A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before Him. “Lord, help me!” she said” (Matthew 15:22-25).
I have a sister I have never met. The only sign that she ever was alive is an 8 x 8 metal plate on the ground near my parents’ headstone. It carries the name “Carol.” My sister was born with a hole in her spine. Back in the ‘30s, nothing could be done to save her. She lay in her crib for a month in my parents’ bedroom. She spent much of that time whimpering. My mother spent the time watching her, feeding her, praying for her—and crying. A mother’s love is unlike any other. Just ask Jesus. He knows. He ran into such love when he wandered near the edge of Israel’s border. The mother was a Canaanite. The land Israel now occupied had belonged to her people. The Canaanites forfeited their land by their ungodly living. But not all were driven out. This woman was descended from them. She was not one of God’s chosen people. She was labeled a Gentile. That was the same as being called a heathen.
It must have been shocking for the disciples to see this Gentile woman approaching Jesus directly. It must have surprised them to hear her cry out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me!” Amazing! This Canaanite knew that Jesus was the promised Messiah. This foreigner believed that Jesus had power over demons. Wasn’t this a sign of faith? Should she not have been welcomed as a believer? The disciples thought not: “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” How could they be so cold-hearted?
How could Jesus seemingly be so uncaring? He had heard her cry for help. Yet, we are told:
“Jesus did not answer a word.”
Seemingly worse: when she dropped to her knees begging, “Lord, help me!”
We are told he said:
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Matthew 15:26).
Wasn’t he, in effect, telling her to, “Be quiet, and go away!”?
Not at all. He knew what was in her heart. He gave her a chance to reveal that even Gentiles could have strong saving faith. She showed it with these words: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matthew 15:27). To this, Jesus said: “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Then Matthew reports, “And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” The Gentile mother’s cry for help was heard and answered. The plea came from a heart of faith. The daughter was healed. My mother was also a Gentile. I expect her prayer was just as passionate. It also came from a heart of faith.
It seems Jesus answered her not a word.
But my mother was heard. Her prayers were answered. My sister was not healed. She was delivered. Her soul was lifted up from that little crib to be carried gently to her new home. No more hole in the spine. No more whimpering. And now, my mother no longer weeps for her. The two of them share the joys of heaven. For her beloved daughter’s funeral, my mom chose the hymn, “Jesus, Lover of my Soul.” It was her cry for help to endure the grief. It is a song of faith. It is based upon a rock-solid truth.
Jesus is the Lover of souls.
Yours. And mine. And my sister’s. The sister I wait to meet.
We pray the words of that old hymn when anguish pierces our heart:
Jesus, Lover of my soul, Let me to thy bosom fly
While the nearer waters roll, While the tempest still is high.
Hide me, O my Savior, hide, Till the storm of life is past;
Safe into the haven guide. Oh, receive my soul at last. Amen.
Written by Pastor Paul Ziemer
WELS National Civilian Chaplain and Liaison to the Military