One reason Ebola is so hard to contain in West Africa is that many people in that region distrust western medicine. It is very tough to leap by faith across a cultural divide. That’s also why westerners have a hard time trusting Chinese medicine. Culture gets in the way of faith.
For that reason, it was startling when Jesus encountered a woman from a pagan culture, north of Israel.
Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite (not Jewish) woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.” Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” (Matthew 15:21-26 – with my added comment)
Why did Jesus call this woman and her people “dogs?” Was He being racist? To the contrary, I think He was chiding the disciples for their attitude. A woman comes, crying out in desperation and they want Jesus to send her away, presumably, because she wasn’t Jewish! Jesus was using irony, and He softened the insulting word, using an affectionate word for puppy or pet instead.
And Jesus didn’t send her away! He spoke to her, recognizing that she had dared leave her culture to trust in Him. Her people worshiped the pagan god of healing, Eshmun, whose temple was only about 3 miles away. But Instead of going to Eshmun for help, she had come to Jesus! Even as He was subtly rebuking His disciples, He also was checking to see if this woman really had faith in Him.
“Yes, Lord,” she said, “but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.” (Matthew 15:27-28, NIV)
Did you notice that this woman didn’t have all the “right” doctrine? She’d never been to Sunday School. She simply believed that Jesus could help her and she wasn’t taking “no” for an answer. And He did help her.
God’s rescue began with the Jewish people. But it was always meant for all peoples. Even for you. Maybe you have wrapped yourself in a culture that makes it hard to trust Jesus to help you. Maybe you don’t think you know enough about the Bible. But if you need Jesus, and if you are ready, so is He.
Quotes: The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.