20 August 2017

Matthew 15:21-28

“Then Jesus answered her, ‘Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (v. 28)

Psalm: Psalm 133



How do you react to Jesus' initial rejection of the Canaanite woman? It is difficult, particularly verse 26 which becomes only a little more palatable when we realise that the word for 'dog' refers to a household pet.

Yet, our story finishes with a commendation - Jesus recognised the strength of the woman's faith and healed her daughter. We are left with the distinct impression that Jesus started an argument, the woman won it and Jesus was impressed. Why would that happen?

Part of our problem here is that there is an issue that faced those who originally wrote and read the Gospel, which we no longer worry about. Is the gospel (good news of Jesus) only for Jews? And if non-Jews can also follow Christ, do they have to become Jews first? Imagine for a moment being in a church which is arguing about this and hearing a story in which Jesus appears at first to take one position, but is apparently won over by the arguments of someone who is not Jewish. What might the very fact that he listened so attentively to a non-Jew say? Imagine, in particular, that you have been brought up reading the Jewish Scriptures which tell of human beings doing that most surprising thing of arguing with God.

Perhaps, this story does something subtle but important. It places the woman in a long line of Jewish people of faith who dared to disagree with God, when it seemed that God was acting or was going to act in a way that they did not understand. See, for example, Abraham (Genesis 18:16-33), Moses (Exodus 3-4), Elijah (1 Kings 19), Jeremiah (chapters 12, 20) and Jonah (chapter 1). All these stories are quite difficult if we concentrate on the picture of God which emerges, but they also communicate something very important about what faith is like in a difficult world where we do not always understand what is going on.

Do we portray faith as only meaning that we should passively trust God? Or does faith in a difficult world ask something else of us?

To Ponder

  • Why do you think Jesus commended the woman's faith?
  • Thinking of your own basic sense of what it means to have faith in God - what place does being willing to argue with God have?

Bible notes author

The Revd Judith Rossall

Judith Rossall is a Methodist tutor at Queen's Foundation in Birmingham. Before moving to Queen's, she was a circuit minister and taught at STETS in Salisbury.