As an introduction to this study, please read A Serious Feminist Error.
"Christian feminists" claim that Matthew 15:21-28 is the story of a Gentile woman teaching Jesus not to be chauvinistic and bigoted. This claim is contrary to everything taught in Scripture about the character and nature of God.
However, the conversation in this passage can leave us with questions at first glance, so we're going to study it carefully.
Not everything we need to know is in the actual text of this passage. We need to combine it with other scriptural truths to understand the story written "between the lines" of the actual text. Some of what I share will be my educated opinion.
But we know this for sure: the story "between the lines" perfectly reflects Christ's perfect character, perfect purity, perfect love, perfect goodness, and perfect wisdom.
✤ Below you will find Scripture in bold letters and my comments in italics after the verses.
Matthew 15:21-28: Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
✤ Why did Jesus choose to withdraw to a Gentile area? Some people believe He was taking a break from the Jewish criticism He so regularly encountered. But He could have found privacy elsewhere if He had no other purpose in traveling to Tyre and Sidon. After all, He could walk on water, perform miracles, and slip away unnoticed in the midst of an angry crowd (John 8:59). Jesus came to this city for more than refreshment. He had a divine appointment with this woman.
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 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.”
✤ Christ's silence was a test for both this woman and His disciples. His Jewish disciples were raised with a prejudice against the "unclean" Gentiles. When Jesus didn't answer the woman, they immediately assumed He wasn't going to help her. They thought Jesus should send her away, but Jesus had different purposes in mind.
24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”
✤ Jesus ignored His disciples and spoke to the woman. This was another test for the disciples and the woman. But it was also true: From the time of Abraham, God set the Jews apart so they could bless the world with God's salvation (Genesis 18:18). Jesus served as the final and most important link in that mission. And even though most Jews rejected Jesus, the gospel was first proclaimed through the Jewish-born Jesus and Jewish-born apostles. That's why Christ's first mission was to the Jews who would take the gospel into all the world (Matthew 28:16-20). And part of Christ's mission to the Jews was to show them they were going to reach out to the non-Jewish world with the message of salvation. He was teaching His disciples about their mission by talking with this woman.
25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.
✤ This woman was persistent. She was proving her faith.
She'd experienced the demonic activity of her country's pagan religions firsthand. And somehow, she'd heard Jesus could cast out demons. She seemed to understand He was her only hope.
This woman's persistence reminds me of a parable Jesus told in Luke 18:1-8 about a persistent widow who wore down an unjust judge until he gave her justice. But don't mistake Jesus for the unjust judge. In Luke 18 He explains:
“Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”
Persistence is a necessary element of faith. Are you willing to persevere in prayer when you don't see immediate results?
26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
✤ According to the Greek, the word Jesus used for dog was one that would be used for a pet dog, not a street dog. But a softer word for dog doesn't adequately explain Christ's answer. It still seems harsh at first glance.
We need to remember this important truth: Jesus is not only perfectly good, He's also all-knowing (examples: Matthew 9:4; John 1:44-51; John 4:17-19; John 13:21-33). He knew this woman's heart. He understood her background, her situation, her thoughts, and her needs. He spoke the words she needed to hear in response to her plea for help. He knew His words would strengthen her faith, not dissuade her.
27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
✤ This woman's humble persistence was a lesson to Christ's disciples, a good confirmation for the situation that happened in the first half of this chapter of Scripture.
In the preceding verses (verses 1-20), Jesus clearly explained that what makes a man clean or unclean is not food, cleansing, or other external activities. It's a man's heart that makes him clean or unclean.
The Jews had lost an understanding of their mission to bless all nations. They were using Old Testament laws to self-righteously separate themselves from "unclean" Gentiles. Christ's disciples showed no compassion for this Gentile woman. In another encounter, the disciples wondered why Jesus would even talk to a Gentile woman (John 4:4-44, esp. v.27). I believe her humble answer softened the disciples hearts and helped them understand Christ's love for all people.
It was no mistake that Jesus chose to travel where He would find this humble, persistent Gentile woman.
28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.
Can you imagine having Christ say this to you? Instead of wondering why Christ's previous response to this woman was challenging, we need to concentrate on this compliment about her faith. I'm not sure any Jewish man is praised this highly in Scripture.
Christian feminists make proud demands about the value of women, but this situation clarifies the scriptural truth that humility exalts us, not proud demands. See Proverbs 29:23, Matthew 23:12, 1 Peter 5:6, and James 4:6.
When feminists propose that Jesus was prejudiced and this woman taught Him to give up His bias, they show an unjustified disrespect for Jesus and an unjustified respect for themselves. The humble faith of the woman in this passage is a fitting rebuke to their pride.
I'm a woman, and I'm so glad God included this passage in His Word!
For a very thorough, scholarly explanation of this passage, see Bible.org.
copyright 2019, Gail Burton Purath, BiteSizeBibleStudy.com
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