Jesus and the Canaanite Woman

Matthew 15:21-28

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession."

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us."

He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel."

The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said.

He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."

"Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table."

Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour.

Mark 7:24-30

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep his presence secret. In fact, as soon as she heard about him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an evil spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

"First let the children eat all they want," he told her, "for it is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs."

"Yes, Lord," she replied, "but even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs."

Then he told her, "For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter."

She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

Was the woman a Greek or a Canaanite?

The World Book Encyclopedia says in its article on Phoenicia:

The word Phoenicia may have developed from the word Canaan, meaning land of purple, the name first used for ancient Palestine and Syria. Canaan was a main source of red-purple dyed goods. The Greeks probably used their word phoinix, which meant red-purple, when referring to the people who traded these red-purple goods to them. Phoinike, or Phoenicia, eventually became the name of Canaan's coastal strip.

Mark tells us the woman was born in Syrian Phoenicia, so this is in agreement with Matthew's statement that she is a Canaanite. Mark also tells us the woman is Greek, which may mean that one or both of her parents were Greek. This is no more a contradiction than it is for descendents of immigrants to America to describe themselves as Chinese-American, Mexican-American, etc.

Weren't Jesus' remarks mean? Why didn't he heal her daughter immediately?

Jesus tested the woman with a test he knew she would pass. Jesus treated the people he healed as individuals, and dealt with each person differently based on their level of faith. Some people's requests were granted when they asked (Mt 8:2-3); some were healed without asking for it (Mk 5:1-13, 25-29); some were asked if they believed Jesus could heal them before they were healed (Mt 9:27-30). Jesus may have done this to teach the woman and the disciples: the woman learned that she could always trust in God's love and mercy, even when her requests were not immediately answered (something Jesus taught the disciples in Lk 18:1-8), and the disciples learned that God's salvation and mercy were extended to the Gentiles as well as the Jews.

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