by Martin G. Collins
In this miracle (Matthew 15:21-28; Mark 7:24-30), Jesus uses His meeting with a pagan woman from beyond the borders of Judea to illustrate the future potential of the Gentiles. While Christ spent most of His time ministering to Israelites (Matthew 15:24), on a few occasions He did mercifully intervene on behalf of Gentiles. The Gentile identity of the woman who sought exorcism for her daughter is emphasized three times in the accounts: in Matthew 15:22, she is "of Canaan"; and in Mark 7:26, she is called both "a Greek" and "a Syro-Phoenician," a person from Phoenicia, then regarded as part of Syria. Jesus performs this miracle in the coastal area of Tyre and Sidon, the same area where Elijah performed the miracles of providing meal in the barrel and raising the Gentile widow's son from the dead (I Kings 17:8-24).
Later, the apostle Paul stopped at Tyre and met with some Christians there (Acts 21:3-4), showing some of the influence Christ had on these Gentiles. Not only was this miracle part of that influence, but Luke 6:17-20 also tells us that many from that area came to Judea, bringing their sick and demon-possessed to Christ for healing.
Regarding the exorcism of the daughter, we see that Christ declares the girl to be healed, and it is so. Clearly, the woman believes that distance does not matter regarding Christ's power to heal, for when Jesus tells her to go home and that her daughter is healed, she leaves Him with complete confidence that His word is true and omnipotent. She is another of Jesus' "other sheep" (John 10:16), a Gentile, not an Israelite to whom He had primarily come. She undoubtedly made this miracle known to other Gentiles, opening the door for the apostles to proclaim Christ's purpose for coming into the world: to bring salvation one day to all humanity.
1. What does the woman's boldness teach? Matthew 15:28.
Comment: The woman receives a two-fold reward: She is commended for her great faith and receives healing for her child. Christ shows that He approves of her boldness and honors her faith, which—along with her persistence and humility—earn her blessings. She keeps knocking at the door of opportunity until it is opened. From this, we should learn a lesson about prayer. Initially, she seems to be rejected and denied access to Christ's power, but then, having seen her faith, Jesus opens His grace to her. Christ commends her for "great" faith. She takes the lowliest place, but her faith in Christ earns her His highest praise.
Her faith is tested by His silence and then by His discouraging reply, but it is necessary for Him to see the strength of her faith, as well as for her to realize what it takes to follow Him. He is pleased with what He finds in her. Ultimately, the Lord sustains our faith and gives us hope to strengthen it (Psalm 138:3). Her faith was built on hope of good things to come, and what she had heard of Christ and seen of His power motivated her. Her unparalleled trust in Him proves that it is not blood lineage through Abraham that identifies his children in the faith, but faith itself. Although a Gentile by birth, she would become a spiritual Israelite through belief and conviction (Galatians 6:16). The strength of her faith is manifested in what she overcame—not physical obstacles, but mental and emotional barriers.
2. What is the most outstanding feature of her pleading? Mark 7:26.
Comment: The term translated "kept asking" (NKJV) or "besought" (KJV) is in the imperfect tense in the Greek, implying continuous action. Her persistence is seen in her constant pleading with Him and is emphasized by the fact that she pleads continuously in spite of the various rebuffs she receives. Few people would have continued praying after the first few rebuffs, as most of us are prone to quit if we do not receive a swift answer.
Christ says, "Men always ought to pray and not lose heart" (Luke 18:1)—and this woman did not lose heart! She faces four rebuffs that required great persistence to overcome to obtain help for her daughter: deafness to her plea (Matthew 15:23), discouragement from the disciples (verse 23), demotion of her position (verse 26), and deficiency in her opportunities (Mark 7:28). Are these rebuffs any different in principle to the ones we experience in our prayers?
Even though it seems that Christ sometimes ignores us, He does not really, merely delaying His response to strengthen our faith and resolve. Answers can give great encouragement, but delay checks our sincerity and forces us to be more fervent, strengthening our faith. Christ's turning a deaf ear to the woman's prayer should encourage us in our prayers when they are not answered immediately. Even the most sincere and faithful prayers, as this woman's was, can be delayed by God. Because we give up so quickly, delay exposes many of us as having little faith, so Christ frequently tests our faith to improve its quality.
We can never allow ourselves to be satisfied with our faith because, as God knows, we need more faith if we are to do more for Him. He rewards persistent faith that includes a full assurance of hope. Faith overcomes obstacles, personal trials, and the world. The apostle John writes, "For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?" (I John 5:4-5). That is the faith we need!