Then Jesus went thence, and departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. 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. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us. But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. 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.Matthew 15:21-28
And from thence he arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon, and entered into an house, and would have no man know it: but he could not be hid. For a certain woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell at his feet: The woman was a Greek, a Syrophenician by nation; and she besought him that he would cast forth the devil out of her daughter. But Jesus said unto her, Let the children first be filled: for it is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it unto the dogs. And she answered and said unto him, Yes, Lord: yet the dogs under the table eat of the children’s crumbs. And he said unto her, For this saying go thy way; 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.Mark 7:24-30
At first glance, some might think that in this passage Jesus is fed up with fighting against the Pharisees and joins in their overtly racist attitudes towards anyone that is not a Jew. Let me assure, that is not the case.
First of all, look closely at Mark’s account of the conversation. Jesus says, “Let the children first be filled.” This implies that people other than the Jews would receive the blessings of God as well. They were just going to go to the Jews first. This was not a prejudice decision on Jesus’ part. This was God’s design. If Jesus never intended to help the Gentiles, then why would He use the term “first”? He had all intents for the gospel and blessings to go to the Gentiles but God had designed that during Jesus’ earthly ministry the focus would be on the children of God among the nation of Israel.
God in His sovereign will sent Jesus to die for all the sins of all the elect in every nation, but His earthly ministry was to be focused on the natural nation of Israel who were recognized as God’s chosen children for several hundred years. But also notice this. Jesus doesn’t say that He was sent to help all Jews. He was only sent to minister to the “lost sheep” of the house of Israel. You cannot be a lost sheep unless you were a sheep to start with. Therefore, Jesus was sent to have mercy in time on the children of God among the nation of Israel.
The division of people by race in the Old Testament was a shadow or a type of the division between the children of God and the wicked. Paul explains it this way in the letter to the Romans:
Not as though the word of God hath taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel: Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but, In Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, They which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this isthe word of promise, At this time will I come, and Sara shall have a son. And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger.Romans 9:6-12
The elect are the sheep. There are sheep in both the nation of Israel and among the Gentiles. In fact, there are elect everywhere!
And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation;Revelation 5:9
Many object to the doctrine of election but they need to understand that they are objecting to a doctrine in which God delights and honors His sovereignty!
According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved.Ephesians 1:4-6
God praises His own glory and grace with this doctrine and so should we. Therefore, we can clearly see that Jesus was not a racist in this conversation. He was sent with a specific duty during His earthly ministry, and He was obedient to that end.
Next time, we will look more closely at exactly what Jesus is doing in this conversation. Just a hint, it is a test of faith for the woman and the disciples as well as exposing this nature of the unbelieving Pharisees that Jesus had just confronted.