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This is Why He Came

Stories of Salvation and Transformation from Around the World

He Praised the Faith of a Canaanite: The Story of the Syro-Phoenician Woman

by Emmalie Ellis, DBU Student

Today's Reading

Matthew 15:21-28

“Yet.” The Bible is full of “yet” moments, most of them involving the Lord defying the seemingly impossible: Sarah was far past the age of childbearing yet at ninety years old she gave birth to Isaac (Genesis 21:1-2). David was small in stature yet he slew the giant (1 Samuel 17:49-50). There were only five loaves and two fish yet Jesus fed the five thousand (John 6:1-14). The concept of “yet” is so humbling every time it shows up in Scripture, and our story today is no exception.

Matthew 15:21-22: “When Jesus left there, he withdrew to the area of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came and kept crying out, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely tormented by a demon.’” There are a couple of things to note here: our author, Matthew, chooses to point out that it is not just any Gentile that approaches Jesus, but a “Canaanite” woman – a descendant of the enemies of the Jews – who falls before Jesus begging for His healing power. This woman, however, despite being of Canaanite ancestry, refers to Jesus by His messianic title, “Lord, Son of David.” This reveals that before this woman even meets Jesus, she has faith that He is indeed the Savior the world has received word of, and He alone can save her daughter.

The rest of the story goes like this: Jesus, in a test of her faith, remains silent before the woman. The mother, though, is persistent and unwavering in her plea. This causes the disciples to become impatient, saying, “send her away because she’s crying out after us” or “give her what she wants, Jesus, so she’ll stop bothering us!” (Matt. 15:23). Jesus replies, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” explaining to His disciples that His mission is currently focused on the Jews, not the Gentiles. To further test her faith, Jesus turns to the woman and says, “it isn’t right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:24, 26).

“Yes, Lord,” the woman replied, “yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27). And there it is: “yet even… .” The mother does not deny that she isn’t worthy of an answered prayer. She does not pretend she is deserving of anything from Jesus. With quick wit and fierce faith, she responds with quite the opposite: Jesus, I know there is nothing I can do to earn your favor, yet even, despite it all, allow me to simply partake in the crumbs that fall off the Jews' tables. Because you are able, please, heal my daughter.

I can imagine there was a moment of silence prior to Jesus’ reply – a split second where this woman, kneeling before Jesus, waited in hushed anticipation for Jesus’ answer. Finally, Jesus responds to her, “‘O woman, your faith is great. Let it be done for you as you want.’ And from that moment her daughter was healed” (Matt. 15:28).

“O woman, your faith is great.” Is there any higher praise to receive from the Savior of the world? This Canaanite is the only woman Jesus explicitly commends for having great faith during His time on earth. On that day, this woman became a recipient of the extended blessing of the Gospel later described in Galatians 3:28 – “There  is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

The Bible is full of these life-changing moments, but the greatest yet is found in Romans 5:8 – “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” Despite our sinfulness, despite how undeserving we are, the Lord sent Jesus Christ down from Heaven to one day take on the wrongdoings of all the peoples of the earth. Jesus, just as He was with the Syro-Phoenician woman, is faithful to redeem anyone and everyone who puts their full trust in Him. 

During this season, do not glaze over the splendor of “yet.” Cling to the wonder of the Christmas story: Jesus Christ was born among livestock and straw, lowliest of low, yet He alone reigns as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

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