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The Syrophoenician woman was the Mother of a demon-possessed daughter. The story of the encounter between Jesus and the unnamed Syrophoenician woman has puzzled many readers. Why did Jesus appear eager to brush off the woman at first? Why did He seem to think her ethnicity was a valid reason to refuse her request—especially since it concerned the well-being of her little girl?
Most of all, why did Jesus change His mind? Had He been mistaken and, realizing the error of His thinking, decided to grant the woman’s request after all? Or was it all a setup designed to test the woman’s persistence? It is unlikely, to say the least, that Jesus viewed the Syrophoenician woman disdainfully on account of her ethnicity.
After all, Jesus had nearly gotten Himself killed at the synagogue in His hometown for reminding His fellow Jews of a time when God sent the prophets not to His chosen people but to people like Naaman the Syrian ( Luke 4:24– 27).
At the end of His earthly ministry, Jesus commissioned His disciples to take the gospel to “all nations” (Matthew 28:19).
Scholars note that Jesus’ explanation—
“It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their ogs” (Matthew 15:26)
—was not a rejection of this woman and her fellow Gentiles but a statement about the focus of Jesus’ immediate ministry. He had been sent to His fellow Jews—and while this did not preclude Him from ministering among the Gentiles, His immediate focus remained on His own people.
Some suggest that Jesus may have used His exchange with the Syrophoenician woman as a test of her faith—or perhaps as a teachable moment with His disciples. Matthew noted that it was the disciples who had pressed Jesus to send the woman away.
In the end, the woman triumphed—her faith and persistence mattered more than her ethnicity.
Impressed by her tenacity, Jesus healed the woman’s demon-possessed daughter.
The Syrophoenician woman’s response to Jesus’ initial rebuff demonstrated not only her persistence but her quick thinking, too. Playing off Jesus’ own metaphor of children and their dogs (the Greek word most likely refers to a puppy taken as a pet), the woman responded that she would accept whatever Jesus had to offer. Such unconditional acceptance was what won Jesus’ admiration and respect.