Though this passage does not include a messianic reference, what is found there is reminiscent of what was already seen in the eighth chapter, in Capernaum, when the centurion (a Gentile) came to Jesus saying “Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, in terrible anguish” (Matthew 8:6). Jesus responded with a simple “I will come and heal him” (8:7b). This study’s initial recounting of that meeting did not go into great detail---a situation that shall now be rectified. The centurion, who must have been pleased with Jesus’ response, replied to Him by saying “Lord, I am not worthy to have You come under my roof. Instead, just say the word and my servant will be healed” (8:8). Jesus is shown to be somewhat dumbstruck by the response. In fact, Matthew’s report about Jesus is that “He was amazed” (8:10a). He was so amazed that He said “I tell you the truth, I have not found such faith in anyone in Israel!” (8:10b)
To that, in order to benefit His Jewish hearers and to make a point about the Creator God’s kingdom and its reach, Jesus adds a reference to the messianic banquet by saying “I tell you, many will come from the east and west to share the banquet with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (8:11). His hearers, along with those hearing the Matthew narrative, are clearly intended to make the inference that the kingdom of the Creator God is certainly not going to be restricted to Israel alone. Punctuating the encounter, Jesus says “Go; just as you believed,” which is that Jesus could simply command the healing, “it will be done for you” (8:13b). Matthew’s report, in demonstration of the in-breaking of the Creator’s kingdom through the very word of the Christ, is that “the servant was healed at that hour” (8:13c).
Certainly, this story aids in setting a tone for the remainder of Matthew’s Gospel. So when a later point in the story is reached, and the Canaanite (Gentile) woman, who clearly recognizes Jesus’ power to heal and to rectify the situation, can be heard to say “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is horribly demon-possessed!’”, the reader would expect a response from Jesus that will be similar to that which was on display in His dealings with the centurion in Capernaum. Strangely, this is not what is to be found there. In fact, the author reports that “He did not answer her a word” (15:23a). Beyond that, the disciples express a bit of irritation on their part, as they are reported to have begged Jesus to “Send her away, because she keeps on crying after us” (15:23b). Quite obviously, this woman was persistent. On her part, it seems to express a deep-seated faith in the power of Jesus to set things right.
Jesus eventually relents and speaks. Based on what has been presented to this point, and even though an observer could express a bit of surprise at His not responding to her at all (especially with the situation with the centurion in Capernaum in mind---as this Gospel narrative is presented as a dramatic story in a single sitting), one would be expecting Jesus to oblige this woman. So it is natural for an observer, along with Matthew’s audience, to be a bit perplexed when He answers her by saying “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (15:24).
In light of Jesus’ treatment of Gentiles to this point, this just does not seem to fit. Though it appears to fit with His previous instruction to His disciples about not going to Gentile regions or any Samaritan town (10:5), it also appears to run counter to the words of His mouth and to His mode of operations. Indeed, the very fact that He is standing in the region of Tyre and Sidon stands in fairly stark contrast to those previously given instructions.