And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:22-28 ESV)
This story has always been a head scratcher for me. It seems so out of character for Jesus to initially ignore this woman and then speak so condescending to her. What is the key? The key is found in the broader context. Michael Green, in his commentary, points out how we are between his instruction of 10:5 (do not go to the Gentiles) and 28:19 (go and make disciples of all nations, I.e. “Gentiles”). Matthew is making the transition. Just before this he includes an account of Jesus explaining the trappings of “tradition” that has trumped God’s law showing that it is not what goes in but what comes out that makes a man unclean. (You could apply this: it is not his interaction with outsiders but rather what comes out when around outsiders.) Immediately following this you have Jesus feeding 4000+ in a Gentile region. The conversation seems more for the benefit of the disciples than the woman. In fact, Green points out how the Greek syntax allows for this to be a question rather than a statement. When you read it like this you can see how he is gently pulling the disciples, and us, into his future mission to take the gospel to the Gentiles.
Lord, thank you that your mission brings the good news to me, a gentile! This woman teaches me that my place is not one of privilege or right, but of mercy. May your name be all the more praised for saving such a dog as I.