Day Three Hundred Six, Matt. 15-16, Mark 7-8
Today's reading is relatively short compared to some of the other days. It includes the healing of a deaf mute, the less-famous feeding of the four thousand followed up by the Pharisees asking for yet another sign. This is followed by Jesus warning His apostles about the Pharisees. Finally, it ends with the healing of a blind man.
However, this reading also includes a story that has always been curious, if not down-right confusing for me. But I've recently (as in the last couple of years) heard my preacher teach on it at least two or three times, and I've read a book by John Ortberg in which this story is covered, so I've come to appreciate it a little more with a better understanding of what is happening. (Disclaimer: Any insights gained from this blog post were lifted directly from my notes over said minister's sermons on this passage.)
Jesus leaves Galilee for the region of Tyre and Sidon. "A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, 'Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.' Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, 'Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.' He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.' 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 their dogs.' 'Yes, Lord,' she said, 'but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.' Then Jesus answered, 'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour."
At first glance, this passage can seem rather startling. Jesus ignores this woman, then He insults her! One might think that Jesus is not acting very "Christlike". However, the woman's response to Him is one of incredible faith, and Jesus commends her for it. Jesus is obviously testing this woman, but one has to wonder if He isn't also testing His disciples at the same time. For He ignores her, and His disciples are the first ones to speak up about her. I can't help but wonder if Jesus said nothing to her at first, because He was waiting to give His disciples an opportunity to respond to her?
When the disciples react, not by responding to the woman, but by asking Jesus to send her away, He replies, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." If I'm reading the text correctly, that first statement is directed not at the woman, but at His disciples. And it seems really harsh. In my mind, at least, it sounds like He's giving them yet another chance to pass this test, to have compassion on this woman, to recognize how harsh His statement was, and to say, "But Lord, this woman needs help!" Unfortunately, even if any of His disciples does recognize the harshness of His statement, none of them speaks up about it. Fail.
The woman, however, passes her test with flying colors. Finally, Jesus addresses the woman, who is now on her knees in front of Him, begging for His help. When He basically insults her, she has the humility to recognize that even the crumbs from the Bread of Life are enough to meet her need, and the Lord praised her for that.
May we all be so humble to recognize the Bread of Life and His ability to meet our needs--and may we praise Him for His constant willingness to do so!