By the time we read Matthew 15 Jesus is in his 3rd year of ministry and has just left Galilee to
enter Phoenicia, a land of the Gentiles. Just before he left Israel he had fed 5,000 Jews with
the five loaves. These Jews then rejected him as the bread of life as recorded in John 6.
“At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”
– John 6:41-42
With this Jesus “withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon.” (Matthew 15:21) There in the Gentile
land a Canaanite woman, a descendent of the ancient Canaanite people who were driven out of the land of Israel by Joshua. This Canaanite woman addresses Jesus as “Lord” and “Son of David!”
This is simply amazing because it indicates that she understood some basic Jewish theology and recognized Jesus as the descendent of David who would be the Messiah. The theme of Matthew’s entire gospel is to present Jesus as the Messiah, the son of David, to the Jewish people. Here, Matthew is “amazed” that she already knows this and he indicates it by using the word “behold” to
begin verse 22 of chapter 15.
As the woman follows Jesus and his disciples crying out for help she is ignored. Jesus does not respond to her cries for help to heal her daughter. Jesus does not answer a word. The disciples eventually ask Jesus to tell her to leave since she continues to follow them while crying for help.
Jesus tells his disciples, loud enough for the woman to hear, that he was only sent to Israel
and not to the Gentiles. With this the woman falls on her knees still calling him Lord and
continues to beg for help. Jesus then addresses the woman directly and tells her:
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”
In this scenario Israel are the children and Jesus is their bread. Here, once again, Jesus is referring
to himself as “the bread of life” with in a couple of days of having been rejected as “the bread of life”
by Israel, or “the children.”
The woman responds to Jesus’ apparently rude comment (that she was merely a Gentile dog
when compared to the children of Israel) by building on Jesus' illustration of “the children’s bread”
and “the dogs” by saying:
“Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”
With those words the woman simply confirmed to Jesus that she understood the truth of his illustration. Indeed, she was “the dog” in his illustration and would gladly settle for whatever
“crumbs” the children, or Israel, had rejected and pushed off the Master’s (Lord’s) table onto
the floor. Israel had just a few days before rejected Jesus as the bread of life. Now, Jesus
had crossed the border of Israel and was in Phoenicia. Indeed, the Bread of Life had come to
the Gentile dogs. The Canaanite woman was simply saying, “Sure, I’ll take the crumbs from
the bread of life that Israel has rejected. Thank you!”
Jesus was pleased with her response. Her understanding of the truth had given her great faith.
And, that great faith demanded a response from the Lord. The Canaanite woman’s daughter was healed instantly!