Monthly Archives: August 2023

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

Did Jesus know everything in His earthy life? This is a copy of sermon I preached that says He did not but needed the Spirit to lead Him and His disciples to a bigger vision of what His mission was to be.

Readings 

Isaiah (56:1, 6-8) 

Romans (11.1-2a, 29-32)

Matthew (15:21-28) 

Introduction

We believe that Jesus was not just a man, a human being, but in Him was also the united presence of the Eternal and Infinite Word. He had divinity with God the Father and the Holy Spirit. It is indeed that special union that makes Him “Son of God” in the most special way. 

That affirmation has always brought questions  about how His divine nature fitted with His human nature and how His life on earth was directed and lived. 

Today I want to share a view of this from Charles Gore who was a Church of England Bishop of Worcester, then Birmingham, and finally of Oxford.

He lived in the aftermath of Charles Darwin at a time of considerable theological controversy of Darwin, bible and the Catholic heritage of the Church of England. One thing that was quite controversial was his suggestion that although divine and human Jesus did not always know everything. Jesus was limited to most human knowledge as we are and any special knowledge or acts He did came from the Holy Spirit resting on Him at His Baptism. It was the Spirit and not His own internal presence of divine being that moved Him to do as He did, so acting and being human like all of us subject to pain and emotions and temptations. Only this way could He live a truly human life. Others before and after Gore preached and wrote similar things and today what he wrote and preached may not be so controversial. 

The idea that Jesus was limited in His knowledge but led to act by the Holy Spirit makes a lot of sense when we read some parts of the gospels and is possibly key to understand Jesus reactions to the Canaanite women in the gospel passage today. 

At first sight Jesus responses to her request may seem uncaring, rude or even worse. 

‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.

What is going on here? Is Jesus being insulting to her because she is not Jewish? It would seem to us strange if He did. 

It is quite clear in gospels and other parts of the NT that Jesus was seen as the fulfilment of Israel’s Messianic hope, a Son of David, a prophet, priest and king of Israel. Even the Canaanite woman acknowledges this when she calls him “Son of David”. 

We do not know how she had come to hear of Jesus or why she thought He could help her daughter, but something had caused her to have faith and hope in Him.  We don’t know why Jesus went to that region of Israel that was so full of non-Jews. Maybe He wanted to minister to the Jews who did live there or just to get away for a few days for some recuperation. And then this non-Jew comes asking for a favour. 

His disciples also think she is just an underserving nuisance disturbing their master and their peace. Others outside of the flock of Israel may not have seemed  important to Jesus at the time.  

The New Vision 

It is here that we may see a new intervention of the Holy Spirit to reveal to Jesus and His disciples that He has bigger and more universal role in the future of all humanity. What drew this woman Jesus and what gave her faith in Jesus the Jewish rabbi and teacher? Surely it was the Holy Spirit that caused her faith and caused the encounter to take place. 

Her response to Him is both humble and startling.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table”

Maybe she knows that not all of Jesus people are accepting His ministry and He is being rejected. 

Well if they don’t want Him she does!  Even a little scrap of His healing ministry can help her and her daughter. 

I think we should picture a surprise and smile on His face and a nod of approval from Jesus as He receives her answer and recognises her faith and so He grants her request.

There is another Gentile healing incident that takes place in the gospels. It is the healing of the servant of Roman Centurion. Jesus does not show any hesitancy in that case but possible the servant is Jewish. But here again Jesus is surprised by the faith of the Centurion who says “you do not need to come to my house. Just give the word and I know my servant will be healed”

It may be the encounter with both the Centurion and the Canaanite woman that adds to Jesus own vision about what His ministry means and will mean in the future. Jesus later parables included reference to new leaders and those outside of the fold being brought in. 

He read of Him saying in gospel of John that when He is “lifted up” on the cross He will draw all people to Himself. This is a new universal vision.At the end of Matthew’s gospel the Risen Christ sends His disciples into the whole world. An old prophet promise was being fulfilled:

And the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD, to minister to him, to love the name of the LORD, and to be his servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer

It became the experience of Jesus disciples that many Jews rejected Jesus as Messiah but many from many other nations came to have faith in Jesus that changed their lives. 

Inheritors of the Divine Plan 

Since most of us are not Jewish we are the inheritors of that newly revealed divine plan. We are people being brought to Jesus, coming in faith to Him that He may change our lives.  In coming to Him we are drawn to each other and to other people and no race or person is inferior. All now have the same dignity and worth and so should be treated the same no matter where they come from.

Note: There is more on the website about Charles Gore and his view of Christ under Jesus Christ: The Divine and Human union.