Q. What did Jesus mean in Matthew 15:21-28 when he said he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel? Wilbert Lassiter, Dinwiddie, VA
A. In one of the few times Jesus traveled outside Israel, he crossed the northern border into Philistia, known today as Syria. The preceding verses of Matthew 15 show that he was disgusted with the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who confronted him everywhere he went. He knew they would not follow him into Gentile territory. Therefore, he retreated into a house there, obviously at the invitation of a believer, to have some privacy and rest. However, his fame preceded him since many from that area had already been coming to hear him (Mark 3:8).
Mark 7:24-30 adds to Matthew’s account saying the people there recognized him, especially a mother who had a demon-possessed daughter. She followed him pleading for her daughter’s healing. The disciples even said Jesus should send her away since she was annoying them. At first, Jesus seemed to ignore her by replying that he was first sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. That meant that his primary mission was to give the unsaved Jews a chance to believe in him. That’s where he sent his disciples to preach first in Matthew 10:5-6. After all, God’s covenant was with the Jews; only after they refused their Messiah did God send Paul to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46).
Jesus allowed this mother to continue to plead for her daughter’s healing so he could prove her faith. She refused to leave even after Jesus said it wasn’t proper to give the children’s food to dogs. Her reply showed the determination of her faith when she said in verse 27, “Yet the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” Then, Jesus gave her a positive compliment saying in effect, “Great is your faith; let it be done for you as you have asked.” And, her daughter was healed at that moment. Jesus was showing his Father’s integrity to honor first his promises to Abraham and the patriarchs of Judaism, that is, that the Jews have first refusal of the gospel. But, he was also showing his compassion for the needs of all people. He did not heal this mother’s daughter because of her snappy comeback to his remark, but rather because of her faith even in a country where the rituals of Judaism were not practiced.
That certainly gives me hope that he will honor my faith, feeble as it is. What about you?
REV. TOM LOVORN, TH.D.