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5. Hurting Women Identified by Pain: A Canaanite & a Crippled Woman

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Time: Jesus' Third Year of Ministry, ~AD 29


During the third year of Jesus’ ministry, the “Year of Opposition,” Jesus fed five thousand plus, walked on water, calmed the storm, healed many who were brought to him and then taught some Pharisees and teachers of the law the difference between clean and unclean. He then withdrew, about fifty miles to the region of Tyre (some later manuscripts say “Tyre and Sidon”) on the Mediterranean coast (see map in “New Testament Insights”).

Tyre is an ancient seaport city of the Phoenicians north of Palestine consisting of a rocky coastal city and an island city. The Phoenicians were known for their trade and commerce and their skill as a seafaring people. Over time, the Persians, Greeks, Seleucids and Romans dominated Phoenicia. Throughout history, friendly relations existed between the Hebrews and Tyrians. In fact, Jewish communities were scattered throughout the region. The home where Jesus stayed was probably Jewish. In the New Testament period, a Christian community flourished at Tyre so that Paul even stayed with the believers there during his third missionary journey (Acts 21:1-7).

While in the region of Tyre, Jesus was approached by a Canaanite woman from that vicinity, also called a Greek woman from Syrian Phoenicia or a Syrophoenician (the north part of Phoenicia near Syria). If a Canaanite, she descended from an ancient tribe of Noah’s son Ham, a people later displaced by the nation Israel. A Canaanite also is an inhabitant of Canaan, the more ancient name of Palestine. Not all Canaanites were destroyed during the Israelites' conquest, and their religion impacted Israel’s history, especially when King Ahab married the Phoenician princess Jezebel.

The Canaanite or Phoenician religion featured many gods who were male and female representations of nature. Their primary god was called Baal, the god of thunder. Their religious practices included providing various kinds of animal offerings and participation in lewd, immoral acts with “sacred” prostitutes. The religion of these pagan people was basically a fertility cult in sharp contrast to the righteous religion of the Hebrews who worship the one true God, a God of holiness and love. It was providential that the nation Israel, with its testimony to the knowledge of the one true God and with its obligation to make known that fact, should inherit a country that formed a geographical bridge between the ancient centers of pagan civilization.

*Background information adapted from Nelson’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary and New Unger’s Bible Dictionary.

Day One Study

1. Read Matthew 15:1-21. Discuss Jesus’ teaching about what makes a person “clean” or “unclean.”

Getting to Know The Canaanite Woman

2. Read Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30. What could be the reason Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and didn’t want anyone to know it?

3. Describe the Canaanite woman and her circumstances.

4. Read the following scriptures. Identify some of the evidences/symptoms of demon possession.

  • Matthew 8:28—
  • Matthew 12:22—
  • Matthew 17:14-20—
  • Mark 9:17-29—
  • Luke 13:11,16—

5. Discuss how the Canaanite woman got Jesus’ attention (Matthew 15:22). Note: The phrase "crying out" means to “croak” (as a raven) or to call aloud (shriek, exclaim, entreat).

6. What did the woman ask Jesus to do?

7. How did the disciples respond to this woman and her need?

8. Jesus' answer to her in Matthew 15:24 and Mark 7:27 can be puzzling unless you know the background. Read Luke 1:68-75; Acts 10:36; Romans 15:8; Genesis 17:5-7; 18:18-19 and Zechariah 2:12, 8:7-8. After reading those verses, what insight do you get as to why Jesus answered as He did?

Day Two Study

9. Reread Matthew 15:21-28 and Mark 7:24-30 and the following description.

From the Greek: “worshipped (KJV)”, “knelt before him (NIV)” and “bowed down before him (NET)” is translated from the word proskuneo—meaning "to kiss, like a dog licking his master’s hand;" also defined as “prostrate oneself in homage”.

Discuss the interaction between Jesus and the woman. What is revealed about her character in this account?

From the Greek: “She took no offence at the implication of being a Gentile dog. Rather she with quick wit took Christ's very word for little dogs (kunaria) and deftly turned it to her own advantage, for the little dogs eat of the crumbs (psiciwn, little morsels) that fall from the table of their masters (kuriwn), the children.” (A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament, on Matthew 15:27.

10. How does Jesus meet her need?

11. What could the disciples have learned about ministry from this incident?

12. Living Out His Love: To intercede means to speak with someone in authority on behalf of someone else. This woman came to Jesus, an authority in her mind, and interceded for her daughter who was unable to come to Jesus on her own. Other examples of intercession are the four men who brought their paralyzed friend to Jesus in Mark 2:1-13. Both the Holy Spirit and Jesus Himself intercede for us in prayer when we are unable to do so. How persistent are you at interceding for those you love who may need your help and support? Share insights/examples on how best to intercede for them.

Focus on the Meaning: Why did Jesus perform so many miracles? The answer could simply be to show His authority and to draw the attention of the crowds to His message. His miracles demonstrated that He is God and that His message, therefore, had authority (Acts 2:22). Miracles authenticate the message and the messenger. Miracles also demonstrate God’s compassion for His people.

Through His miracles, Jesus showed that…

  • He has power beyond that of an ordinary man. The laws of the natural world, which He created, were not boundaries for Him.
  • He is the fulfillment of prophecy concerning the Messiah. When Jesus taught in Nazareth (Luke 4:18-21), He read from Isaiah 61:1-2, a prophecy describing the coming Messiah by the works He would do—healing the blind, freeing prisoners, and releasing the oppressed. Jesus basically finished by saying, "I am that one." People get so excited about the sensational that they miss the purpose which was to cause them to believe (John 10:25, 36-38; Acts 2:22; Hebrews 2:3b-4). He was their God. 
  • He is God on earth, Emmanuel. In John 6:25, Jesus calls miracles "signs."  A sign points to something. Everything He did pointed to the fact that He was the Messiah—God on Earth. The crowds just wanted the benefits—food, protection, and health. Jesus wanted people to hear the message and not be captivated by the miracles. This is important today because people are taken in by the unexplainable and the miraculous. And, we as women can be particularly vulnerable to this. It is very easy to get off focus when miracles are involved. The Jews were looking for a king to rescue them from the Romans not to rescue them from something worse—their slavery to sin.

God still performs miracles today though we may not see them as often as we’d like. Miracles still authenticate the message and the messenger. For someone claiming to do miraculous things, ask these questions to make sure that person is representing God:

  • What is her message?
  • Does he exult Jesus as the ONLY way to God?
  • Is the Bible her ONLY authority?
  • Is forgiveness of sins found ONLY through Jesus Christ?

Remember that the greatest miracle is what God does to change a human heart and redeem a lost life from the inside out.

Day Three Study

Historical Insight: The Jewish Synagogue—The practice among the Jewish people of Jesus' time was that the Jewish Synagogue building must be on a high point, if possible, the highest point in town. It should be near water, with the entrance to the east and the seats arranged so that the congregation faced Jerusalem when praying. For a town to have a synagogue at least ten Jewish men must live there.

Synagogues were places of worship and education. Here the young were trained in Jewish life and language. Worshipers gathered on the Sabbath to pray and read the Scriptures. At Capernaum, the synagogue was one of the best examples of a Galilean synagogue. The ruins seen today are of a synagogue built in ~3rd century AD on the ruins of the synagogue of Jesus' time.

When Jesus went inside a synagogue, as in this story, what would He find? The most important piece of furniture was the shrine that held the Torah, the sacred roll or scroll on which parts of the Old Testament Scriptures were written. The bema, made of stone or wood, was an elevated platform next to the Torah shrine. Lessons and benedictions were given from this platform. Rows of stone benches surrounded the walls and provided seating for the people. The elders and rulers sat in an isolated section. Services included prescribed readings, prayer, and a sermon. Any competent teacher might be asked to speak.

Getting to Know The Crippled Woman

13. Read Luke 13:1-9. Discuss Jesus’ teaching on the correlation between one’s “goodness” and suffering.

14. Read Luke 13:10-17. Describe the scene and the woman.

15. Contrast this Jewish woman with the Canaanite woman.

16. What was the cause of her condition?

Scriptural Insight: As we have already seen, “various disorders were caused by evil spirits…The description of this woman’s infirmity suggests that the bones of her spine were rigidly fused together.” (NIV Study Bible by Zondervan, page 1566)

17. Consider what kind of life this woman had led for 18 years. Put yourself in her shoes. How would this ailment possibly have affected her family life, social life, and worship life?

Day Four Study

18. Reread Luke 13:10-17. How did Jesus heal this woman, and what was her proper response?

Focus on the Meaning: There is “symbolic value in Luke’s placing this miracle at this point in the narrative. It was Jesus’ mission among the people of the nation to loose them from crippling influences and bring them to uprightness. Here was a graphic example of Jesus’ touch, bringing the woman to a position of uprightness.” (Walvoord and Zuck, The Bible Knowledge Commentary New Testament, p. 240)

19. Discuss the synagogue ruler’s improper reaction to Jesus’ healing. To review the role of the synagogue ruler, look back to Lesson 4.

Scriptural Insight: “No one had spoken to him, but he felt his importance as the ruler of the synagogue and was indignant. His words have a ludicrous sound as if all the people had to do to get their crooked backs straightened out was to come round to his synagogue during the week. He forgot that this poor old woman had been coming for eighteen years with no result.” (A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures of the New Testament, note on Luke 13:14)

20. Discuss Jesus’ answer to the synagogue ruler. What message was Jesus conveying to the synagogue ruler and others in the crowd who thought like him?

21. Deeper Discoveries (optional): Jesus called the synagogue ruler a hypocrite. Define this term. What did it mean in Jesus’ day. Find other places in the gospels where Jesus used this same term to get the attention of His listeners. In what ways were they being hypocrites?

22. Read Matthew 12:1-14; Luke 6:6-11; 14:1-6 and John 5:16-18. In His teaching, how did Jesus clarify the purpose of Israel’s Sabbath (seventh-day rest) and the way it should be practiced?

Think About It: The tendency of human beings is to put rules over relationships or rules over the needs of people (like the synagogue ruler did). Jesus showed the value of people over misguided rules, traditions and practices. God was still being worshipped, even more so because of the miracle, and the people were still enjoying a day of rest from their usual employment. 

23. Living Out His Love: Jesus extended grace to both of the women in this lesson, actually three if you count the Canaanite woman’s daughter who was healed. Grace is unmerited favor. It is a gift that is undeserved—by anyone! The disciples and the synagogue ruler were less interested in responding to the needs of the women with grace (knowing Jesus could heal the suffering) than they were in sending them away (one because she was an unclean Gentile; the other because she dared to get healed on the Sabbath). Do you tend to put rules over relationships or the needs of people? In what areas of your life do you do this? Ask Jesus to reveal any hypocrisy in your heart and help you to extend grace rather than judgment to someone in need around you.

Related Topics: Character Study, Love, Women

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