FOR SUCH A REPLY
Key Verse 7:29
“Then he told her, ‘For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.’”
The contrast between Jesus’ disciples and the Pharisees and their disciples was stark. While Jesus taught his disciples to live by faith in God, the Pharisees lived according to the Jewish tradition. While Jesus helped his disciples to live before the eyes of God, the Pharisees ended up living before the eyes of one another. Some of these traditions were the washing of hands before eating meals, and many more things like that. So, to the eyes of the world, the Pharisees seemed pretty well disciplined, and inordinately religious, while Jesus’ disciples seemed as a rag tag bunch of undisciplined men without manners and without a sense for what is good and holy. Clearly, Jesus’ disciples seemed very much piggish to the eyes of the Pharisees who seemed to be well behaved and who lived and acted with impeccable religious decorum. One day they openly criticized Jesus’ disciples for eating with unwashed, that is “unclean” hands. If it were not for Jesus’ response, we would have also wondered why those who followed Jesus were shrugging off religious ceremony all together. But then Jesus rebuked the Pharisees, accusing them of putting religious ceremony ahead of God. And Jesus also defended his disciples when he taught them and the whole world about what God really cares for. He cares little for religious ceremony because it does nothing to touch the inner heart of people. Washing hands and doing religious things does nothing to help the hearts and souls of people. What good is washing hands if the heart remains unclean! What good is religious ceremony if the heart remains so far away from God.
Then Jesus taught everyone a parable. He said: “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him “unclean” by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him “unclean”. It was a revolutionary teaching at the time. The Pharisees had based their whole religious life on such teachings as what to do and what to do in order to make themselves clean before God. But Jesus here is saying that nothing in this world or with worldly origin can make a person clean before God. Why? Later on Jesus explained this to his disciples. He said: “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him “unclean”? For it does not go into his heart, but into his stomach, and then out of his body.” Jesus continued saying: It’s “What comes out of a man” that makes him “unclean”, because it’s the heart itself is Unclean and from it all kinds of terrible things come out, actions, words, evil desires and such. It’s the heart. The heart is what God looks at, and it’s the heart that needs cleaning, and not hands and feet and such. So, nothing man can do can clean his own heart because the heart itself is full of evil, and corrupts the soul and keeps that man away from God, and condemned. The Pharisees did not understand that. They thought they could get close to God through all the religious activities that they were so good at keeping. But Jesus turned his attention to his disciples and helped them see one great truth. He helped them see that it’s the heart that needs cleaning. It’s the heart that God would cleanse so that people can be able to stand in the presence of God. And it’s therefore, only God who is able to cleanse the heart and make it clean. We know now from the gospel teaching that only the blood of Jesus can cleanse our hearts from all the evil things that lurk within. We know the price Jesus paid in order to make this possible for us. And we also know this from experience, that when a person turns to Jesus in repentance, in resignation and in faith, Jesus cleanses that man or woman’s heart and brings that soul to God holy and clean.
In the last passage, the issue of what is clean and unclean was a big issue for the Pharisees who criticized Jesus and his disciples for not living according to religious and cultural tradition. It was as sore point for everyone involved because most people really thought that it was enough for someone to follow the traditional ceremonies in order to attract God’s attention and to be on God’s safe side. So, this next passage about the Greek woman clarified everything for the disciples who were blown away by what Jesus had said about what is clean or unclean in the sight of God. It also clarifies things for us as well. What does God want from us? Isn’t it enough that we follow church rules and regulations, be diligent in our activities and in doing what is good and right as a Christian and a good citizen. No its not enough. So what does God want from us? Jesus answers this question in this passage. God wants faith. God wants us to know for certain that we are “unclean” at heart, no matter how good we may be. He wants us to know that there is nothing we do can cleanse our hearts. And that he alone can do it— when we put our faith in Jesus. Not only does he make our hearts clean, he pours out his blessing form heaven so that our hearts can continue to be cleansed by him alone as we seek and follow him. So here is the story.
Jesus had attacked the Jewish religious system and practice and exposed it for what it really was– a hypocrisy that can never touch the one thing that needs to be touched before one can reconcile with God—the heart. Jesus had angered them, because he had turned their world upside down by claiming that while their outward lives were good and holy, their inner lives were full of evil things. We are certain that his life was now in danger because these people were the police of the day and they would prosecute him to death. But to Jesus who had come to give his life away on our behalf, it did not matter. He would teach the truth of God even if it cost him his life. So what happened after Jesus dropped this amazing truth in their laps? Look at verse 24. He went north to the city of Tyre. Now to many of us today, it seems that Tyre was just another of the many cities of Jesus’ time. But it wasn’t. It was first, a Gentile city, and next a major hub of evil. One of the most notorious enemies of God in the old testament, and a queen in Israel, came from there. She had married the king of Israel, and went on a crusade to kill all of God’s priests and holy people. She nearly succeeded if not for Elijah who saved the day by his faith and prayer. To the Jews, then, Tyre was a most unholy city and terribly “unclean”. That is nothing good could ever come from there, while all its people were just waiting to receive the wrath of God upon them. Tyre was considered a most ungodly people who were fit for nothing but judgment. A good Jew would not be caught in a city like that.
But here is the thing. Jesus didn’t think so, and that’s all that matters. He went straight there! He went there for many reasons. Some think that Jesus went there to escape the persecution of the Jews, or for a short respite from the angry religious leaders who consistently harassed Jesus and his disciples. While that may be true in a sense, we believe that Jesus, the Holy And Almighty God, went there to find a woman of faith—a woman who in God’s eyes was not “unclean” As the Jews thought, but who had the faith that makes a person clean in the sight of God, and brings about God’s many blessings. Jesus wanted to who us all that faith alone is what God is looking for, faith alone is what God treasures most, that faith alone is good enough for God regardless of whether the person seems clean, or not to the eyes of others. Its faith alone that makes a person clean in the sight of God.
Read verses 25,26. “In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.” This one is truly a unique woman. We do not know her name. But we know that in every way she was a foreigner– the Bible identifies her as Middle Eastern woman of Greek origin living in the dirty city of Tyre. She had been a pagan– a worshiper of the false gods of that infamous city. And we know that her daughter had fallen prey to an evil spirit. The evil spirit had possessed her little daughter and made her behave very strangely, such that there was no doubt that her behavior was not a normal behavior of a troublesome child but clearly an unclean spirit. Her mother may have thought at first that it was nothing but a phase she was going through. But her behavior got worse, and now she was absolutely out of control. Her mother didn’t know what to do. All the gods of the city of Tyre didn’t seem to be able to help her daughter. Then she heard that Jesus was in town. She was a Gentile, and she knew what the Jews thought of Gentiles. He was a Jew. More than that, he was a Rabbi, a teacher, a holy man a prophet. How would he receive her?
She struggled to go not knowing whether he would receive her or not. She was a despised foreigner. Still, she had to go to see him, because he was her only hope. When she came to him, she may have been blocked by the massive quarterback Peter. But she tackled him to the ground and made a dash for Jesus. Then she fell at his feet and begged him to heal her daughter. What a great woman she was. In order to do such a thing, she needed faith. She was an “unclean” woman who could not tell the difference between what is holy and what is unholy. She could not tell the difference between the God of heaven and the false gods on earth. Her heart was filled with all kinds of unclean things. But it really did not matter. What mattered the most was that she had faith in Jesus. And she had faith to come to Jesus by faith. And when she came by faith, it was the most beautiful act a human being can ever do in the sight of God— Jesus’ Father who had sent Jesus to us specifically for this— that we might recognize him for who he really is, the Savior, the Master, the owner and creator of our lives.
She was on her knees begging Jesus for the healing of her daughter. How did Jesus answer her? Read verse 27. “‘First let the children eat all they want,’ he told her, ‘for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.’” It is unbelievable what Jesus told her. What is he saying? He seemed to be saying that he was not willing to help her. He seemed to be saying that he was not willing to help her because he considered her a dog, and because she is a Gentile foreign dog, then it not would be proper for him to give to the dogs what belongs to the children. Incredibly, Jesus insulted her beyond our imagination. It is so much out of his character to treat anyone like this, let alone a grieving helpless woman. Why then did he tell her such harsh words? Of course, he told her this because the Lord Jesus, who sees everything in our hearts, saw her faith. He saw her great compassion for her troubled daughter. And Jesus– who always wants to take what little we have and multiply it– saw her great potential to grow—to mature in faith. So Jesus tested her faith in order to extend the limits of her faith. The Bible teaches us that faith can grow. That faith can mature into something that can truly glorify God. And sometimes it takes God challenging our faith in many ways, in order to grow it to what it could become—something that God could use for his glory.
We cannot deny that Jesus loved her and saw in her a woman who had overcome all kinds of limitations and barriers simply because she had decided to put her faith in him. But not only that, this woman had the humility one needs in order to come before God. And when she came to him by faith, she also came in humility of heart. And that is not as easy as it may seem. To humble herself, she had denied her cultural pride and fell down at his feet. She came begging. This kind of faith is just amazing and precious. This kind of faith called for the Savior to recognize it and to give it a push forward until it could grow and become a light shining in the thick darkness around her. And in her, Jesus could see all the unclean Gentiles changed into men and woman of faith dedicated to the service of God. In her Jesus saw hope.
How did she answer him? Read verse 28. “‘Yes, Lord,’ she replied, ‘but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’“ Apparently, she was not only a woman of faith and humility; she was also a wise woman. What kind of wisdom did she have? She knew that in the sight of God, she was truly undeserving—deserving of nothing. That is true wisdom for people to know that they are sinful, undeserving of God’s mercy, that they are not as good as others may think they are, that they are unclean on the inside, that there are things in their hearts deserving punishment and condemnation. That is wisdom. While foolish people think that they are good enough for God, that God owes them something, that God is pleased with them. Even though Jesus did not at all consider this woman a dog—for God does not consider any sinner a dog— she knew in her heart that as a sinner she was an unworthy woman and undeserving of Jesus’ grace.
She knew her own heart. When she stood before Jesus, she did not stand as a righteous woman. She stood as a helpless sinner pleading for God’s mercy. When she stood before Jesus, she felt that his holiness was too much and her unholiness was overwhelming. Yet when she saw herself in the light of Jesus, she did not despair. She was not offended at what he said. She was not discouraged. She was all the more insistent that he sheds his grace on her. Her faith was the faith that went beyond all obstacles and hindrances, and held on to the grace of Jesus. She knew she was not deserving. So she asked that she be treated as a dog for dogs are allowed the crumbs that fall from the children’s table. What a response! In this reply, she revealed the character of true faith– the faith that pleases God. While the Pharisees were too self righteous, and blind to the truth of God, this woman was humble and aware of her own wretchedness and unworthiness before God. While they considered themselves “clean” and this woman “unclean”, God considered them unclean and this woman clean. And she was cleansed through her faith in Jesus. Her heart was made clean when she let go of all her pride, and held on only to faith. And her faith became one of the many stories of the heroes of faith recorded in the Bible for us to learn from and to imitate.
It is not hard for us to turn into Pharisees, when we hold on to our own righteousness and hold on to our pride while ignoring the word of God and our inner person. But it is hard to be like this woman—to put aside my pride and hold on to Jesus. But in the end, Only Jesus counts, and only faith in Jesus counts and can bring us to blessing upon blessing. We need to grow in faith, especially in this woman’s faith. There are too many proud people who cannot see themselves in the light of Jesus. They think they are better than others and can only criticize them. There are too many proud people who do not know how to humble themselves before God. But Jesus our loving Lord teaches us the importance of humility and of faith—because he wants to cleanse our hearts and bring about for us the blessing of healing and growing as his dear children who know his grace and mercy. Jesus said to this woman, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter. She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.” She had faith. She held on to her faith. And she received the blessing of Jesus. May God give us such victory of faith in our lives every day. And may we plant his kind of faith in our students hearts so that they too may be blessed. Amen.