One of my favorite current series of commercials is for V8 vegetable juice. They feature people eating all sorts of cholesterol packed, calorie laden, trans-fat drenched foods, only to be bopped on the head by someone with a higher health IQ. The commercial's announcer then informs us: "Could've had a V8. 100% vegetable juice. With three of your daily vegetable servings in every little bottle."
Perhaps there is nary a one of us who could not improve our eating habits, at least a little bit. My vices include ice cream, chocolate, and lots and lots of cheese. I've also been known to enjoy a burger from time to time. And for me, the greasier, the better. Just the other day, in fact, I went over to the Longhorn Café and scarfed down a cheeseburger. It was deliciously sinful. Sure, I could've ordered a salad. Or sure, I could've ordered the grilled chicken. But that would've not been nearly so delicious as a burger which turns its own wrapper clear from its grease. I could've eaten healthy. But I didn't.
I have found that there are many things which many of us wish we could've done differently. But when we are faced with so many choices, ranging from the mundanely incidental to the profoundly life-altering, we inevitably make poor decisions. "I could've spent more time with my kids when they were growing up," a father in the twilight years of his life might bemoan. "I could've saved more rather than spent everything I have," a deeply indebted person might lament. But as the old saying goes, "Could've, should've, would've." Just because we could've, doesn't mean we did.
In our text for today from Matthew 15, we meet a woman we meet a Canaanite who is tirelessly caring for her demon-possessed daughter. Matthew tells us that she is from "the region of Tyre and Sidon" (verse 21). Now, as a rule, Matthew does not indicate a person's whereabouts as a mere travel log. Rather, some theological import often accompanies a location. So it is with these twin cities. For just a mere three miles northwest of Sidon was a temple, pictured above, to Eshmun, a pagan god of healing whose origins date back to at least the Iron Age. If a woman like this needed healing for her demon-possessed son, she could've gone to make an offering at Eshmun's temple. Indeed, that's what her friends, neighbors, and relatives would've expected she should've done. But she doesn't do that. Instead, she turns to a healer she has just recently heard of. She turns to a healer named Jesus: "Lord, Son of David," she cries out, "Have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession" (verse 22). This woman takes a chance on someone she scarcely knows anything about. And she is hoping against hope that he can help her.
But instead of helping her, Jesus shocks her: "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel," Jesus quips (verse 24). In other words, Jesus is saying, "I'm only interested in helping holy Israelites, not pagan Canaanites." But this woman will not be detoured. So she persists, "Lord, help me!" Jesus replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs" (verses 25-26)? Wait. Did I hear that right? Did Jesus just call this woman a dog? Yes, he did. And in that day, as in ours, calling someone a "dog," was not a term of endearment. It was a term of revilement.
At this point, this woman had to have been thinking, "I could've gone to Eshmun's temple. I could've possibly had my son healed by a priest there. Maybe I've made the wrong choice going to this Jesus." But this woman, desperate for help, makes one last-ditch effort to curry Jesus' help and healing: "Yes, Lord," she says, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table" (verse 27). This woman refuses to walk away from Jesus without some scrap of blessing. He may insult her, belittle her, and beleaguer her, but this woman just won't give up on Jesus.
Perhaps, like this woman, you've been tempted to give up on Jesus. Maybe you've prayed a prayer that has gone seemingly unanswered. Maybe you've suffered a tragedy that has made you question God's goodness if not his very existence. Maybe you've encountered a steady stream of unfulfilled hopes, dreams, and wishes that have driven you to other avenues to seek fulfillment. And even if you haven't officially "given up" on Jesus, you've at least thought, "I could've gone some place other than Christ's for help. And maybe I could've gotten better 'results' than I did with Jesus." If you've ever felt this, said this, or thought this, then I want you to remember the persistency of this Canaanite woman. For she just won't give up on Jesus. And Jesus hears. And Jesus eventually helps: "'Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.' And her daughter was healed from that very hour" (verse 28).
Even if we could've gone somewhere other than Jesus, that doesn't mean we should've. For the only real place for healing, hope, and help is Jesus. So today, even if you could've despaired, or could've sinned, or could've walked away from faith in a moment of trial, don't. Instead, go to Jesus. And rely on him for all you need. For, in the end, he helps that Canaanite woman. And, in the end, he'll help you too.