After His encounter with the Pharisees from Jerusalem in the last section, and His instruction to the disciples, Jesus heads into Gentile territory to show the disciples His teaching in action. Remember that in this section, Jesus has set about to “disciple” the disciples, so they will better understand who He is and what the mission is. So far, they have come to see that He is the Son of God, but that, as big as it is, is only the beginning.
A Canaanite woman appeals to Jesus to help her demon possessed daughter; Jesus does not respond. The disciples ask Him to send her away: Jesus answers, but not their request, saying: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (15:24). That isn’t the end of the matter:
The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
I just want to be sure that you understand that Jesus just told the woman that she and her afflicted daughter are “dogs”… right? “Dogs” is the word used by the Jews to characterize Gentiles; they were “unclean” and shouldn’t receive the time of day from a “proper” Jew. Obviously the woman caught His drift:
“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” (15:27)
The “children” refer to the “lost sheep of Israel”, the “dogs” are Gentiles, like this woman and her daughter, and we know who the “master” is.
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (15:28)
It looks to me like Jesus just blew up another one of those traditions that the Pharisees were so concerned about.
Here’s the lesson for the disciples, and by extension, for us as well: God couldn’t care less about our traditions and customs and ceremonies and rituals; He cares about our faith. Jesus was sent to save Israel first of all; for they were God’s chosen. Yet, in the end, they placed a higher priority on their traditions than they did on their faith that God would keep His promises. When this conflict, between faith in God and traditions of men arose, Jesus’ reaction was not all that diplomatic, for this conflict, that is still with us today, is nothing less than toxic, and in the end, the one who received God’s grace was the one with faith, not tradition, breeding, position or human righteousness. Instead it was a poor Gentile woman who loved her afflicted daughter, and was willing to put her trust in Jesus.
But wait; that’s not all! We have another whole scene to go… see you next time!