The story of Jesus and the Canaanite woman in Matthew 15 always gives readers pause. It’s one of those rare cases where Jesus seems strangely cold and distant.
The Lord has been “on the run” so to speak since 12:14. A plot is afoot to kill Jesus and he “withdraws” to avoid confrontation. One should not suspect Jesus is afraid of those who would kill him, but he may well be concerned that they will do so before his mission is over. Life is never so protected by God – not even the life of Jesus – that we can defy obvious threats without consequence.
According to Matthew, Jesus withdraws from the towns in Galilee to a deserted place (14:13) and finally to here, the region of Tyre and Sidon. Remember Jesus’ view of Tyre and Sidon (11:21-22): these are bastions of unbelief and sin. To be compared with them is unfavorable indeed. And yet, the pressure on Jesus is so great that he heads in their direction.
In a gentile area, filled with the worst sort of people, a “Canaanite” (Matthew’s description) woman comes to Jesus. She has heard of his power and begs him for her daughter’s life. The disciples are more than a little chagrined that this woman keeps following them around. Like the woman of Samaria in John 4 (whom they also shun because of her race), she isn’t the sort they want to be seen with. Presumably they’d rather be seen with the Pharisees (whom they are concerned Jesus has offended (15:12)). They think Jesus is on their side since he too seems to be ignoring her. But the Lord is not. Jesus allows the tension to build, even builds on it himself, before answering her request. The lesson is obvious: no matter who you are, God’s blessings come to people who exhibit “great” faith – an undeterred trust in and dependence on the Lord.