Teaching Jesus

"I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15:24).

This extraordinary story, preserved in Matthew's Gospel, seems to suggest that even Jesus had to learn the extent of his ministry. If this was the case (and not a teachable moment by Jesus meant for his disciples), then the woman at the border and the Holy Spirit conspired to convince Jesus that his vision was at that moment too small.

The Canaanite woman is both persistent and persuasive, using every tactic at hand because she is desperate on behalf of her possessed daughter. Jesus was encountering an irresistible force-- a mother who refused to let her child suffer.  In the exchange with Jesus, she takes the insult to her pagan status (non-Jews were regarded as "dogs") and turns it back on Jesus. If the children's food should not be given to the dogs under the table, at least the scraps that children are known to drop ought to go to the "puppies."  

Her logic is not only compelling, but Jesus seems to sense that there is a higher power at work here. He who preached so often about his Abba's love for his children, or about fathers who would never give their child a stone if he asked for bread, was cornered by the woman's compassion. Was this not a direct message from the God of Mercy Jesus was announcing to Israel?  And if mercy is infinite, how can he say that it stops at the border?  

Jesus knows he is witnessing a miracle of healing that has already been granted because of this pagan woman's great faith. He commends her and learns from her that the Holy Spirit wants him to extend his mission beyond Israel to the whole world.  

We will know that our faith is genuine if it keeps expanding beyond our expectations and assumptions.  Need will show us where God is at work, not borders or rules or exclusive standards that define who is and who is not worthy of our love. It is a hard lesson, but if Jesus could learn it, so should we.