The Canaanite Woman

Matthew 15: 21-28 tells the story of the Canaanite woman who begged Jesus to heal her daughter. The Canaanite woman was a Gentile, a non-Jew. Jesus treats her downright coldly at first. As she pleads her case, Jesus ignores her. The disciples ask Jesus to do want she wants because she is aggravating them, following them around. He counters that he “was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel” and tells the woman herself that “it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to little dogs.” She replies, “Yes, Lord; but even little dogs eat the scraps that fall from their masters’ table.” It is only then that Jesus responds with kindness and heals her daughter.

It is important to note that this passage comes from Matthew’s gospel, which was written for Jews. The point of the story is to show that the Gentiles were eager to accept Jesus as Lord even though the Jews were reluctant to do so. It also illustrates the importance of faith. No matter what Jesus said to her, she kept believing that he could heal her daughter.

As a mother, this story carries further meaning. The Canaanite woman is a mother who will do whatever she needs to do for her child. Her daughter is “tormented by a devil.” At that time, devils were blamed for both physical and mental illness, but with that word “tormented,” one gets the sense that this is most likely a mental affliction. Here is a daughter who is suffering, and most likely has been suffering for quite some time. There is no worse pain than watching your child suffer and not being able to do anything about it. She had heard of Jesus, perhaps even witnessed him heal someone. This is her last hope, and she is going to pursue it until she gets what she wants. She is willing to even verbally spar with Jesus. She doesn’t shrink away when Jesus questions her right to be there. She just keeps pushing.

Every mother has to advocate for her child at some point, and it is not always easy. It can be hard to stand up to teachers, or principals, or doctors in order to make sure that a child gets what he or she needs. It can be hard to speak up, but it is part of a mother’s job. I am a naturally very introverted person. I hate conflict and don’t do a very good job of sticking up for myself. After my first child was born, however, I soon learned that I had to stick up for him because no one else would. I had to speak for him because he couldn’t speak for himself. When he was diagnosed with life-threatening food allergies, I had to tell people. I had to make sure that accommodations were made for him whenever he was going to be someplace without me. When he started school, I had to make sure that he would be safe. I had to teach his teachers and the cafeteria workers how to use his epi-pen. I had to make sure that his classroom would be peanut-free. I had to do the same if he went to a friend’s house or to a party. I have had to advocate for my younger son for other reasons. It just comes with the parenting territory.

Mothers can be inspired by the Canaanite woman. I don’t think that I would have the courage to stand up to Jesus the way that she did. After he ignored me, I probably would have slunk away. The Canaanite woman reminds me, and all mothers, to stand firm, to continue to have faith and advocate for our children. Whether we are on our knees praying, or in the principal’s office discussing school policy, we are our child’s voice when they cannot speak for themselves. When we start to lose faith in our ability to be that voice, we can remember the Canaanite woman and emulate her courage and strength.

– Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur


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