Why did Jesus withdraw from Galilee and go to the region of Tyre and Sidon? Was it to escape danger from Herod and/or the Pharisees? Was he taking a vacation away from the crowds? My sense is that he was visiting “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” in the border regions around Galilee. He had work to do.
I have a few observations about this story.
- The responses of Jesus seem very rude to our modern sensibilities. We don’t talk to people that way and it surprises us to hear Jesus talk that way. I’ve heard lots of teaching that tries to soften what really happened, like that Jesus was just playacting to bring out the woman’s faith. I don’t buy it. I think we have to accept that Jesus was very much Jewish and very much a first century Jew. The scandal of particularity again. We may not like it, but here it is in our face.
- The woman evidently has some contact with the faith of Israel. She calls Jesus by a messianic title, calls him Lord, and asks for help. If Jesus is among the Jewish populations of the region, perhaps she lives in close contact with them and is sympathetic to their religion. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she is a proselyte, but perhaps a God-fearer.
- The woman bows to Jesus. I don’t know if we can give the word for obeisance the full Christian meaning of “worship”, but at least she is showing great humility.
- Though Jesus is harsh with the woman, he does not send her away as the disciples admonish him to do.
- The woman’s faith is remarkable, as Jesus notes, and her persistence is even more so. She is the very picture of “because of her importunity.”
- Jesus did not change his mind about his mission and start seeking believers from among the gentiles. This story is about one single woman with faith.
- Jesus heals her daughter in an instant and compliments the faith of the woman.