The gospel of Matthew 15:21-28, presents Jesus encountering a Canaanite woman with a request for a miraculous cure of her daughter, who was possessed by a demon. Jesus gives her a rather insulting response, but probably with a gentle tone: “It is not fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs”. He was, in a way, expressing the general attitude of the Jews towards gentiles. We may, however, deduce from the woman’s response and Jesus’ fascination, that he meant to invoke faith for the benefit of others. Jesus eventually grants the woman’s request, implying that God’s blessings are meant for everyone, everywhere.
Lessons from the woman
The irony of this episode is that the disciples are more bent on sending this particular woman and other gentiles away than bringing them to Christ. Jesus is, in essence, giving formation to his would-be apostles so they may continue his mission of saving the world, as expressed in the great commission (Matthew 28:19-20). He is teaching them to be open-minded, compassionate and generous to everyone, everywhere. The woman teaches us to pray persistently with faith and hope. The woman teaches us to pray persistently with faith and hope.
Jesus is non-discriminative
In the gospels, Jesus remarkably held the Gentiles in high esteem. His ancestral lineage mentions two Canaanite women, one Moabite and the wife of Uriah. The first people to recognise and worship Jesus Christ as messiah were the Magi from the East. This was in contrast with Herod and the people of Jerusalem, who were, instead, extremely disturbed.
We further learn that the kingdom of God has no ethnic dimension to it. Jesus’ mission and teaching bear a universal character. He calls His disciples to make them “fishers of men.” There is no ethnic dimension to that. Likewise, there is no ethnic dimension to the new people of God. On being told of his relatives wanting to meet him, Jesus responds by saying that his new family would be all those who hear and obey the word of God (Matthew 12:28).
We will face same judgment
Jesus taught his disciples to pray by addressing God as Father to all people. He wanted to emphasise the brotherhood of mankind. Jesus’ Church is universal (catholic). It is the biblical drag net that is thrown into the sea and it catches all kinds of fish (Matthew13:47). This implies that on the last day Jews and gentiles will face the same judgment.
The thing which most separated the Jews and the gentiles was a table, food. Yet in the Church of Jesus Christ, what brings the nations together is “the Lord’s table”; Holy Communion. Just like Peter, while hesitantly on his first mission to evangelise Gentiles, had a vision that declared all food clean, so is Jesus allegorically declaring not only that all food clean, but also that all people belong to God.
Blessings are meant for anyone
The scriptures had foretold that when the Messiah comes to Israel all nations would worship God. Many would come from the East and the West and dine at the table with the Lord. Jesus is teaching that the blessings of God are for everyone and everywhere. They are not limited by human resources but by a God who gives us all that we need when we need them. So his ministers should should be generous while dispensing God’s blessings.
Jesus also teaches us to recognise, with respect, people of other faiths and engage them in genuine interfaith dialogue, because they too belong to the one and same God. We should be doing so as learners, not converters, with a desire to celebrate as fully as possible the many paths to God.