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Can I Trust Jesus When He’s Silent?

  • David Sanford Contributing Writer
  • Updated Jul 01, 2019
Can I Trust Jesus When He’s Silent?

Yes, sometimes what Jesus says or does in the Bible makes us cringe. And then sometimes, He is silent. Then again, He’s never a hypocrite. Instead, He’s always loving.

We often assume Jesus talked a lot, but that wasn’t always the case. At certain times, in certain places, Jesus was best known for His silence. One great example is a story told in Matthew 15:21-28 and again in Mark 7:24-30.

I can picture as I read this story, Jesus telling His disciples that they’re going to head to the region of Tyre and Sidon. He tells them He wants His presence kept secret, but the word gets out. It always gets out. Soon the house where they are staying no longer is a quiet oasis. So, Jesus goes for a walk around town.

To the disciples, I imagine a walk that feels aimless.

Jesus isn’t talking. He doesn’t say a word.

He just keeps walking, going this way and then that. Then around one corner, Jesus stops. Down the street a Canaanite woman waves her hands in the air, shouts praises, hurriedly comes up to them, and falls at the feet of Jesus.

“Have mercy on me, Lord. I know and believe you are the true Son of David. Please, please, have mercy; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” (Matthew 15:22)

Jesus stuns everyone by not saying anything.

So, what is Jesus doing? Is He punishing the woman?

Like Americans, I would assume that the disciples can’t stand quiet, so after the initial awkward silence of Jesus, they start talking. Of course, they have no idea what to say, so they may have started berating the Canaanite woman, seeing her as nothing more than a Gentile dog.

They urge Jesus to send her away (Matthew 15:23). If you can’t help her, at least get her out of here. A crowd is forming. This looks bad.

The woman kneels before Jesus and cries out again for his help in healing her demon-possessed daughter.

It’s possible that even Jesus’ disciples shunned this woman with twisted prejudices against women, foreigners, Gentiles, and Syrophoenicians in particular.

In that culture, good men in public places never looked at a woman for more than a fleeting glance. To do anything else was shameful, even scandalous.

Yet Jesus is silent for a moment; looking into her eyes.

No one has ever looked at her with such love, respect, compassion, and confidence.    

Before Jesus breaks His silence, the Canaanite woman is likely in love with Jesus, who already has healed her daughter—and she knows it, we soon learn. For the first time, in her heart, and evidenced in her countenance, she is worshiping the One she’s always longed for.

So, when Jesus finally breaks His silence, the woman knows what Jesus has done—and what He is going to do next.

Jesus answers in Matthew 15:24—likely not to just her, but for the disciples and all to hear: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” I can see the youngest apostle, John, turning red with embarrassment. After all, there were only 12 men, including him, who fit that shameful description.

In Matthew 15:26, Jesus replies “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” Now Andrew may have been turning red. Only 12 men, including him, thought of this woman as a Gentile dog.

The woman presses on in faith: “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from the master’s table.” In other words, she gladly proclaims her belief that God wants to bless all peoples. That includes Jews and Gentiles, men and women, rich and poor, old and young.

Then, so there is no mistake, Jesus says triumphantly, “Woman, you have great faith. Your request is granted.”  And her daughter was healed at the moment.

Can you envision the crowd cheering? We thought Jesus couldn’t help her, but He did.

The only ones who may not have been cheering, of course, were the disgraced disciples, who will never treat a woman or Gentile like that again.

Yet, imagine if Jesus had started talking the moment the Canaanite woman begged for His help. Yes, that would have been the polite thing to do. Or walk away—yet Jesus does neither.

True, Jesus still would have healed her daughter…but everything else would have been lost. In Jesus’ eyes, it was more important to win and heal and bless the Canaanite woman than check a box and leave town. It was more important to grant her true heart’s desire to know Him.

It was more important to honor and respect her for all to see, not just His 12 disciples.

In reality, every woman in that crowd now has a choice to make. Am I for Jesus? Or against Him? Do I trust His heart? Or hate Him?

Jesus wants it no other way: for you to trust that He loves you, even (and maybe especially) when He seems silent.

headshot of David SanfordDavid Sanford coaches leaders passionate about demonstrating the relevance of Jesus Christ in every major sphere of life. His book and Bible projects have been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Thomas Nelson, Doubleday, and Amazon. His speaking engagements have ranged everywhere from UC Berkeley (California) to The Billy Graham Center at the Cove (North Carolina). 

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