Jesus Heals the Daughter of a Gentile Woman

Matthew 15:21–28

21 Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.
23 But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
24 But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
25 Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
26 But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
27 And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.
28 Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.

Elder Bruce R. McConkie wrote:

“As pertaining to the ministerial service here involved, this selection concerns a Syro-Phoenician woman. Mark, who gained his knowledge from Peter, begins the account by saying that when Jesus came ‘into the borders of Tyre and Sidon,’ He ‘entered into a house, and would that no man should come unto him. But he could not deny them; for he had compassion upon all men.’ Two things are apparent from this: first, that even here the Lord Jesus failed to find the rest He sought; and second, that the disciples, being present and aware of all that transpired, saw in our Lord’s acts a reaffirmation of His compassion for all men, not for the house of Israel only.

“Phoenicia, or Syria, lies to the north of Galilee and extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the river Jordan. It is ruled by Rome. Tyre and Sidon, about twenty miles apart, are on the seashore. Between them is Zarephath (Sarepta), where dwelt the widow whose son Elijah raised from death. Somewhere in this region now dwelt a Gentile woman of faith who believed that Jesus was the Messiah, the one by whom salvation comes. How she gained her testimony and how many other true believers, either Jews or Gentiles, there were in the area we do not know; perhaps there were whole congregations, and Jesus was visiting them as He ministered among those who were surrounded by pagans and heathens.

“This we do know, the ‘woman of Canaan’ came out of ‘the coasts of Tyre and Sidon’ and, finding Jesus, cried out: ‘Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil.’ Matthew says: ‘But he answered her not a word.’

“Mark says she was a Greek and a Syro-Phoenician by nation. She would thus be a subject of Rome. Accordingly, she was a Canaanite by birth, a Greek by ancestry, a Syro-Phoenician by political allegiance, and thus also a subject of the empire ruled by Rome. In other words, she was a Gentile of the Gentiles, a pure Gentile, who could claim no descent whatever from Abraham; in whose veins flowed none of the believing blood of Jacob; and who was outside the royal lineage and could not be classed, in any sense, as one of the chosen people. This we must know to envision what here transpired.

“Her pleas fell on deaf ears. Jesus, compassionate and merciful as none other has ever been, would not even speak to her, let alone reward her faith and heal her daughter, as He had been doing in like cases in all Israel for more than two years. Her importunings must have been extended and repetitious, both to Jesus and to the Twelve, for the disciples, knowing that on occasions He had healed Gentiles, though He had instructed them to go only to the lost sheep of Israel in their ministries, ‘came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.’ Implicit in this request is the plea, ‘Grant her petition, let her daughter be healed,’ as is evident from Jesus’s reply, not to the woman but to the Twelve: ‘I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’

“Jesus is declining not only to heal, but even to give a courteous response, to a Gentile woman who has faith, for no other reason than the fact that she is a Gentile and not an Israelite. Sectarian commentators—not knowing the plans and purposes of the Lord; having no knowledge of preexistence and foreordination; incapable of explaining why and how a just God can show mercy and compassion to one person and deny it to another, and how He can ‘make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour’ [Romans 9]—sectarian commentators almost go wild devising reasons and explanations to justify the course here pursued by the Compassionate One.

“In reality He is doing only what He has always done. In all the earth He chose only Noah and his family to enter the ark; upon all the rest of mankind—men, women, and children— He sent the flood to sweep them into a watery grave. In all of Chaldea He chose only Abraham of Ur to be His friend; upon the others he poured out wrath. In all of Sodom and the cities of the plains He chose only Lot and his wife and two daughters to be saved; upon the masses of people He rained fire and brimstone, destruction and death. Out of Egypt He called only the seed of Jacob, leaving millions of Pharaoh’s minions to temporal and spiritual ruin. And so it has always been: the Canaanites and Hittites and Philistines He destroyed, to make room for His people. Assyria and Babylon and Greece were all denied the blessings of His law. The word was sent to Israel, and to Israel only.

“Why? Because the house of Israel is composed of the spirits from preexistence who there developed a talent for spirituality, and who are therefore entitled to the blessings of heaven in this life on a preferential basis. All men, in due course, either in this life or in the spirit world, will be offered the blessings of salvation. But there is an eternal system of priorities; there is a law of election, a doctrine of foreordination; and Israel is entitled to the blessings of the holy word ahead of their Gentile fellows. During His lifetime Jesus took the gospel and its blessings, with isolated exceptions, to His kinsmen in Israel; after His Resurrection He will send His apostolic witnesses to all men, irrespective of creed or race or ancestry. The Lord Jehovah—Jesus in the flesh—is simply conforming to the eternal law of gospel priorities that He and His Father ordained from before the foundations of the world, and such a limited exception to the eternal provisions of the eternal law as may properly be made is about to be shown forth.

“By combining the accounts of Matthew and Mark we are led to believe that the importunings of our Gentile friend began before Jesus entered the house, that they were made both to Him and to His disciples, and that His refusal even to converse with her was in the open for all men to see. Then, after He sought seclusion in the house, she yet entered—we can suppose she insisted upon so doing—and fell at His feet importuning and worshipping. ‘Lord, help me,’ she pled, as ‘she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter.’ It was as though she had made the suffering of her daughter her own sorrow, even as He would do who came to bear the griefs and carry the sorrows of all men on conditions of repentance.

“No longer could Jesus remain silent, but even now His spoken words carried little hope to the sorrowing mother. ‘Let the children of the kingdom first be filled,’ He said—‘Let the gospel and its blessings go in this day to the Jews; it is the right and privilege of the chosen seed first to hear the message’—‘for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs.’

“‘But not all the snows of her native Lebanon could quench the fire of love that was burning on the altar of her heart, and prompt as an echo came forth the glorious answer’ (Farrar, p. 367): ‘Yes, Lord; thou sayest truly, yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs.’

“How common it was among the Jews to refer to those without—to the Gentiles—as dogs. The Jews were the children of the kingdom, as they supposed: the heathen, none of whom were more accursed than the Canaanites, were the dogs who growled and sniveled and snapped at those within. But here the reference is more particularly to the little dogs, the household pets, who, though still Gentile dogs, yet fed themselves with such cast-off food as fell from the Jewish table.

“‘O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt,’ Jesus said. ‘And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.’ The woman of Canaan triumphed; hers were not only the crumbs, but she ate of the children’s bread; by faith she was adopted into the house of Israel. At Jesus’s invitation she now came from without and joined those within. She was no longer a Gentile; she was now a daughter of Abraham [see Abraham 2:10].

“‘For this saying go thy way,’ Jesus said, ‘the devil is gone out of thy daughter. And when she was come to her house, she found the devil gone out, and her daughter laid upon the bed.’”

(The Mortal Messiah: From Bethlehem to Calvary, 4 vols. [1979–81], 3:9–13.)