Healing for Everyone
by Dan Kidd
One of the most important witnesses about the Lord throughout the Bible is that God hear the cries of those in need. We were created with intrinsic dependency on the Lord. But for the grace of God we careen off of every cliff we encounter. God's generosity and care is inescapable--"Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?" Even those who we might expect God to forget or forego (like the Egyptian slave girl, Haggar) the Lord hears, pursues, loves, and blesses. The longstanding, audacious truth of the Gospel is that it was for every nation of the earth--every tribe, tongue, and kingdom. The Lord's plan for redemption is limitless.
Which makes today's passage a curious one. At face value, it seems that Jesus was denying this mother the healing of her daughter from demon possession because she was a Canaanite. Jesus’ disciples wanted him to send her away because her persistent outcries had worn their patience thin. When she asked for help from Jesus, he responded that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel, to feed the children and not the “dogs.” But Jesus was not deaf to this woman’s plea. Notice her reply, “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” There’s a humility there. She did not quibble with Jesus about the priority of Jews or Canaanites; her desperation for her daughter had stripped away any veneer of national pride. What’s more, she described such healing as “the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” This woman, even in responding in Jesus’ metaphor, acknowledges the lordship of Jesus over herself. From her perspective, it would seem, Christ is not only the Lord of Israel, but of her, a Canaanite who needed his help.
Christ heard her rebuttal, admired aloud that she “has great faith,” and then immediately heals her daughter.
We might wonder what this tells us of how Jesus understood his mission, and what exactly he intended to in his exchange with this mother. Whatever is going on in this passage, we should recognize that Jesus had, at this point, already healed a Roman centurion’s servant, commending the centurion’s faith in Jesus. And in Matthew 12 (quoting Isaiah 42) it is said of Jesus “in his name the nations (Gentiles) will put their hopes.” If the Kingdom of God is for everyone, why would Jesus hesitate to heal this possessed daughter simply because she was born a Canaanite?
Truth be told, we don't know. This may have been, for Jesus, a pivotal moment where he first chose to extend his healing mission to the Canaanites. Or, perhaps this was an opportune lesson for his disciples to show them the faithfulness of even their tribal enemies. Maybe Jesus was prying at the woman to see if her faith in him was sincere. Or it might be something else. Whatever the case, it ended this way: Jesus healed her daughter.
Knowing what we know about the Canaanites and the Israelites, proverbially oil and water, it is no small thing that Jesus would heal this daughter. But Jesus had not so long ago spoken of loving enemies and praying for those who persecute. This story shows Jesus doing just that. Here, Jesus crossed the lines of division and healed someone from the other team--the wrong side of the tracks. And thank goodness he did, because this mother was desperate for her daughter's healing.
When we hear that we are to love our enemies, to pray for those who persecute us, we might look to Jesus to see how. Christ offers healing and deliverance to a Canaanite daughter because she needed healing and deliverance, and because the Lord hears the cries of those who seek him. Empowered by the Spirit of God, how might we walk in the steps of Jesus and look to heal, to deliver, and to bless those who need it--whoever they are?
Because of Jesus, we can pray this, Father in Heaven, thank you for being the savior and healer of the whole world. Empower us to love our friends and our enemies; seeing them in your eyes, with compassion and hope. Give us your heart for the suffering and your ears to hear their cries. We long for your will to be done, here and now, and that your Gospel would be heard and known to us all. Amen.