Jean’s Gospel: Faith Is Not A Feeling
“And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.’ But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us.’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ She said, ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matt 15:21-28)
A wise pastor once told me that the answer “Because he makes me feel so happy!” to the question “Why do you want to marry Johnny?” is a warning signal that this pastor looks for during pre-marital counseling. It is a warning signal because feelings, which are fickle, do not provide a trustworthy foundation for a lifelong marriage vow.
Similarly, feelings do not provide us with a trustworthy foundation for a relationship with Jesus Christ. Our feelings are subjective and often do not reflect the reality of God’s grace. Therefore, the only trustworthy foundation for a relationship with Jesus is in His Word, which is objective, unchangeable, unthwartable and eternal. The story of the Canaanite woman teaches us that the Word of God often must prevail over our feelings if we are to attain the grace of God.
“Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” (Matt 15:22)
When the Canaanite woman enters the scene, she is full of faith in Christ. She has heard the Gospel and understands three things: (1) Jesus is Lord and Messiah; (2) she is a sinner in need of mercy; and (3) Jesus has the authority and power to grant her request.
“But he did not answer her a word.” (Matt 15:23a)
Jesus first gave the woman the silent treatment. In response to her prayer for mercy, Jesus was as silent as a stone. If the women relied on her feelings, she probably would have taken His silence for a “no”. But that is not where she sought her answer. Her faith was in the Gospel she had heard of Him. Perhaps she had heard: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28) “All” means “all”, right? Jesus did not answer “no” and the woman did not take His silence as a “no.”
“And his disciples came and begged him, saying, ‘Send her away, for she is crying out after us’ He answered, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ ” (Matt 15:23b-24)
Next Jesus’ disciples interceded for this woman. But this time Jesus responded in words, which sound very discouraging to feelings. First, Jesus appears to rebuff the request of His own disciples. Second, even if God’s Word is trustworthy, when if it was not given for her? If this woman relied on her feelings, at this point she probably would have fled Christ’s presence.
But, could this Canaanite woman possibly count herself among the house of Israel? Jesus did not say she was not one of His sheep? Perhaps she had heard: “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 8:11) This woman had to forsake her feelings and hold fast to His Word alone a second time. She found goodness in His answer and will not pass judgment that Christ is ungracious.
“But she came and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me.’ And he answered, ‘It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ ” (Matt 15:25-26)
Jesus’ third response was directly to the poor woman. And we must not empty His words of their severity. If Jesus was speaking of the woman, then He just compared her to a dog, an unclean animal according to Jewish law, who would not be worthy to partake of the children’s bread. But notice that although Jesus appears hardhearted and offensive to feelings and reason, still He did not say “no” to this woman. His grace, however, was deeply concealed before her face.
“ ‘Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus answered her, ‘O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly.” (Matt 15:27-28)
Jesus gave this woman essentially four options: (1) she could cease believing that Jesus is who she had heard He is – a gracious Lord; (2) she could accept His judgment and depart from Him in despair of her own unworthiness; (3) she could argue with Jesus about whether in fact His judgment of her is correct; or (4) she could agree with his Judgment and concede her unworthiness, but claim no more than what a dog is entitled to, namely that she might eat the crumbs that fall from the table of her Lord.
The woman could not judge Jesus’ intentions with her feelings, but she could let Him be judged by His own words. As Paul later wrote: “Let God be true though every one were a liar, as it is written, ‘That you [God] may be justified in your words, and prevail when you are judged.’ ” (Rom 3:4)
The poor woman conceded that she is a dog. His judgment is just. But by conceding this point, she catches Him: “Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim 1:15). She will ask for nothing more than what a dog is entitled to, namely that she may eat the crumbs that fall from His table. As a dog, she is entitled to the crumbs. In response Jesus opened his heart to her – “O woman, great is your faith!” – and yielded to her request. The woman departed from Jesus not a dog, but a child of Israel.
In this story Jesus shows us that the proper object of our faith and trust is in the objective Word of God, which has been written and preserved for us and our salvation. Conversely, He shows us in dramatic fashion how unreliable and treacherous it is to base our faith and trust in Jesus on subjective feelings and emotions, which wax and wane.
“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25) Amen.
“The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.” (2 Cor 13:14) Amen.