Faith in the Face of Disappointment

The Faith of the Canaanite Woman

 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to 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, Jesus’ response seems puzzling. Did He not care about this woman’s daughter? Was He really showing contempt for Gentiles? On the surface, it may appear that way, but let’s look a little closer.

According to Matthew Henry’s commentary, it’s most likely that Jesus was testing the woman’s faith, but for other than usual reasons. Jesus already knew what was in her heart, how strong her faith was, how persistent she was prepared to be, and that she was faithful enough to overcome discouragement. So why test her that way? Perhaps, as Matthew Henry speculated, it may have been that there were some lessons His disciples needed to learn.

It’s interesting that the woman answered the way she did. After being ignored initially, she renewed her plea for mercy, which showed the strength of her faith. And after being compared to a dog, she responded in humility. A lesser person might have taken that remark as an insult and stormed off in a huff. But she didn’t. She had a need, and in her heart she knew only Jesus could meet that need. When it came to dealing with the Canaanite woman, Jesus knew what He was doing.

You see, her response tells us something else about her. In plain language, she said to Jesus, “Yes, but even Gentiles will benefit from the blessings that God has bestowed on the Jews.” She showed a level of understanding that the disciples had not yet achieved, though they had been with Jesus for quite some time. And that more than anything was a lesson the disciples would have to eventually learn. As only Jesus could do, he pulled that response out of the Canaanite woman for his disciples to see.

Through her example, we learn the right way to respond when God does not answer our prayers right away. When we understand who God is, as much as that is possible, we know we don’t have to shrug our shoulders, give up, or walk away when a prayer goes unanswered. We do what the Canaanite woman did. We persist in our faith. We pray with more determination and conviction. And we pray in humility, knowing that only God can meet our needs.

A proud person would have protested and walked away. But her understanding of God’s plan for salvation manifested itself in humility and strong, unwavering faith. It was that faith that got Jesus’ attention, and her daughter was healed. That’s a lesson for us. Faith will always get God’s attention.