Matthew 15:27 captures the response of a Canaanite woman to Jesus. She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (ESV). Here is the complete conversation:
And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and was crying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely oppressed by a demon.” But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, “Send her away, for she is crying out after us.” He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” But she came and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, help me.” And he answered, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. (Matthew 15:21–28, ESV)The interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman might offend modern sensibilities. Some progressives, such as Brandon Robertson, have accused Jesus of racism for referring to her as a dog (Quintanilla, M., “Progressive Minister Suggests Jesus Repented of Racism in Popular TikTok Video,” ChristianHeadlines.com, 3/10/21). This is a case of eisegesis and viewing Scripture through 21st-century lenses.
Jesus’ statement, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs,” is a metaphor that highlights the prevailing sentiment of the time. The children represent the Jews while the dogs are the Gentiles. Jews considered Gentiles to be unclean and called them kuon (“wild cur”) primarily for religious rather than ethnic reasons. In the text, the woman is not offended by Jesus’ words; instead, she acknowledges the way she is viewed by the Jews. It is likely that she was familiar with the statement and the concept of the Messiah as a deliverer of the Jews. We should also note that Jesus calls her kunarion, a “pet dog,” which subtly deviates from the Jewish sentiment.
Her response demonstrates both humility and faith. While accepting that Jesus came to feed the “children,” she asserts that the “dogs” (the Gentiles) need whatever Jesus has to offer, even if it is only in little quantities. Just as dogs eat crumbs from a table, Gentiles can also benefit from Jesus’ mission, although His priority at that point was the Jews. The Canaanite woman “did not ask that the ‘children’ might be deprived of any fragment of their portion; but taking her place, contentedly, among the ‘dogs,’ she could still claim Him as her Master, and ask for the ‘crumbs’ of His mercy” (Ellicott, J., Commentary for English Readers). The fact that she calls Jesus “Lord” and does not use a more familiar term like “Rabbi” is also significant. Jesus commends her faith and grants her request.
Jesus acts intentionally, so His initial refusal of the woman’s request served a purpose. His movement to Tyre and Sidon, a Gentile area, was also deliberate. Earlier in Matthew 15:27, Jesus had rebuked the Pharisees for prioritizing man-made traditions above God’s commands. He also demonstrated that a person’s heart condition is what matters, and He always honors faith. His interaction with the Canaanite woman served as a lesson for the disciples that even Gentiles can exhibit faith, further revealing that sin is what makes a person unclean, not traditions or ethnicity.
Even in the Old Testament, Gentiles could be part of God’s people when they turned from their pagan ways and toward God. This was the case with Rahab and Ruth. Although God chose the Jews as His people, Gentiles were always included in His plan (see Isaiah 49:6; 56:6–7; Zechariah 2:11; Psalm 117:1). Jesus illustrates this through the response of the Canaanite woman, who showed that “the least of Christ is precious to a believer, even the very crumbs of the Bread of life” (Henry, M., Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible).
Finally, Matthew 15:27 foreshadowed a time when Gentiles will not only pick up crumbs but also have a share in the meal of salvation. This was accomplished in Acts 10 and continues to happen today.