Devotional Thought

For years, I've had a fascination with the Matthew 15 passage involving Jesus and a Canaanite woman (a "Syro-Phoenician" woman if you're taking cues from Mark's gospel). The short 8-verse passage is dripping with allusion, implication, and controversy. It's a cornucopia of possibilities - whether you're interested in Christological, ecclesiastical, socio-cultural, narrative, gender, or ethnic issues, there's something for everyone to chew on. And, while we could spend all day dissecting the potential meanings and implications for Jesus' short dialogue with the woman and His miraculous healing of her daughter, the woman's initiating remarks have been my most recent interest: 

"Have mercy on me, Lord - Son of David"

The first part ("Have mercy on me, Lord") seems to be fairly common as a supplication of inferiors to a superior. Most commentators will note that the title "Lord," while appearing to be a recognition of Jesus' divinity, was a fairly common title applied to someone of higher status by someone of lower status. (The Spanish Señor for Lord does a pretty good job of approximating this posture.) Used here, it's likely simply a term of obeisance on the lips of a gentile woman who recognized her place, as understood by a Jewish Rabbi. However, the term "Son of David" is especially curious. Throughout Matthew, "Son of David" appears to have strong connotations with the term "messiah," which, for most Jews at the time, had distinct political and religious ties, especially relating to the longed-for Davidic kingship of Israel. It also appears to be behind Jesus' use of the term "Kingdom of Heaven' and "Kingdom of God." In fact, scholars have posited that the term "Son of David" - and people's acceptance or rejection of Jesus as such - is a key to understanding the Gospel of Matthew. One can see the importance of this term by way of its regular use throughout Matthew, even going back to the genealogy in chapter 1 introducing the entire book with "[...] this is Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham."

However we may see it, it's interesting that it's on the lips of a "Canaanite" woman. Conceivably, she has no stake in Jesus as Israel's potential king. Throughout their histories, Israel and the surrounding nations had constantly been at odds with each other - at various points, conquering and being conquered by each other. It seems as if she might even have a vested interest in seeing Israel not succeed in re-establishing a kingship, especially with Rome so tightly around their necks. But, somehow she recognizes what the religious and political leaders of Jesus' day seem unable - or unwilling - to recognize: that Jesus is indeed the messiah, prophesied about within the Old Testament. Strange.

For me, the strangeness begins to take on a familiarity when we take another look at the aforementioned genealogy in chapter 1. Anyone who peruses the list of names will quickly notice that it's filled with a who's who of Hebrew all-stars: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Judah, David, Solomon, Hezekiah, Josiah. Some heavy hitters, for sure. But, if you go back over it again, 4 names stick out in the list: among the 42 men (3 sets of 14), one can see 4 women, at least 2 of which are non-Israelite (many scholars will argue that all 4 are actually gentile women). In light of Jesus' interaction with the Canaanite woman, one is especially interesting.

Verse 5 reads "Salmon was the father of Boaz by Rahab." If you remember your book of Joshua, you'll remember that in chapter 2, as Israel is about to launch into its Canaan campaign, 2 spies go to scope out their first city of conquest: Jericho. They happen upon the inn-keeper Rahab who explains to them just how terrified Jericho is of their impending invasion: 

“I know that the Lord has given you the land, and that the terror of you has fallen on us, and that all the inhabitants of the land have melted away before you. For we have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. When we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you" (Joshua 2:9-11a, NASB)

She then makes a request of the Israelite spies: "[...] the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household, and give me a pledge of truth, and spare my father and my mother and my brothers and my sisters, with all who belong to them, and deliver our lives from death.” (Joshua 2:11b-13, NASB)

A Canaanite confessing the supremacy of Yahweh, requesting favor from the incoming Israelite army in the face of the desolation of her family - a shadow of that Canaanite centuries later acknowledging the Messiah-ship of the Son of David, desperate for healing kindness for her daughter?

I'll admit. The romantic and poetic in me wants think that Jesus was thinking of Rahab as he was interacting with the Canaanite woman, or, at least, that Matthew had the person of Rahab in mind as he was editing the story of his gospel message. But, even if not - even if this particular connection is purely incidental, it is one of a myriad occurrences throughout the gospels which illustrates the broader truth: that "[...] the Lord your God, [is] a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate [him], but showing loving-kindness to thousands, to those who love [him] and keep [his] commandments."

We serve a God who delights in mercy - who, at the slightest provocation, extends His loving-kindness. Our God's favor is resilient and his grace is robust. While His justice demands that sin is taken seriously, His fatherly compassion seeks every opportunity to draw us to Himself, even if that compassion means he bears the marks of justice on his own body. 

We revel in this mercy, not that we might test its limits, but that we might confidently put our full weight on its mass and find in its strength the assurance to live fearlessly in the power of the Spirit. As the Canaanite woman can be tied to Rahab, great-great grandmother of King David, through the simple act of believing supplication, may we be the spiritual ancestors of the Canaanite woman, throwing ourselves into God's faithfulness. Be assured - it will support you.

Your District Admin.

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