Barriers Broken Down
AFTER the encounter with the Pharisees,
Jesus withdrew from Capernaum, and crossing Galilee, repaired to the hill country on the
borders of Phoenicia. Looking westward, He could see, spread out upon the plain below, the
ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon, with their heathen temples, their magnificent palaces
and marts of trade, and the harbors filled with shipping. Beyond was the blue expanse of
the Mediterranean, over which the messengers of the gospel were to bear its glad tidings
to the centers of the world's great empire. But the time was not yet. The work before Him
now was to prepare His disciples for their mission. In coming to this region He hoped to
find the retirement He had failed to secure at Bethsaida. Yet this was not His only
purpose in taking this journey.
"Behold, a Canaanitish
woman came out from those borders, and cried, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, Thou Son
of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." Matt. 15:22, R. V. The
people of this district were of the old Canaanite race. They were idolaters, and were
despised and hated by the Jews. To this class belonged the woman who now came to Jesus.
She was a heathen, and was therefore excluded from the advantages which the Jews daily
were many Jews living among the Phoenicians, and the tidings of Christ's
work had penetrated to this region. Some of the people had listened to His words and had
witnessed His wonderful works. This woman had heard of the prophet, who, it was reported,
healed all manner of diseases. As she heard of His power, hope sprang up in her heart.
Inspired by a mother's love, she determined to present her daughter's case to Him. It was
her resolute purpose to bring her affliction to Jesus. He must heal her child. She had
sought help from the heathen gods, but had obtained no relief. And at times she was
tempted to think, What can this Jewish teacher do for me? But the word had come, He heals
all manner of diseases, whether those who come to Him for help are rich or poor. She
determined not to lose her only hope.
Christ knew this woman's
situation. He knew that she was longing to see Him, and He placed Himself in her path. By
ministering to her sorrow, He could give a living representation of the lesson He designed
to teach. For this He had brought His disciples into this region. He desired them to see
the ignorance existing in cities and villages close to the land of Israel. The people who
had been given every opportunity to understand the truth were without a knowledge of the
needs of those around them. No effort was made to help souls in darkness. The partition
wall which Jewish pride had erected, shut even the disciples from sympathy with the
heathen world. But these barriers were to be broken down.
Christ did not immediately
reply to the woman's request. He received this representative of a despised race as the
Jews would have done. In this He designed that His disciples should be impressed with the
cold and heartless manner in which the Jews would treat such a case, as evinced by His
reception of the woman, and the compassionate manner in which He would have them deal with
such distress, as manifested by His subsequent granting of her petition.
But although Jesus did not
reply, the woman did not lose faith. As He passed on, as if not hearing her, she followed
Him, continuing her supplications. Annoyed by her importunities, the disciples asked Jesus
to send her away. They saw that their Master treated her with indifference, and they
therefore supposed that the prejudice of the Jews against the Canaanites was pleasing to
Him. But it was a pitying Saviour to whom the woman made her plea, and in answer to the
request of the disciples, Jesus said, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the
of Israel." Although this answer appeared to be in accordance with the
prejudice of the Jews, it was an implied rebuke to the disciples, which they afterward
understood as reminding them of what He had often told them,--that He came to the world to
save all who would accept Him.
The woman urged her case with
increased earnestness, bowing at Christ's feet, and crying, "Lord, help me."
Jesus, still apparently rejecting her entreaties, according to the unfeeling prejudice of
the Jews, answered, "It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to
dogs." This was virtually asserting that it was not just to lavish the blessings
brought to the favored people of God upon strangers and aliens from Israel. This answer
would have utterly discouraged a less earnest seeker. But the woman saw that her
opportunity had come. Beneath the apparent refusal of Jesus, she saw a compassion that He
could not hide. "Truth, Lord," she answered, "yet the dogs eat of the
crumbs which fall from their masters' table." While the children of the household eat
at the father's table, even the dogs are not left unfed. They have a right to the crumbs
that fall from the table abundantly supplied. So while there were many blessings given to
Israel, was there not also a blessing for her? She was looked upon as a dog, and had she
not then a dog's claim to a crumb from His bounty?
Jesus had just departed from
His field of labor because the scribes and Pharisees were seeking to take His life. They
murmured and complained. They manifested unbelief and bitterness, and refused the
salvation so freely offered them. Here Christ meets one of an unfortunate and despised
race, that has not been favored with the light of God's word; yet she yields at once to
the divine influence of Christ, and has implicit faith in His ability to grant the favor
she asks. She begs for the crumbs that fall from the Master's table. If she may have the
privilege of a dog, she is willing to be regarded as a dog. She has no national or
religious prejudice or pride to influence her course, and she immediately acknowledges
Jesus as the Redeemer, and as being able to do all that she asks of Him.
The Saviour is satisfied. He
has tested her faith in Him. By His dealings with her, He has shown that she who has been
regarded as an outcast from Israel is no longer an alien, but a child in God's household.
As a child it is her privilege to share in the Father's gifts. Christ now grants her
request, and finishes the lesson to the disciples. Turning to her with a look of pity and
love, He says, "O woman, great is thy faith:
be it unto thee even as thou
wilt." From that hour her daughter became whole. The demon troubled her no more. The
woman departed, acknowledging her Saviour, and happy in the granting of her prayer.
This was the only miracle that
Jesus wrought while on this journey. It was for the performance of this act that He went
to the borders of Tyre and Sidon. He wished to relieve the afflicted woman, and at the
same time to leave an example in His work of mercy toward one of a despised people for the
benefit of His disciples when He should no longer be with them. He wished to lead them
from their Jewish exclusiveness to be interested in working for others besides their own
Jesus longed to unfold the
deep mysteries of the truth which had been hid for ages, that the Gentiles should be
fellow heirs with the Jews, and "partakers of His promise in Christ by the
gospel." Eph. 3:6. This truth the disciples were slow to learn, and the divine
Teacher gave them lesson upon lesson. In rewarding the faith of the centurion at
Capernaum, and preaching the gospel to the inhabitants of Sychar, He had already given
evidence that He did not share the intolerance of the Jews. But the Samaritans had some
knowledge of God; and the centurion had shown kindness to Israel. Now Jesus brought the
disciples in contact with a heathen, whom they regarded as having no reason above any of
her people, to expect favor from Him. He would give an example of how such a one should be
treated. The disciples had thought that He dispensed too freely the gifts of His grace. He
would show that His love was not to be circumscribed to race or nation.
When He said, "I am not
sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," He stated the truth, and in His
work for the Canaanite woman He was fulfilling His commission. This woman was one of the
lost sheep that Israel should have rescued. It was their appointed work, the work which
they had neglected, that Christ was doing.
This act opened the minds of
the disciples more fully to the labor that lay before them among the Gentiles. They saw a
wide field of usefulness outside of Judea. They saw souls bearing sorrows unknown to those
more highly favored. Among those whom they had been taught to despise were souls longing
for help from the mighty Healer, hungering for the light of truth, which had been so
abundantly given to the Jews.
Afterward, when the Jews
turned still more persistently from the disciples, because they declared Jesus to be the
Saviour of the world,
and when the partition wall between Jew and Gentile was broken down
by the death of Christ, this lesson, and similar ones which pointed to the gospel work
unrestricted by custom or nationality, had a powerful influence upon the representatives
of Christ, in directing their labors.
The Saviour's visit to
Phoenicia and the miracle there performed had a yet wider purpose. Not alone for the
afflicted woman, nor even for His disciples and those who received their labors, was the
work accomplished; but also "that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son
of God; and that believing ye might have life through His name." John 20:31. The same
agencies that barred men away from Christ eighteen hundred years ago are at work today.
The spirit which built up the partition wall between Jew and Gentile is still active.
Pride and prejudice have built strong walls of separation between different classes of
men. Christ and His mission have been misrepresented, and multitudes feel that they are
virtually shut away from the ministry of the gospel. But let them not feel that they are
shut away from Christ. There are no barriers which man or Satan can erect but that faith
In faith the woman of
Phoenicia flung herself against the barriers that had been piled up between Jew and
Gentile. Against discouragement, regardless of appearances that might have led her to
doubt, she trusted the Saviour's love. It is thus that Christ desires us to trust in Him.
The blessings of salvation are for every soul. Nothing but his own choice can prevent any
man from becoming a partaker of the promise in Christ by the gospel.
Caste is hateful to God. He
ignores everything of this character. In His sight the souls of all men are of equal
value. He "hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of
the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their
habitation; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after Him, and find
Him, though He be not far from every one of us." Without distinction of age, or rank,
or nationality, or religious privilege, all are invited to come unto Him and live.
"Whosoever believeth on Him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference."
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free." "The rich
and poor meet together: the Lord is the Maker of them all." "The same Lord over
all is rich unto all that call upon Him. For whosoever shall call upon the name of the
Lord shall be saved." Acts 17:26, 27; Gal. 3:28; Prov. 22:2; Rom. 10:11-13.