A Gentile Meets Jesus

“Jesus answered her, ‘O Woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.’ And her daughter was healed instantly” (Matt. 15:28).  

- Matthew 15:21–28

Tamar and Ruth were among the very first Gentile women to trust God when His covenant people did not. Today, we read of one woman who shared her faith during the earthly ministry of Jesus.

Our Lord encounters this woman right after the leaders of Israel oppose Him (Matt. 15:1–20). Just like Onan (Gen. 38:6–10), some of Abraham’s physical sons lacked committed, obedient trust in God’s promises. And just like Tamar and Ruth, it is a Gentile, a daughter of Israel’s ancient enemies no less, who has faith in the Christ. 

After the Jewish leaders refuse to hear Him, Jesus goes to the pagan territories of Tyre and Sidon. There He meets a Canaanite woman who is apparently acquainted with God’s plan. After all, she confesses Christ as the “son of David,” a title reflecting the Messianic expectations of God’s people. Ironically, a Gentile recognizes Jesus as Lord even though Israel’s leaders do not (Matt. 15:21–22).

Jesus rejects her pleas to heal her daughter at first, telling her, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (vv. 23–24). These words are not to be taken as a rejection. True, Jesus was sent to preach the Gospel of the kingdom first to the Jews, but He did not ignore Gentiles. In fact, He healed some men outside of the covenant community before meeting this woman (8:28–34). Jesus is testing her to determine whether she will cling to Him steadfastly.

This woman will not give up even after Jesus tells her it is wrong to give the children’s bread to the dogs (15:25–26). He is not insulting her, He is talking about priority. Like good parents, the Father feeds His children (Israel) first and then the dogs (Gentiles). The Gospel must go first to the Jews before it is extended fully to the nations.

The Canaanite woman does not contradict Him. In verse 27 she means: “Lord, I have no claim on the covenant and the physical sons of Abraham do have priority. But I also know that You love the nations and that Your grace will fall to us after coming to the Jews. All I want is this grace.” Thus, Jesus heals her daughter (v. 28). This woman saw that she was undeserving of God’s favor and looked only for His mercy. So too will He save all those who cast themselves at His feet. 

Coram Deo

Our prayers may sometimes seem like the encounter between Jesus and this woman. Often we will pray for a person’s salvation or healing, and, when no change is immediately forthcoming, we will assume God’s answer is no. Yet this Canaanite woman did not make this assumption. She kept on entreating Jesus to meet her need. We too must be willing to persevere in prayer, as sometimes the Lord is telling us to wait — not giving us a negative answer.

Passages for Further Study

1 Kings 17:8–24
Jonah 3–4
Rom. 1:16
Heb. 4:14–16

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.