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The Canaanite Woman

The Canaanite Woman

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THE incident of the Canaanite woman stands by itself
without parallel in the gospel story.

THE incident of the Canaanite woman stands by itself
without parallel in the gospel story.

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Published by: GLENN DALE PEASE on Jan 27, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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THE incident of the Canaanite woman stands by itself without parallel in the gospel story. The time,the place, the nationality of the woman, her conduct, andthe treatment she receives, are- all unique. Jesus was nowan exile from the familiar scenes of His labour among Hisfellow-countrymen of Galilee, opposed by the leading authorities, rejected by the great body of the people, desertedby the bulk of His old followers, with only a dwindlingremnant still attached to Him, the tide of popularity havingentirely ebbed away. It was positively dangerous for Himto be discovered on Jewish territory. He had no fear forHimself, and the time was not far distant when He wasto set His face steadfastly to go up to Jerusalem, knowingthat it was to meet His death there ; but the training of the men who were to carry on His work was not yet complete, and therefore His "time" was "not yet come."Accordingly He was now in retirement with these faithfulfew at the remote north-west corner of Palestine, or perhaps actually over the border and in heathen territory.We may so read the account in Mark as to understandthat He walked through the streets of the ancient city of Tyre, where He found a house in which to rest, hopingthat He might remain there unknown. But that was notpossible, for the fame of the great Healer had penetratedeven to this distant city.Thus it came about that a native of these parts hearing1 Matt. xv. 21-28 ; Mark vii. 24-30.Ill142 WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENTof His presence in her neighbourhood daringly seized heropportunity, heathen as she was, and came to Him — St.
Mark says, into the very house — beseeching His help forher afflicted daughter. In Matthew she is described as"a Canaanite woman ;" in Mark as "a Greek, a Syro-Phcenician by race." "Phoenician" is just the Greek equivalent for "Canaanite." The old Phoenicia of Tyre and Sidonbeing now a part of the large Roman province of Syria, itcame to be called "Syro-Phoenicia" to distinguish it fromthe Phoenicia of North Africa, Carthage and its neighbourhood — the Punicus of the Romans, which is but a Latinising of the same name. The woman was therefore strictlyspeaking not a Greek at all. She is simply called a Greek in a general sense, as one who was not a Jew, and whobelonged to the outlying district which had all been comprehended in the Macedonian Empire, and into which theGreek language and civilisation had been introduced. Thecareful exactness with which St. Mark describes the racialrelations of this woman shows us how much importance heattaches to them. He makes it clear beyond all possibilityof dispute that she is no Jewess. She is not only a Gentile ;she is of the stock of Canaan — the people whom the Israelites had set themselves to exterminate like vermin — of therace of the Baal- worshippers in the days of the kings. Thisis to prepare us for the singular reception she receives fromJesus. That it does not quite prepare us for it, however,must be fairly admitted. The story is one of some perplexity even after every conceivable explanation has beengiven.A mother's undying love is the motive that sends theCanaanite woman on her daring quest. It is this thatsummons up her strength for the attempt, sustains herobstinate persistency in spite of discouraging rebuffs, andinspires her at the critical moment with a most delightfulrepartee, as humble as it is clever. She is the motherfighting for her child, and in her motherhood it appearsTHE CANAANITE WOMAN" 143that all racial and even all religious differences must belost sight of. Here we are at one of the great primitive
passions of human nature. The mother is at heart thesame, whether she be the Jewish Rizpah guarding herseven sons' corpses from the vultures, or the Greek Niobeweeping for her murdered children, Hagar, the outcastslave in -the desert, despairing for her son's life, or Jeroboam's queen secretly seeking counsel and help from theprophet of Jehovah in her desperate need while the youngheir to the throne of Israel lies dying in the palace atTirzah. History and legend give us replicas withoutnumber of a mother's devotion, heroism, self-sacrifice. Itis always the same story in spirit and character, thoughwith every possible variety of incident, the nearest to theDivine of all earthly events.Prompted by the indomitable urgency of a mother'sheart the Canaanite woman enters the presence of the Jewstranger, and casting herself at His feet cries, " Have pityon me, Lord, Son of David, for my daughter is terriblyafflicted with a demon possession." It is her daughter thatshe is pleading for, and yet in the first place she unwittingly begs for compassion on herself ; for the child's affliction is the mother's agony, and it is her own distress thatis visible to Christ as she lies prostrate before Him. Butthe strangest thing about her words is that she addressesJesus as the Jewish Messiah. He is the <: Son of David."We know that the Messianic idea had spread in a vagueway far over the East ; it must have been known in Tyre.But this woman has actually come to the faith in Jesus asthe fulfilment of that idea, a faith that has not yet foundexpression even among our Lord's intimate companions, forthe time is earlier than St. Peter's great confession. It isclear that the belief was in the air as a sort of surmise.Some accepted it, others had different explanations to offerfor the amazing career of the Prophet of Nazareth. Butthis heathen woman catches at the great title that she haa144 WOMEN OF THE NEW TESTAMENTsomehow heard attached to the name of Jesus and unhesitatingly offers it Him. His treatment of her shows that

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