Jesus had recently caused quite a stir in Israel. He had fed the 5,000, demonstrating he could meet the needs of Israel, walked on water, demonstrating he was Lord of Creation, and reprimanded the Jewish leaders for rewriting scripture.
Things were heating up there so perhaps that’s why he withdrew to the Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon.
He had a distinct role as the Messiah to achieve salvation for those who believed in him, and he had just a short time to do this. Perhaps he withdrew to allow himself to pace things out.
He needed the disciples to understand that he was the Messiah foretold of in the Old Testament who would come first to the Jewish people, and they would take it out to the world, to not only other Jews but also the Gentiles.
But the Disciples were slow in coming to full belief, however, the Gentiles were beginning to recognise Jesus as the long-awaited Jewish Messiah.
Jesus possibly wanted a Canaanite person to confess their faith in front of the disciples to get them thinking.
The short conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman was probably light-hearted banter, but the woman cleverly turned Jesus’ banter to her advantage.
The conversation should be understood in its historical setting to appreciate what Jesus is doing here.
There was long-established enmity between Jews and Gentiles. They neither spoke well of each other, and polite society was quite different to what is expected in the West today. I imagine some aspects of their society would seem quite barbaric to us these days.
The woman confessed her faith and begged for his help with her daughter who was possessed by a demon. Jesus, who often spoke in metaphors and parables to teach spiritual truths, offered her a metaphor, saying, ‘It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’
Meaning his priority was to have the house of Israel truly understand who he was, as was written in the Old Testament. Then they, in turn, were to take the message to the Gentiles. This would fulfil all that was recorded of God’s intentions for the Jewish people – fulfil the covenant he had made with Abraham.
She quickly and cleverly answered him by saying; ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’
She quite likely knew that the Messiah was to go first to the children of Israel, which was why she was not able to sit at the Messiah’s table and eat with the ‘children’, but surely, she argued, she should be allowed to pick up some of the crumbs they dropped.
Jesus perceived great faith in this response. She acknowledged that he was the Master and suggested that he could serve whoever he chose to with the crumbs of his time and power at this moment outside of Israel. Crumbs that the ‘children’ have either ignored or rejected is all she is asking for, for her own Gentile daughter.
When you think of it was inspired on her part because she wanted, so desperately needed, some of the crumbs falling from the bread that Jesus was bringing for God’s chosen people, the house of Israel.
She had no resentment, no anger about her situation; she only believed that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah who came to heal people, and for some reason, here he was in her town, so she sought his mercy for her child.
The Canaanite woman became one of the early Gentiles to be adopted into the kingdom, as her amazing uncovenanted faith was rewarded and her daughter was instantly made well by Jesus
The disciples would have witnessed the great faith that the Gentile woman demonstrated and must have been puzzled by her because she was well ahead of the program.
The disciples, possibly even Jesus himself, were not even ready for Calvary, but this woman was already at Easter, as her daughter became well again.
What was considered polite conversation might well be different today than it was then, but the Canaanite woman was spiritually breaking through into the future, and she was ahead of the time.
So it is through a spiritual, rather than cultural lens that we can come to understand that we too can be ahead today when we push forward for what we really believe in with pure and honest faith and prayer.
Because cultural norms and social politics change over time, but the truth of Christ’s gospel is the same today, as it was then, and always will be in the times yet to come.