Tyre and Sidon were to the north of Judea and Galilee, on the Mediterranean coast of the province of Syria. They were Greek in culture, so when Jesus and his disciples went to that area they would have expected to enjoy a rest from the crowds and their demands.
However, we read in Mark 3:8 and Luke 6:17 that Jesus’ fame had spread there, and people from that area had heard him preach in Galilee. The woman whose daughter was suffering so much had obviously heard about him and must have been delighted to know he was now in the vicinity. So she determined to get him to heal her daughter. She needed all the determination she possessed.
Why did Jesus refuse to pay her any attention? He was loving and compassionate; surely he would have been moved by the plight of her daughter and would have wanted to do all he could to help!
Notice what Jesus did not do. He did not send her away. Eventually the disciples tried to persuade him to do so – they were fed up with her constant begging for help. But rather than send her away, at that point Jesus encouraged her to engage in conversation.
Jesus said that he had been sent (by God) only to ‘the lost sheep of Israel’, God’s chosen people. Although the Jews expected the Messiah to begin a new age in which he would rule the whole world (and his nation, Israel, would be the top dog), Jesus knew that this phase of his mission would be focused on the Jews only. His mission during those three years was not to cure everyone in the world who was ill, nor even every sick person he saw. His mission was to save the world from the far more deadly disease of sin, and that would be accomplished chiefly by his death and resurrection. His ministry beforehand, with its teaching and healing and miracles, was designed to reveal to people what the kingdom of God was like. It was a seed which the sower was planting, which would eventually produce a harvest. The time will come when every knee will bow to him, and the earth be filled with the knowledge of the glory of God; but that time was (and is) not yet here. So Jesus did not feel a duty to respond to every case of need, only to those the Father sent him to.
That is hard for us to understand. But Jesus was fully human, and set us an example to follow – and that example includes not taking on to ourselves impossible burdens. ‘The need does not constitute the call’; in other words, just because we see a need that does not mean we have to meet it. We do not have to give to every cause, or help every hungry person in the world, even though they need help. We do have to do what God calls us to do, and to do it with all our heart; and we also have to rest when God calls us to rest.
There are exceptions to every rule, and it turned out that the woman crying after Jesus was one of them. She could easily have turned away after Jesus’ first words, but she did not. Her response was to kneel and ask for help. Jesus’ next words were also harsh: they depicted Jews as ‘children’ and Gentiles as ‘dogs’. But the woman was not to be put off, and her reply obviously delighted Jesus. The woman got her wish, and her daughter was healed. Mercy extended beyond the Jews to Gentiles. Her perseverance paid off.
Notice that Jesus did not call it perseverance, but faith. The woman believed that Jesus could heal her daughter. More than that, she believed that he would do so – that is why she came in the first place – and she carried on believing despite all appearances to the contrary.
These are the same steps of faith we see so often in the Bible: believe the truth, believe the truth is for me, believe enough to do something, believe enough to carry on doing it even when it looks hopeless. Too many people give up just before the miracle happens. She did not give up, and the miracle happened.
1) Jesus did not offer healing to this woman, yet she eventually received what she wanted. What lessons are there for us in our own situations?
2) What does Jesus’ behaviour teach us about his love? How does that affect the our faith and our behaviour?