In Matthew chapter 14 and 15 it was obvious Jesus needed some free time. Times were stressful. In Chapter 14, John was beheaded. When Jesus withdrew, the crowds followed him and he fed the 5,000. Then he resumed prayers and sent the disciples away on the Sea of Galilee. A storm ended his effort to have quiet time.
Jesus encountered the Canaanite woman in Tyre in the second part of the Gospel reading after still another incident- dealing with the Pharisees on ritual practices. Tyre was not Jewish and another country from Israel.
Jesus’ encounter with a Canaanite woman (vv. 21-28) foreshadows the offer of salvation beyond Israel to the Gentiles. The center of interest is not the miracle but Jesus’ attitude toward Gentiles. A distinction is made between Jesus’ mission and his response to individual faith wherever found. Matthew emphasizes for his Jewish Christian audience that God has been faithful to Israel but that Gentile faith cannot be denied.
The Canaanite woman approaches, interupts Jesus activities since she wants healing for her daughter. So when this woman comes and kneels before him requesting help for her daughter, he first refuses her request by appealing to the commonsense wisdom of a proverb: should the children’s bread, one of the essentials of life and thus a symbol for salvation (14:15-21) be given to the dogs?
The disciples urged him to send her away either after giving her what she wants or simply because Jesus was weary. Although foreign and a gentile, she recognized him from what he was and that he possibly could have sympathy for a child.
On the face of it on first glance this is a troubling scripture. In fact, this is the only time in all the gospels when Jesus seemingly ignored someone’s cry. Then he claimed this woman was outside the scope of his concern. Finally, this woman is asking for a place at the table, but Jesus, chillingly, relegates her to the floor of life.
He did seem curt, ignoring her twice, saying his mission was to help the Jews and then uttering the comment about not fair to give food for the children to the dogs. Only after her persistence does he converse with her. She seems to have more faith than the disciples in the boat! How is it possible that this woman has more insight into Jesus’ identity than his disciples?
Jesus seems human like us in this scripture, caught up in the events of life – his needs. It is easy to ignore the events of the world as symbolized by this woman. It is easy to ignore the stranger. But Jesus eventually sees this as an opportunity, is impressed with her faith, persistence and wants to help those born without privilege. He heals the daughter.
The message is that all are worthy to come to the table no matter their nationality of status in life. The story reminds us that God is constantly entering new territory and breaking boundaries