Faith Like a Dog
Jan 9, 2015 2112
By Eliezer Gonzalez
I am always impressed by the story of the encounter between the Canaanite woman and Jesus in Matthew 15:21–28. It’s all about having faith like a dog.
The story ends with these words,
Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment. (v.28)
Jesus only ever said that someone had “great faith” twice – and on both of these occasions, he said it to the unlikeliest people. The other time was to the centurion in Matthew 8:10.
The story comes right after Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who thought that they were so holy on the inside that they didn’t want to be contaminated from the outside – particularly by other sinners.
And now this woman! She wasn’t the sort of person that the church back then thought that Jesus should be commending. She was after all a woman running around by herself outside her home. Much worse, she wasn’t even a member, but a complete pagan – a Canaanite! Everyone knew what their lives were like! And now she was running behind Jesus and the disciples, creating quite a scene, continually yelling,
Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! (Matt 15:22)
She was quite the nuisance, this one! When Jesus by implication calls her and her people “dogs,” (v.26) how smugly the disciples must have nodded to themselves! And that was Jesus’ precise intention, to show up their loveless, twisted thinking. Because he goes on to grant her request and accept her into the family of grace.
We must accept from the words of Christ himself that this woman indeed had a great faith. If so, on what was her faith based?
Her faith did not depend her gender. Jesus went out of his way to uplift women in the eyes of the religious community of his day, and this story is a prime example. When Jesus commended only two people in all of the gospel narratives for their great faith, they were a man and a woman, to show that great faith is not the prerogative of one sex alone. Women and men alike can be great in faith in the eyes of the Lord – and that it all that matters. Faith does not depend on the relative value that society places on a human being, whether based on gender, class, or ethnicity, or anything else.
Her faith did not depend on the church that she belonged to. She didn’t belong to the “correct” church of the day, if we may say that that was Judaism. After all, Jesus had earlier said to another woman, “Salvation is of the Jews.” (John 4:22). And this Canaanite was as far away from being a Jew as she could possibly be. Even the Samaritans shared some religious beliefs with the Jews. The Canaanites were complete pagans. From today’s Christian perspective, this woman didn’t belong to the right denomination; she wasn’t even a Christian at all. She hadn’t even once been a Christian. She was just a totally “worldly person,” from the church’s perspective, doing whatever the world does.
Her faith did not depend on her knowledge. Not on her knowledge of theology. She had none. Her church back then, like too many churches today believe that the more you know about the Bible the more faith you will have. Not so. Not only did this woman no nothing about theology at all, but she probably knew hardly anything about Christ who stood before her. All the may have know was the news that had travelled from Galilee about the Carpenter who healed wondrously healed the sick and whom people were referring to as the “Messiah, the Son of David.” Even what that title meant was largely foreign to her – she probably interpreted it only in terms of her own need of healing for her daughter.
Christ lived in a religious culture where it was the church that defined what it meant to have faith. And in this encounter with this Canaanite woman, Jesus demonstrated that this was not the case at all. Jesus proved that what the church defined as faith was not faith at all. Jesus showed that too often it is the people who should have the faith have no faith at all, and that the people whom are considered beneath having faith are the people who have the greatest faith.
And it shocks us today just like it shocked the disciples. And so it should.
Faith like a dog.
So… in what does a great faith consist, according to this story?
A great faith consists in persistently holding on the Jesus, though undeserving, and believing against all earthly odds, that he will act towards you according to his character of love.
This is the essential quality of faith. Compared to this, the rest is just detail.