Matthew 15:22-28 (for Ryan!)

Hi Ry!

Thanks for posing an interesting question on Matthew 15:22-28 via FB. I’ll try to answer as many of your questions as possible. The perspective I’m using is textual interpretation with incorporation of  some historical background.

Jesus’s incarnation on earth is to fulfill multiple Messianic prophecies given to the Jews—there are all sorts of prophecies of someone who was going to come and “finally” and ultimately save the nation of Israel. So, in a historical sense, Jesus *did* come for the Jews. Israel is also referred to multiple times as God’s “chosen nation”. However, by “chosen,” I don’t mean “chosen for exclusive redemption.” The idea was that God would work through this tiny, weak, enslaved nation, bring them to a place of prosperity and power (as a theocracy), and thus draw other nations and people to wonder how they were able to accomplish so much. This curiosity, coupled with Israel’s unusual political structure (theocracy) would lead other nations to explore Israel’s beliefs and religious practices. Then, if they wanted to, those people could convert to Judaism.

So, Israel was always meant to be a sort of “city on a hill,” displaying God’s love for mankind and the way to know God. Obviously, this didn’t work out very well, as Israel repeatedly rejected God’s leadership, etc.

Matthew 15:22-28, line by line.
I think this vignette that you read underscores God’s adaptation of his original plan for the redemption of humanity. Jesus came to Israel (his “children”) in clear fulfillment of hundreds of years of prophecy of a Jewish messiah (there are lots of books that go into great detail on the prophecies he fulfilled, if you’re interested). However, Israel’s religious leaders and *many* of its ordinary people rejected Jesus’s claims to be the Messiah (rejected the “bread” Jesus was offering to his “children”). So, the original plan for Israel to be the shining example of how to have a relationship with God was not going to work.

Ironically, people who weren’t even Jews (e.g., the “Caananite woman”) recognized Jesus for the Messiah that we was (“Have mercy on me Lord, Son of David” a clear reference to a messianic prophecy), and instead of rejecting him, begged to know him and begged for the healing that he offered.

Jesus’s Jewish disciples were annoyed by the woman and saw no need to help her (“Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us”), illustrating your initial interpretation that Jesus came only for the Jews. Jesus plays into their inaccurate beliefs by telling her “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (and at this point, all of Israel is lost).

Instead of countering his claim, the woman simply acknowledges who Jesus is again “Lord, help me” (implying that she knows that as the Messiah, he is the only one who can cast the demons out of her daughter).

Jesus continues playing into his disciples’ mistaken beliefs by saying “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” (i.e., reiterating, “I was sent to be Israel’s Messiah”).

The woman counters by saying, “Even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from the master’s table,” (i.e., “Even though I’m not part of the “chosen people”, I recognize what you’re offering and I believe that you can save my daughter”).

Having illustrated that this woman is far more open to accepting him as Messiah, even though she’s not even a Jew, Jesus illustrates that anyone who believes in his power and in who he is can be healed: “Your faith is great; it shall be done for as you wish. And her daughter was healed at once.” Thus, illustrating that since the original plan to save Israel and have them go out as ambassadors and share their relationship with God with the other nations did NOT work, Jesus has now come directly for all people and all nations to have access to him.

This idea of redemption for all humanity is further underscored by Pentecost (Acts, chapter 2), when the Jewish disciples begin proclaiming the Gospel in the languages of the surrounding (non-Jewish) nations. It is also emphasized in almost all of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the various churches he started (and he started out as a Jewish religious leader).

So, to answer your question: anyone who doesn’t know God is a “lost sheep” and can be saved. 

Sorry for such a LONG response….but these little vignettes and parables in the Gospels have a LOT packed into them!

If anyone else has thoughts on this interpretation, let me know! I’m sure I missed a ton of stuff….



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3 responses to “Matthew 15:22-28 (for Ryan!)

  1. ryan

    this is AWESOME, Mirrrriam!

    best, most rational answer thus far!

    thank you for helping me with this passage. i’ve been grappling with it for a while now.


  2. Sweet! Glad it was helpful, Ry!

  3. gloriasanders

    why jesus is called the son of david.

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