Bible Answer

Explaining a Gentile woman’s faith

Could you explain Matthew 15:22-28? It touches my heart.

In this encounter, Jesus exchanges word with a Gentile woman who sought healing for her demon-possessed daughter. Like so many other people of the Galilee and surrounding areas, the woman was drawn by stories of Jesus' amazing healing powers. Unlike most of the women beseeching Jesus for healing, this woman was not a Jew. Nevertheless, she addresses Jesus as the "Son of David," a Messianic term indicating she knew of the promise of a coming Savior for Israel.

The real question for Jesus and for the reader is whether this woman truly believed in the promise of a Messiah, or was she merely repeating His title hoping to impress Him and gain His help?

Jesus initially remains silent to her request, but soon her requests begin to annoy the disciples and they counsel Jesus to send her away. In response, Jesus says He was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel. At first, Jesus' response seems odd, as if He was answering a different question. In reality, the disciples had been asking Jesus to get rid of the woman by granting her request.

In response to the disciples' request, Jesus responds that His mission was to present Himself as Messiah to the Jewish people. The promise of a coming Messiah was given exclusively to the Jewish people through the words of the Law and the Prophets. As Jesus arrived to fulfill those promises, He correctly reminds the disciples that He was not sent for a mission of healing the sick or dispossessing every demon. Those miracles were merely a means to a greater end, and Jesus' end was to call Israel to follow Him.

Consequently, when the Canaanite woman begged Jesus for healing, Jesus felt no obligation to answer her request. Jesus' response was always a matter of choosing to serve the purpose and calling given Him by the Father.

Upon hearing Jesus' response, the woman takes a step closer to convincing Jesus of her sincerity in faith by bowing before Him and addressing Him as Lord as she asks again for His healing. Jesus finally speaks to the woman in proverbially terms. Jesus uses a colloquialism of His day to explain His reluctance to respond to her request. Jesus compares His mercy and healing as bread reserved for the members of His family. In contrast to the children of God, Jesus uses a familiar term, dogs, to describe Gentiles.

As Paul reminds us in Ephesians:

Eph. 2:11 Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called “ Uncircumcision” by the so-called “ Circumcision,” which is performed in the flesh by human hands —
Eph. 2:12 remember that you were at that time separate from Christ, excluded from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.

The condition of Gentiles prior to the time of Pentecost was to be excluded from the promises of Israel without hope. This is the situation in which this Canaanite woman found herself. So, Jesus provokes her by reminding her that the Messiah was sent for the Jew and had no obligation to the dogs, the Gentiles.

Finally, the woman demonstrates her understanding of - and faith in - God's promises in His word concerning the fate of Gentiles in relation to the Messiah of Israel. She responds with a proverb of her own reminding Jesus that God promised to bless all nations through His promise to Abraham.

Convinced that He was looking at a woman of faith - and therefore a child of God - Jesus responds with mercy and healing for her daughter. Jesus' response was a recognition that the woman had faith not only in Jesus' power to heal, but more importantly she believed in His claim to be the Son of David, the One sent to both Israel and eventually Gentiles to redeem men from their sin.