21-28)
So the first question we are faced with is this: Why does Jesus not respond immediately like he does so many other times for others who beg him to come and heal their stricken family members? Is His mercy selective? It is hard to believe that it would be. It doesn’t seem consistent with His character that He would play favorites. We get an answer to this question in Mark’s version of the story: “But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs” (Mark 7:27).

So it seems that Jesus considered the Jews the children of the kingdom who had be fed the doctrine and the miracles first, meaning the children hadn’t eaten yet.

Why were the Jews considered the privileged “children”? Because they had been taught the nature of God. They had the writings of the prophets, and they had the commandments including “be holy, for I the Lord thy God am holy”. They were the children of the kingdom who were the husbandmen of the vineyard, and they were vineyard itself. They had stewardship over the kingdom. “They are Israelites, and to them belong the sonship, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the Law, the worship, and the promises; to them belong the patriarchs, and of their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ” (Rom. 9:2-5).
…Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises;
5 Whose are the fathers, and of whom as concerning the flesh Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen. (Romans 9:4-5)
If Jesus were to drop everything and go with the woman to cast the devil out of the woman’s daughter, He would be neglecting His duty to the house of Israel, who needed to be ministered to first as God had promised Abraham long ago. Heavenly Father’s plan and promise was that through Abraham’s seed, all kindred’s of the earth would be blessed, but that meant Abraham’s seed had to be blessed first.

It is also important for us to notice another thing that Jesus said—“I am not sent.” This shows us that while it may have appeared to everyone else that Jesus was going wherever He wanted whenever He wanted, Jesus was actually taking orders from His Heavenly Father. Further, this suggests that when He heard the Canaanite woman’s request, during the time when He didn’t answer her, He must have been praying silently to the Father as to whether it was the Father’s will to go with her or not. Then the feeling must have come that He was not to go with her because there were more people of Israel who needed Him. A difficult answer, but He was obedient to it.

Yet the Canaanite woman persisted. “Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Why did she persist? Surely because it was her only hope. In her desperation, her mind must have taken hold of the words Jesus spoke—“Let the children first be filled.” (I bet she was a strong and well-spoken woman with an active and incisive mind, familiar with argument, ready to take advantage of the least rhetorical opening that could give her hope.) “Let the children first be filled” must have suggested to her that there might be leftovers. I can almost see her wheedle. “Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.” Rather than be content to be grouped with the common negative identifier of “dog” as a gentile (with masterless, greedy, wandering, scavenger characteristics), she jumped to identify herself with the more positive image of dogs, as tamed faithful servants who were dependent on the master for whatever food was left after a good meal. This suggests further that she knew who the master was and who the master’s children were and she wasn’t going to argue with that. She knew where the “food” came from; she knew salvation was of the Jews. “Just give me a leftover miracle,” she seemed to plead.

And Jesus relents, commending her great faith. What was so great about her faith? I felt I needed to examine this.

When the Canaanite woman addresses Jesus as “O Lord, thou Son of David” we see that she not only has heard the prophecies about a coming Messiah and his ancestry, but she strongly believes that Jesus fulfills those prophecies.

Asking for mercy for her daughter who is vexed with a devil indicates several things. That she knows the problem is a devil indicates that she has a natural gift for discerning spirits. Her appeal to Jesus showed her strong faith that He had all power over the spiritual realm and He could help her daughter. We also must conclude that the Canaanite woman presents herself to Jesus as a manifestation of the faith of her afflicted daughter as well. (If the afflicted daughter didn’t believe in Jesus’s power, it is unlikely that Jesus’s power would have affected her at that long distance. If the Canaanite woman didn’t believe in Jesus’s power, she wouldn’t have come to Him and would have even disregarded the faith of her daughter.) So we can surmise that the Canaanite woman and her daughter had heard of Jesus’s power and miracles and that they both had pinned all their hopes on Jesus’s identity and authority.

It is notable that when Jesus casts the devil out of the Canaanite woman’s daughter, He does it at long distance. This is extraordinary because it is a departure from the way He usually casts out devils. In all other recorded cases of the New Testament when Jesus cast’s out devils, He comes to the afflicted person, tells the devils to leave, and the devils leave. He has to be there to tell the devils to leave and the faith of the afflicted person (or an advocate for the afflicted person) works with Jesus’s power to work the miracle. But in this case, the afflicted girl never comes into Jesus’s presence.

This teaches us something about Jesus’s power. It teaches us that if we ever feel ourselves afflicted and vexed by a devil, if we believe in Jesus, He can cast the devil out of us from wherever He is. We don’t quite know what brought the devil on the girl in the first place, whether it was sin or some uninvited torment. If it was for sin, forgiveness from Jesus would cast it out. If it was an uninvited torment, Jesus could command the devil to leave.

There’s an epilogue to this miracle. After Jesus’s encounter with the Canaanite woman, we see that He did exactly as He said; He went back to Galilee and filled the children of the kingdom.
29 And Jesus departed from thence, and came nigh unto the sea of Galilee; and went up into a mountain, and sat down there.
30 And great multitudes came unto him, having with them those that were lame, blind, dumb, maimed, and many others, and cast them down at Jesus’ feet; and he healed them:
31 Insomuch that the multitude wondered, when they saw the dumb to speak, the maimed to be whole, the lame to walk, and the blind to see: and they glorified the God of Israel. (Matthew 15:29-31)
We see that there were indeed many of the children of the kingdom who needed to be filled. A few verses after this is recorded the miracle of feeding the four thousand. Because Jesus allowed Heavenly Father to guide Him, He was able to make appropriate choices and know where His priorities lay. This enabled Him to bless many people, not just a few, and fill them both physically and spiritually.

Another thought-provoking view of the incident can be found at Koinonia.


chococatania said...

This is one of my favorite stories from the Bible. To me, it is also a striking example of how many people who were the children of Israel (the covenant people) that couldn't recognize their own Messiah.

Nice insights - especially about Jesus' ability to heal from a far distance. We can especially relate to that today.

Heather M. Collins said...

Christ saying "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt" doesn't actually reveal how personally involved He was in this miracle.

I think it's very true that He prayed to the Father on behalf of this woman, and in its own right that is a powerful display of His divinity. But we have no indication of whether His personal divine reach could extend so far from His mortal body, or against the constraints of Abraham's covenant. Your attention to this detail raised the question in my mind, though.

It made me consider the organization that no doubt exists to those angelic ministers in heaven, and how involved they may have been in healing those Jesus could not attend to personally. The implications as to how far-reaching His influence could have been because of that is amazing to consider.

If perhaps Christ's prayers to the Father were what provided for this healing, I wouldn't consider that a loss. If anything, it explains how He could keep His promise to Abraham and still minister to God's children outside of the Abrahamic Covenant who had faith in Christ.

Ramona Gordy said...

I love this post. This seems to be an exercise in faith,and it seems that the scripture "By faith we are saved" seems to be a work. I found this account in Matthew that has a similar course. In this case Jesus did offer to go to the ailing man,but the centurian did not want him to. He said essentially the same thing to the centurian as he did the Caananite women,Be it unto you according to your faith.

Matthew 8:5-13
5 When Jesus had entered Capernaum, a centurion came to him, asking for help.

6"Lord," he said, "my servant lies at home paralyzed and in terrible suffering."

7Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."

8The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.

9For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, 'Go,' and he goes; and that one, 'Come,' and he comes. I say to my servant, 'Do this,' and he does it."

10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.

11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.

12But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

13Then Jesus said to the centurion, "Go! It will be done just as you believed it would." And his servant was healed at that very hour.

Thank you for your wonderful insights.

Michaela Stephens said...

RGG, you hit it; this is another one of those long-distance miracles that takes long-distance faith and thinking about the healing of the centurion's servant helped me a lot when I was examining this story.