His disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”
Matthew 15:23

From Our “Here”…

Sometimes the Gospels perplex us with their portrayal of Jesus. At the wedding at Cana He appears to rebuff Mary’s request for His help, and then He turns water into wine. One minute He calls Peter a “Rock,” and then He calls him “Satan.” He learns His friend Lazarus is sick, yet doesn’t pay a visit until Lazarus has died.

But when we give a passage careful study, our perplexity can give way to a deeper understanding of Jesus and His mission. That holds true with the surprising way He interacts with a desperate Canaanite mother in Matthew 15.

You can’t help but be taken aback by Jesus’ first replies to the mother in Matthew 15:24,26, in response to her cry for deliverance for her demon-possessed daughter. “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”?!? “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs”!?!

Jesus, how can You possibly be so hard-hearted and prejudiced?

The question seems merited. But a careful reading of Matthew 15 leading up to the meeting with the Canaanite mother offers perspective. Jesus goes to great lengths to distinguish between real and ceremonial uncleanness. The Pharisees could get bent out of shape over unwashed hands. Jesus reminded them the real problem is an unwashed heart. A problem He came to remedy.

Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees shocked the disciples. The Pharisees were the religious superheroes of the day. How could Jesus say what He did and offend them?

Later, from the disciples’ own request to send the woman away, it becomes clear that they too are blinded by surface appearances and have far too shallow a grasp of the value God places on every person.

…To God’s “There”

Jesus’ third and final response to the desperate mother sheds light on His first two statements. He acknowledges the one wonderful resource the Canaanite woman has—her great faith. She is able to see past surface religion and appeal directly to the Son of God. She has insight far beyond that of the Pharisees, or even that of the disciples. She returns home to discover her daughter is healed.

In reality, Jesus’ first two statements are intended to jar us. To make us realize how blind we can be to the desperate need of lost humanity around us. We, like the disciples, find ourselves wanting certain types of people to just disappear. Jesus wants His followers to engage all people, to the ends of the earth, with the truth and hope of the gospel.

Making the Leap

It requires a deep change of heart, under the steady influence of the Holy Spirit, for believers to look beyond their own needs, their own comfortable church, and their own circle of Christian friends. God has a vision that encompasses all the lost people for whom He sent His Son to die. He is working to stretch your compassion to the point He can lead you anywhere to serve anyone.