Before you wonder why Jesus is silent, before you wonder why the disciples try to put distance between Jesus and the Canaanite woman, before you wonder why this woman keeps crying out when Jesus is rude to her, stop and look around the room. Don’t look around this room. Look around the room where Jesus is at that moment.
Who do you see in the room? The disciples, yes. The Canaanite woman, of course. Jesus, definitely. Who else is there? You have to look at the beginning of Matthew chapter 15 for the answer. Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus. Ah, yes, the Pharisees and scribes. Wherever Jesus is, you can be sure his most vocal opponents won’t be far away ready to catch Jesus when He falls into a trap.
There’s quite a trap set before Him moments before today’s Gospel starts. Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.” These men are fixated on the customs and traditions of their elders. You had better do as you’re told when you’re a Jew. You’re God chosen people. You live a different life. Everything you do, everything you eat, even how you worship God has a meaning.
Jewish customs and traditions have an end. That end is Jesus Christ, the One Who comes to fulfill the Law, and not abolish it. That’s why Jesus gives them the business when He quotes Isaiah chapter 29: This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
If the commandments of men do not save you, then what saves you? Jesus’ encounter with the Canaanite woman answers that question. She is not a Jew. She does not have a share in the heavenly kingdom. She shouldn’t even talk the Messiah, let alone approach Him. The Jews are watching. The disciples are watching. A Canaanite woman with a demon-possessed daughter is watching and waiting for a response to her cry for help.
But He did not answer her a word. Perhaps the Pharisees and scribes are wondering if Jesus will come around to their way of thinking. Let the dog go. Let her seek another god. She’s nothing. How dare she defile this home! Good for Jesus! Even the disciples get in on this one. Send her away, for she is crying out after us. It’s like the carnival barker being bothered by some punk kid asking questions. “Go away, kid, you bother me!”
You’ve had those moments where Jesus doesn’t answer you. The easy way out is to quit asking. You stop praying. You stop receiving Christ’s Gifts in the Divine Service. You give up on Jesus because you’re sure Jesus has given up on you. You’re not holy enough. You haven’t prayed the requisite amount of times for Him to care. Some of the things you ask Him haven’t happened. Quitting God seems the right thing to do.
When Jesus opens His mouth, what He says is harsh. I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Again a silent cheer erupts from the Pharisees and scribes. Now Jesus is singing their tune. Tell her to scram so we can get back to this important conversation about washing cups and plates the right way.
You’ve slithered away when Jesus seems to slam the door in your face. He loves to hear you pray, especially when you are persistent. Persistence seems like bugging God with things He already knows. So you stop asking and start doing something else. You scram.
The Canaanite woman won’t scram. She screams at the top of her lungs, Lord, help me. She’s called Him Lord. Earlier she called Jesus, Son of David. These are two big clues that this woman knows more that everyone in the room knows about Jesus. Everyone, that is, except Jesus. He sees. He knows. This woman believes Jesus is able to do something about her daughter. This woman believes Jesus is the true Son of God Who has come to help those who call on Him, whether Jew or Canaanite or Samaritan or Greek or Roman.
Jesus helps her, but in a backdoor, left-handed way. It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the puppies. Jesus sets the trap. She springs it. Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.
O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire. Mark’s Gospel says the woman went home and it was as He said. The girl was fine. So the woman goes home and now it’s Jesus, His disciples, maybe some other people, and the Pharisees and scribes. What do you think the Pharisees and scribes said when they saw what happened?
Matthew never says what they said. Perhaps they added this incident to their dossier of evidence about the great blasphemer who said He is the King of the Jews. At any rate, what they saw answers the question asked a few moments ago. The question was: If the commandments of men do not save you, then what saves you? The answer was right in front of their eyes, if they were willing to believe it.
The answer is before your eyes, if you are willing to believe it. The woman will not let go of Christ, even when it seems as if Jesus isn’t listening or doesn’t care. Faith takes Christ captive in His Word, even when He’s angriest, and makes out of His cruel words a comforting inversion. The woman is a puppy. Let it be. She will gladly be a puppy. Give her the consideration you give a dog.
The whole incident shows the Pharisees and scribes, and those hearing this Gospel, what they can learn from a Gentile who was not among the chosen people and had no inheritance. The answer to the question, “If the commandments of men do not save you, then what saves you?” is clinging to Christ; placing all confidence for forgiveness of sins and everlasting life in Him. The Canaanite woman believes Jesus will help her. Nothing deters her from waiting for His help, not even silence or what seem to be insults.
Jesus is pleased when you persist in prayer and do not give up. Like a pit bull terrier whose jaw muscles tighten when it bites someone or something, your prayers clench on to Christ and tighten up, not letting go until you receive a fair hearing. In Christ you always receive a fair hearing. Christ knows what is best for you. He provides His preached Word that declares you forgiven in His blood and righteousness. He baptizes you into His death, in order that you receive a resurrection like His. He feeds you His true Body and true Blood for the forgiveness of your sins. He never fails to give His children everything they need.
The more Satan tries to whisper in your ear that you are no Christian and that your prayers are futile, the more sinful and wicked you perceive yourself to be, the more passionately and earnestly you call upon Jesus Christ and let nothing stand in the way, not even traditions and customs of men. Silence and insults turn to joy and healing. Jesus helps those who cling to Him as their only hope of salvation.