In the gospels, every once-in-a-while Jesus will make a comment… or respond in a way that seems out of character. At first glance, instances like these might seem rather confusing. You might ask, “Why did He say that?” or “That seemed a little rude… didn’t it?”
As a reader, you can assume that unusual behavior from an otherwise consistent character usually means that there is something else going on that you might be missing. Whenever you read of Jesus acting out of character you can assume there is an important lesson right around the corner. The story of Jesus and the Syrophoenician woman in Matthew 15:21-28 is a good example of this.
This story follows up on the previous section (Matthew 15:1-14) that discusses the topic of “defilement”. That section concludes with Jesus explaining to the disciples that the source of human defilement, from God’s perspective, is not instigated from something outside the body… but originates in a person’s heart.
The woman cries out and begs for the healing of her daughter… but Jesus does not answer her a word. This is one of the behaviors that seems a little strange. Jesus normally responds to people seeking his assistance. In this case, Jesus’ silence gives space for the mouths of the disciples to disclose something about the condition of their hearts.
His disciples came and implored Him, saying, “Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.”
When the disciples said, “Send her away…” what were they really saying? Jesus had just explained to the disciples that the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart. Two of the several examples He gives are “evil thoughts”… and “slander”.
When the disciples ask for this woman to be sent away… they are exposing the defilement of their own hearts. They have evil thoughts and suggest that she is not worthy, because of who she is and where she is from, to receive attention from the Savior. But this is not true. It is slanderous in nature.
Jesus then has a playful discussion with the woman where He says all the things the disciples are thinking. If you don’t understand what He’s doing, this conversation also seems a little out of character.
It is through this discussion that Jesus gives an opportunity for the woman to expose her faith in front of the disciples and, in turn, let them learn a lesson about their own hearts.
He says to her that He was sent only to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” and that His ministry would be wasted on people like her when there were others more worthy of his time. He even refers to her as a dog!
But Jesus already knows the condition of her heart. He knows she is a woman of great faith that can teach his disciples an important lesson about their own heart defilements. Through this playful banter the woman is allowed to exposes her great faith and establishes that, because of that faith, she is in fact a “sheep of the house of Israel.”
Even though she does not live in the land of Israel… and is not descended from Israel… through faith, she is a child of God and worthy to be at the table with the Son of David.
This is just one of the items I cover in The Matthew Study video lesson for chapter 15. You can watch the entire lesson below… or preview the other videos in The Matthew Study by visiting: THE MATTHEW STUDY VIDEOS page.