The Faith of the Canaanite Woman
George Everard, 1884
"Then Jesus said to her: 'O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.' And her daughter was healed at once." Matthew 15:28
Thus did Christ put the crown on the faith of one who asked but the crumb — yet He opened to her the heavenly storehouse, and gave her the very finest of the wheat, and by His word of commendation set her forth for all future time as one of the great heroines of the kingdom of Heaven.
This woman was a mighty conqueror. As Jacob by the brook wrestled with the angel, and gained the blessing which he so earnestly sought — so did this woman contend with Christ and achieve a great victory.
But who was this woman? Wherein do we see her faith? Let us look and we shall soon discover. Five or six huge barriers, high walls, mountains of difficulty — stood between her and the object she sought, but her faith overleaped them all.
For, first of all, we should notice that this woman was not only a Gentile, a heathen, a stranger to the covenants of promise — but also a Canaanite, a descendant of those destroyed as under the curse of God. A very unlikely one, we might have thought, to gain blessing from the Lord. But this did not keep her back. It might humble her, but it did not hinder her from coming to the Savior.
You may be like the woman in this. You may have been very far from God. You may belong to a family where there has been little religion. Your parents may not have walked in the ways of godliness. And you yourself may have been wild and wayward, heedless and thoughtless about Divine things. You may be one whom no one would ever have thought likely to become a Christian. But let nothing of all this turn you aside. If you desire the favor and blessing of Jesus, it shall not be withheld.
Then there came another barrier. Christ was hidden. He came into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon, and went into a house, and "would have no man know it" (Mark 7:24). But faith overcame this barrier. This Syrophenician, whose daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of Him, and came and sought Him out.
The savor of the sweet ointment betrays itself. The fragrance of Christ's presence and grace cannot be hid from those who can discern it. True, there are some in the midst of privileges, with the richest means of grace, with an open Bible, and a gospel preached in all plainness — who yet, through their unbelief, learn nothing of His goodness and love. But there are others, like this woman, from whom He cannot be hidden. They have few opportunities, they have few helps, but faith seeks after Him, and finds Him, and rejoices in His free salvation. It will probably be found hereafter, that among the very holiest and most devoted of God's saints have been many who, like this woman, like Obadiah in the household of Ahab — have had everything against them in the position in which they were placed.
Thus this woman came to Christ and found Him, and earnestly besought Him for her young daughter. She had faith in Him as the Son of David, and had full confidence that He had power to heal her child. So she put the matter into His hand. She told Him her great trouble and sought from Him the mercy that would remove the burden. "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." Matthew 15:22
Then another barrier stood in her path. Christ was silent. He gave no sign of hearing or regarding her cry. She might have exclaimed with Jeremiah, "When I cry and shout, he shuts out my prayer." She might have pleaded with the Psalmist, "Be not silent unto me, O Lord."
Surely this was a trial. She looked for Him to hear her at once, as He had been accustomed to deal with others. But he seems to turn a deaf ear to her sorrow and her prayer. But she does not go back — she does not give up her suit. Again and again, like Bartimeus, she casts herself upon His mercy and grace.
And does not Christ still prove His people in the same way? Many earnest, believing prayers are offered day by day, which yet gain no apparent answer. The petition is offered in all sincerity, and yet the burden is still as heavy and the sorrow as great as before. There is no change. The husband still yields to the same temptation — or the son or daughter is as wayward as ever. Means are yet straitened, tears too often fall, cares and anxieties distress the mind — and week after week, month after month, the prayer of God's child brings no plain response. Yet be not dismayed. Though the vision tarries, wait for it. True prayer may have a long voyage to our sight — but the ship will come back one day laden with good things. Therefore "hope in the Lord and wait patiently for Him." If Christ is silent for a season, He will yet open His mouth in blessing. "Blessed are all those who wait for Him."
Then came a positive repulse. Though not spoken to herself, it was spoken in her hearing. The disciples plead against the woman. They are tired of her importunate cries, and they ask Christ to grant her request: "Send her away, for she keeps shouting at us." Then comes a word that would seem to shut out all hope: "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel." His work, while on earth, was with the Jewish people. How, then, shall He bestow His favors on those for off?
And is there not sometimes a barrier like this in the way of anxious souls? Even Christ Himself in His Word, seems to suggest a hindrance. The doctrine of God's election is found in Holy Scripture, and not seldom it seems to hide Christ from the soul. There is a whisper, "What if you are not one of the elect?" And so, every promise, every invitation, seems to lose the comfort it should afford in a fear of this kind. But this woman would not cease her prayer, neither must you.
Be assured God's election is never opposed to His loving call. Obey the call, accept the invitation, take hold of the great "whoever believes" — and you shall find peace and life, and thus you shall make your own calling and election sure.
Closer and closer this woman creeps to the Savior's footstool. She falls down at His feet and worships Him. She pours out her whole soul in one short and fervent petition, "Lord, help me!"
Make this prayer your own. In trouble or temptation, discouraged and cast down, however it may be — yet draw nearer and nearer to the Savior. Hear His gracious promise, "Fear not, I will help You," and then cast yourself upon His kindness and compassion. Again and again, let the humble cry arise, "Lord, help me!"
"O help me, Jesus, from on high,
I know no help but Thee;
O help me so to live and die,
As yours in Heaven to be."
But there came yet another repulse, and this, to human judgment, the unkindest cut of all. He seems to treat the woman with contempt. He speaks of her as one utterly vile and unclean. He calls her a "dog," and suggests that it is in vain for her to seek Him further: "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs!" Matthew 15:26
Strangely rough and harsh words from One who had the tenderest heart that ever beat in mortal frame!
He seems to be another Joseph — uttering rough words, binding one brother, and putting all in prison, and yet only caring for their true welfare.
But how does she take this word? Does she resent it? Does she turn away, declaring she will never again seek His aid? Nay, she still cleaves steadfastly to Him. She still pleads for some favor, however small. And more than this: she takes the very arrow which Christ had shot at her — and shoots it back from the bow of faith. She takes the very name of 'dog' as the reason why He should grant her request. "True, Lord, yet even the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table." Marvelous humility! wondrous faith! And both these silver cords intertwined in a plea which could never be rejected: "Yes, master, true — I am but a dog. I am a sinner, and vile and unworthy. I know it, and I own it. A Gentile, too, I am — and have no claim on You for children's bread! But, Lord, may I not taste the crumbs? When Your children are satisfied — may not I come for that which remains? I dare not ask to come first — last of all and least of all I come — yet, Lord, even for me let there remain something of Your goodness and grace."
And if you would prosper in your suit at Jesus' feet, let this be your spirit. Take the very lowest place. Whatever conscience may tell you, do not hide it or excuse it. Shaped in iniquity, born in sin, guilty of manifold transgression, with a heart by nature averse to that which is good, and prone to that which is evil, what can you do but humble yourself in the dust before Him who knows you altogether?
"Not worthy, Lord, to gather up the crumbs
With trembling hand that from Your table fall,
A weary, heavy-laden sinner comes
To plead Your promise and obey Your call."
But ever remember there is a "yet." You cannot be in such an evil case, but there is a ground for hope if you will look for it.
Are you a great sinner? Yet Christ is a great Savior, mighty to save those who trust in Him.
Are your sins very heinous? Yet scarlet sins may be made 'white as snow,' for Christ's "blood cleanses from all sin."
Is your heart dead and unfeeling? Yet He will take away the heart of stone, and give you a heart of flesh.
Is your faith weak, your repentance too slight, your love but a flickering spark? Yet His "grace is sufficient" for you, and He can give you the Holy Spirit as the spring of every virtue that you need.
Christ delays no longer. He has seemed to neglect or to chide her, but now He will give her more than she can ask or think. Nothing too good, nothing too great for faith like hers. If for a moment He caused her grief and distress, forever afterward should she rejoice in that which He bestowed upon her. Her prayer is heard, her daughter is healed — all she can desire shall be hers. And life for evermore was her portion also. All this is wrapped in the Savior's word. "O woman, great is your faith, be it unto you even as you will."
"O hearts that hunger through the world,
But never taste true joy,
Behold, the Fount from whence it springs,
All pure without alloy!
Lo, from the heart of Christ it comes,
All tranquil and serene,
And through the heart which stoops to drink,
It flows a constant stream.
"O hearts that hunger through the world,
All broken, pierced, and lone,
Whose dreams of peace and earthly love
Are faded, lost, and gone!
Come hither now, and taste the bread
By Jesus freely given:
The Bridegroom of the soul embrace,
And taste the joys of Heaven!
"O hearts that hunger through the world,
But never speak their grief,
Whose weary feet have wandered far,
But never found relief!
Look through His wounds to Jesus' heart,
A hidden balm is there,
Whose virtues, when by faith applied,
Will kill all grief and care."
W. Poole Balfern.