For many people, their connection to the church is direct because it is the only place they can express their pain and despair. This means there is no equality of suffering in the church. Each person comes into the house of God bearing their own particular, specific cross. On the other hand, they are all equal in how the Father views their crosses. This is why they come in the first place: hoping beyond any reasonable hope for a diagnosis and means of treatment for their pain and despair that they have not yet discovered in this world.
God used this woman to humble us. That’s why we are offended by his words.
Take the Canaanite woman, for example. Who can quantify a mother’s pain? Jesus’ disciples seemed to assume they were equipped to qualify her despair, but Jesus immediately reprimanded them for their presumption by ignoring their exhortations and talking to the woman instead. This mother came to Jesus believing that he could make her painful past disappear and that he had power in the world to heal her daughter. That was worth some brief response, at least.
So it comes as a great shock to us that Jesus didn’t immediately shower her in grace. He didn’t immediately grant her request by healing her daughter. Instead, he first hunted up her faith. Why are we scandalized, as if this is some great conundrum? Why are we upset that God was making an example of her, making us deal with reality on the same footing as his disciples?
Was he indicating to us that she was a worthless human being? Was he attacking her motives? No, he wasn’t attacking her at all. He wasn’t making an example of her for our sake. God used this woman to humble us. That’s why we are offended by his words. We are not concerned about this woman at all. We are worried for ourselves, just as Jesus’ disciples were worried about themselves. We bitterly think there’s only so much of God to go around, and a woman like this, a dog-gentile, as they were called at the time, is drawing away attention from us to herself and her pitiful, beggarly prayers.
This woman was a walking, talking, painfully wretched parable of God’s love for his sons and daughters.
But Jesus had already discerned that she had great faith, as he later stated. It was obvious to anyone who had eyes to see that she had come so Jesus could save her daughter from disaster. She’d traveled many miles to find him, pushing through demoralization, clinging to trust, having been through a certain kind of mill to get to that place, having left her daughter to find him; the last desperate attempt of a mother who’d run out of options.
And what did she receive there? She received a gift and was made a gift to us, along with her afflicted daughter. Jesus was teaching the disciples and us what the word “love” means. This woman was a walking, talking, painfully wretched parable of God’s love for his sons and daughters. Even the crumbs that fall from God’s table - as worthless as they may appear to us who eat their fill day after day - are manna from heaven for those who are desperately focused on what God can do to alleviate sin, death, and the devil’s violation of life.
So we are encouraged to have faith like the Canaanite mother, to accept that a new identity is forged for us by God’s charity toward us. The example of the Canaanite woman reveals this to us: our connection to our Savior is direct, and he will not only listen to us express our pain and despair, but he will do something with these beyond what we believe is reasonable or even possible. He will remove pain and despair from us.
Jesus not only healed her daughter, but he also gave himself to her. Wherever she went from then on, he was with her.
But before we rejoice or raise an objection based on our actual experiences of unrequited suffering, we must descend deeper than we have ever before descended. See, Jesus was not just healing the woman’s daughter. That would be remarkable all by itself, but it would not alleviate the mother’s work going forward. She would still have to work day in and day out to keep her daughter alive. She would still have to suffer daily, imagining her daughter’s future and death. So we must plunge into faith’s heart. We must descend into the depths, down to the tectonic fissures from which that mother’s faith (and ours) erupts. We must go to where our pain and despair originate because when we find that place, we, like the Canaanite mother, will find Jesus.
Jesus not only healed her daughter, but he also gave himself to her. Wherever she went from then on, he was with her. His Spirit and his promise went with her, even through death, into eternal life because, as the Apostle Paul wrote: “It is no longer I who lives, but Christ who lives in me, so that the life I now live, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and took on the punishment for my sin” (Gal. 2:20, translation mine).
And not just the woman, but her daughter too. And not just the daughter, but us and everyone else who comes begging for relief. We come to hear the truth and see reality from our Savior’s point of view. Our redeemer Jesus says, “Everything that sin, this world, and the devil have done to you, they have actually been doing to me. Like my disciples before, and you do now, sin, death, and the devil do not want a God who liberates those who suffer from pain and despair through the forgiveness of sin.”
It’s a hard word but a good one nonetheless because we do not suffer pain and despair. It is Christ in us who suffers for us so that we can live in the hope of life eternal, freed from the anguish and hopelessness that results from the thousands of struggles we go through in our lifetimes. Now we are given a good word, a true word from God almighty that overcomes everything that stands between his charity and us. And that word is: “You have great faith! Your prayer is granted. And from that very hour, you are healed.”