What did you think about the scene with the Canaanite woman who asked Jesus to heal her daughter that was oppressed by a demon?
Did it strike you as cold and out of character for Jesus to treat the woman as He did? Well, let’s listen to what commentator G. Campbell Morgan wrote about this.
“The great truth taught by all this is that the benefits of the kingdom are granted to simple faith. Look at this woman. In the background was her religion; in the foreground was her need. The worship of Astarte, perhaps, had sufficed for her till then. But when the dark day came, and the demon entered her child and she cried and wailed to the goddess Astarte, there was no answer. And so, as this woman came to Jesus Christ, we see her religious background fading away, because it could not help her. In the foreground there was her anguish. Mark how she came; how faith operated. She came first of all against prejudice, for the prejudice of the Gentile was as great against the Jew as that of the Jew against the Gentile. Here the prejudice was on both sides, and yet this woman, driven by her need, came to seek him.
She persevered against silence. Sometimes we question the meaning of Christ’s strange attitude toward this woman. In Mark’s Gospel we read that when he came into this region,”He entered into a house, and would have no man know it.” He went into the house for rest. How did this woman get to him? Mark says, “He could not be hid.” Why not? She was outside, and her need drew him forth. He could not remain in hiding or in rest while that woman was outside in trouble. And when he came out of the house, she proffered her request, first calling Him Son of David; and he was silent. And the disciples came to Jesus and said to him,”Send her away: for she crieth after us.” We might misunderstand that request if it were not for Christ’s reply to her, which shows that they meant, “Give her what she wants and let her go.” They were not unkind; they did not mean to refuse her and send her away. Christ’s answer was,”I was not sent but onto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” That was His reason for not giving her what she sought. She still pleaded; and dropped the title distinctive of Hebraism—“Son of David.” She put the whole of her need into the one word,”Lord, help me.” Then he turned toward her and spoke, and the first moment His speech seemed almost more unkind than His silence. “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” Here again occurs a word we need to examine. There are two distinct words for dogs, and they mark two entirely different ideas. We all know how profound was the hatred of the Hebrew to the low, marauding, fierce, half-scavenger, half-wolf dog of that country. But then it is also true that dogs were found in Jewish households; they were the little dogs, the playthings of the children; and the word Christ used here was that for the little dogs. Probably there was a great welling of pity and tenderness in the voice of Jesus as he said to her, “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the little dogs.” Now, on the basis of that distinction, let us see what she said: “Yea, Lord, for even the little dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from the masters’ tables.” Notice carefully the placing of the apostrophe.”Masters” is plural. It is as if she said, “It is true I am outside the covenant; they are masters, they have been for centuries. If you say you cannot take the bread of the children and give it to the little dogs under the table, the playthings of the children, it is quite true; but even the little dogs have the crumbs.” It is not surprising that Jesus looked at her and said, “O woman, great is thy faith: be it done unto thee even as thou wilt.” Against prejudice she came, against silence she persevered, against exclusion she proceeded, against rebuff she won. That is what he found outside the covenant. Her appeal was based on faith. When she said, “Son of David,” it was the hope of faith. When she said, “Lord, help me,” it was the appeal of faith. When she said,”True, Lord, yet the little dogs eat of the crumbs,” it was what an old Puritan commentator called “the wit of faith,” using the word wit in the true old Saxon sense, the tact of faith.”
Jesus did this to show how great her faith could be.
Sometimes our prayers go seemingly unanswered because God wants us to see just how much we need Him, and He knows that an easy and quick answer will not allow our faith to be shown for how great it can be. Our spiritual muscles need resistance to gain strength, just as our physical muscles need resistance to get stronger.
It was not cruelty on the part of Jesus, but love that caused him to react to her as He did.