Many of us already know the story of Matthew 15:21-28…check it out really quick if you need a refresher. I’ll wait…
Ready? K. The Canaanite womans’ faith. The Gentile woman who approaches Jesus because her daughter is tormented by a demon. At first glance, it seems to be an example of Jesus being a bit prejudiced, telling her “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” (“dogs” here being a slang term for Gentiles) It feels wrong to read about Jesus denying a woman the healing of her daughter, based on where she was born. But as we realize the grand scheme of what’s happening here, I believe it brings us a new challenge…one that’s illustrated well here.
Jesus talks often about why God has sent him, and we see Him fulfilling all that God has been doing throughout the Bible up through this point in the story. He chose a people, Israel, and it was through Israel that God salvation was coming to all. The entire life of Jesus was pointing to a dramatic transformation that was going to happen as the Kingdom began to arrive on Earth as it was in Heaven.
But none of that had happened yet. As Jesus gives instructions to His disciples in Matthew 10:5-6, he tells them to “..go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We know that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, or this group of people living by it. He came to be the fulfillment of that law, and those people.
So here in chapter 15, we have a Gentile woman approaching Jesus, asking for consideration of her daughter. Something any of us could understand. But God’s Word and promise in the Old Testament proclaimed that salvation would come to all but it was to be through the people of Israel…the people of the covenant. They had to hear the good news, and be reminded of the promises of God…and it would flow out from them for all. For Jesus and his followers to do it any other way, would be to make God into a liar.
And even though that’s the message going out from Jesus and His followers, we see there are moments where people buck the system. The excitement about what God is doing has already begun leaking beyond the people of Israel, and people want to know more about it. They’re thirsty to experience it. Sometimes they’re even more thirsty than the people God made His promise to a long time ago. Maybe that’s why the scriptures include stories like this, and the story of the centurion in chapter 8. Maybe that’s also why these stories stayed in the scriptures even as God’s activity did spread out as the Spirit of God was poured out over all, and going out to all nations. Today, we’re all considered descendents of Abraham (Galatians 3), and yet this story is still an important one to remember.
The question from the story of this Gentile woman comes to you and I as we begin a new year together: You see, God has promised a new way of life is coming and has now come. That He will make a New Heavens and New Earth – a complete “New Creation” for us to live within someday. But He’s also leaked a bit of it into our existence today. The ways of New Creation are not something we have to wait for. Like this anxious woman, the full realities and explanations are not what concern us….what we know are the simple facts: God has made new creation life possible even today. Our lives and our world are desperate for people who live from God’s Love, mercy, grace, faith, and Holiness. Will you live from a reality that will be fully present someday – NOW? Just as Jesus responded to the woman here who was stepping out on faith….He responds to you and I….when we make decisions to live as New Creations even today…