New Testament

Gospels and Acts of the Apostles

Why did Jesus appear to be reluctant to heal the Canaanite woman’s daughter?

A Canaanite woman saw Jesus and cried to him, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” At first Jesus did not respond to her. He said to his disciples, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” Jesus finally spoke to the woman, and said, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” to which the woman replied, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” At this, Jesus remarked, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” (NRSV, Matthew 15:21–28) The woman’s daughter was healed at that instant.

At a glance, it seems that Jesus was being callous. However, most scholars say there is a lot going on between the lines. First, Jesus had been preaching to Jews, and despite the healings and miracles, many rejected him. Here, then, was a woman who was not a Jew. Still, she embraced Jesus’ message, and believed in his power to heal. Jesus’ initial words to the woman were a test. The results of the test were twofold. They proved the enormous faith of this non-Jewish woman. Her faith, in turn, brought about the healing of her daughter, but highlighted also the stubbornness of so many of the Jews to whom Jesus spoke.


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