236) A Delayed Healing

“Jesus did not answer a word…” –Matthew 15:23a

     In Matthew 15 there is one of the most disturbing stories in all of Scripture.  It begins with verse 22:  “A Canaanite woman came to Jesus, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!  My daughter is suffering terribly from demon possession.’  (But) Jesus does not answer a word.”  This is the first disturbing note.  Jesus, who is almost always loving and compassionate and caring, is here faced with a woman in deep distress and he ignores her.  Jesus, who for so many others would simply say, “Be healed,” and everything would be better, this same Jesus rudely ignores this poor suffering woman.

     It gets worse.  Verse 23 says, “His disciples came to Jesus and urged him saying, ‘Send this woman away, for she just keeps crying out after us.’”  Jesus then finally replied, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel;” or in other words, ‘Sorry lady, you are of the wrong race.’

     The woman persisted, kneeling before Jesus and pleading, “Lord, help me!”  Then Jesus said, “It is not right for me to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.”  What does Jesus mean by that?  Does he mean that Jews are the children of God and all others are dogs?  He can’t mean that, for he had previously healed Romans, Samaritans, and many others.  Why is he so mean to this woman?

     The determined woman will not quit, saying in verse 27, “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”  ‘It is all right if I am a dog,’ she seems to say, ‘but even the dogs need help sometimes.’  And then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith!  Your request is granted.”  And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

     So finally, Jesus relieved her suffering.  Finally, and with great ease, he healed the woman’s daughter.  In the end, Jesus did what he usually did, and showed mercy and love and compassion by helping a person in need.

     I believe this good ending was the goal Jesus had in mind all along.  But why such rudeness at first?  Why was Jesus, otherwise so caring and loving to even the worst sinners, so mean to this poor, desperate mother?  We cannot know the answer to that question.  Scholars have made many guesses.  Jesus was tired, they say, or he was testing her faith, or he was waiting to see how the disciples would respond.  But this is all only speculation.  The text says nothing about why Jesus did what he did, so if we just stick to the Bible, we are left not knowing why this woman faced such an uncaring and rude Jesus.  We are left with confusion and questions and incomplete understanding.

     But that is the very reason I have come to appreciate this odd and disturbing little story.  This is an important text because harsh as it is, it is an accurate and realistic picture of the frustrations and questions we often face in our own prayers.  Jesus seems to not hear the lady.  I have many times felt like my prayers were not heard.  Jesus at first said ‘no’ to the woman’s plea.  God has also said ‘no’ to some of my most fervent prayers.  The story leaves me confused about Jesus and why he did not right away help the poor woman.  In the same way I am confused by what I see in this world and I oftentimes wonder why God doesn’t do something.  There are so many places where just a little miracle would relieve so much suffering.  But in spite of all that, the woman in the story hangs on in faith to the hope that Jesus can help her.  She does not give up, but continues to plead with Jesus for her daughter’s healing.

     That is what we must keep doing.  We must keep looking to Jesus, keep talking to Jesus, and keep trusting in Jesus, even when there is much we do not know and do not understand.  This story, like many passages in the Bible, has some words that are difficult to hear.  And for that very reason, the story is an excellent illustration of life and faith.  This woman clings to the faith that Jesus can and will help her; and that is what we also are to do, even when we are confused and sad and suffering.

     But take note, the story does have a happy ending.  The woman hangs on and persists in her cries to Jesus, and Jesus does, in the end respond to her pleas.  Her daughter was healed that very hour.  This too is a little sample of the Bible’s whole message.  There many rough places along the way, but the end of the story is good.  We will face much evil and suffering, and we will not understand what is happening, but God will have the last word, and it will be a good word for those who have kept the faith.  This little story and the whole Bible teach us that God has not promised us an easy journey, but he has promised us a safe arrival, and not even death will get in the way of that.  Death is, in fact, the doorway to that safe arrival in that good place that has been promised.

     Jesus implied to the woman that his healing powers were not to be used on dogs like her.  I do not understand why he said that.  And there much about my own life that I do not understand.  But the ending of this story is easy to understand.  The woman received what she came for.  She received from Jesus just what she needed.  Her daughter was made well, and this mother is then praised by Jesus for her strong and persistent faith.  There is much in the Bible that I do not understand.  But I know a happy ending when I see one.  And this story, like the whole Bible, has a happy ending.  And God has promised to you that same happy ending.  Believe it and you shall be saved.


Isaiah 55:8-9  —  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”

Isaiah 45:9  —  “Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground.  Does the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you making?’

Psalm 34:17-18  —  The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.  The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

In the tumult and trouble of our lives, O God, grant us your peace:  that we may be greater of soul for all that befalls us, and better fitted for your service by all our sorrows.  Deliver us, O God, from our little fears, and if ever the dark come upon us, let it be your darkness.  And when we hope for the wrong thing, let us wait in the dark until you can make us ready for what you have promised.  Through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–adapted from prayers by Paul Sherer in Love is a Spendthrift