21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” 24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” 26 And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
One morning my friend walked out of his house with a cup of coffee in hand and stood on his front porch. Immediately his ears were assaulted by a loud crashing sound. He looked up the street and saw a young man driving what was clearly his father’s or grandfather’s great boat of a car. It was garbage day, and the young man was having a riotously good time slamming into one big plastic rolling garbage tub after another as he made his way down the street. They would bounce off the massive bumper, strewing contents down the street.
My friend recollected that not that many years before he might have done the same thing. He sipped his coffee. He calmly watched. Bang, another tub filled with garbage succumbed to the bumper of the car. He did not rush out into the street to upbraid the young man or threaten to call his parents. He only watched because he knew something the young man did not. The garbage cans in this community were huge, their contents hoisted high and deposited into the trucks by impressively large mechanical claws. The weekend prior my friend had helped his neighbor remodel a bathroom. He knew that the can just up from his own exposed garbage can was in fact filled with several hundred pounds of broken ceramic tile.
Bang – another victim of the car’s bumper. And then the neighbor’s can was next. Crunch! My friend looked over his cup of coffee and watched the horror spread across the young man’s face. The fender had a large crumple in it. The can had hardly moved. He took a sip of coffee and thought to himself, “Bet he never does that again.”
Jesus has brought his disciples north, far outside Israel to the land of the hated Canaanites. He was looking for this woman. He knew she would come. The Canaanites had led the ancient Israelites into idolatry and God had sent those Israelites into exile. All good Jews hated the Canaanites. But Jesus loved them too. She cries loudly, following the master and his disciples. The disciples, repelled by this woman, ask Jesus to send her away. He plays along with them for a moment, even calling her a “dog.” I can almost see them nodding in agreement. Finally, they think, the Master is talking some sense. But all the while he is setting up the impact which will crush their bigotry. He is drawing out of her a statement of faith which their own pious hearts cannot make.
“Woman, great is your faith.” Jesus only says those words to two people in the Gospel according to Matthew. The first is a Roman centurion in chapter 8. The second is this hated Canaanite. Both times Jesus is smashing the narrow and closed bigotry of religious people. Who are the people you imagine to be outside the kingdom of God? Is it the woke liberal or the conservative with a MAGA hat? Is the person marching in the pride parade or the Muslim bowing in prayer five times a day? Is it your neighbor who plays loud music at all hours of the night? Look at them again. Look at them with Jesus’ eyes. He loves them just as much as he loves you.