The Woman Who Changed Jesus’ Mind

June 21, 2016

One of my favorite stories about the life of Jesus involves a woman who changed Jesus’ mind, and perhaps the entire course of Christianity. It was a powerful story for Jesus, and I believe it has important implications for our lives today. Here is the story:

Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.”

Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”

He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”

The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said.

He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.”

Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment (Matthew 15:21-28).

Up until that point, the ministry of Jesus had been focused on the Jewish people, the chosen people of God. Jesus himself was Jewish, and it is clear from this passage that Jesus saw the scope of his ministry as focused on the Jews. Here was a Canaanite woman, a person who had a different ethnic and religious heritage. She was an outsider. Yet she approaches Jesus in faith, asking him to heal her daughter.

At first, Jesus doesn’t do it. It’s almost as if he is wrestling with the issue himself. What is the scope of his mission? Is it only to the Jewish people? Or was Jesus called to minister to all people, regardless of their ethnic or religious heritage?

This passage is not the most flattering picture of Jesus. He calls the woman and her people ‘dogs,’ which is unsettling to me. Was Jesus racist? In this passage, he certainly appears to show preference toward people from his own ethnic and religious heritage.

But the woman is persistent. She keeps at Jesus, and ultimately Jesus changes his mind. Through her faith, Jesus begins to recognize that ‘outsiders’ can have remarkable faith as well, and he should not show preference for his own group. The scope of his ministry was expanded to include all people. Contrast this passage to the Great Commission at the end of Jesus’ ministry, where he instructs his followers to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). The message of Jesus isn’t just for the Jews anymore. It’s for everyone. As a non-Jew, I’m thankful for the Canaanite woman’s tenacity and faith.

I think there are two key lessons we can learn from this story:

  1. Humility is essential. Humility involves being open to new perspectives, ideas, and people. In this passage, Jesus had one idea about the scope of his ministry, but he allowed himself to be open and changed by a woman from a different ethnic and religious background. He was open to the idea that God might have something different in mind for his ministry—a bigger plan than he could have imagined. Jesus wasn’t boxed in by his own perspective. In the same way, it’s important for us to be open to new perspectives, ideas, and people, instead of thinking we know everything. You never know what God might have in store for you. Walk through life with humility, curiosity, and openness.
  2. Racism has a long history. Even two thousand years ago, people had the tendency to prioritize their own cultural group, and struggled to figure out how engage with people who were different. Even Jesus wrestled with this issue! We see these difficulties in the early church, and they continue to the present day. I wonder if this passage provides one way forward to the problem of racism. In this passage, I notice a shift in Jesus that occurred over the course of his interaction with the Canaanite woman. It’s a shift toward humanization. In the beginning, Jesus had a dehumanizing stance toward the Canaanite woman, calling her and her cultural group ‘dogs.’ But over the course of the interaction, his stance shifts, and by the end, not only does Jesus view the Canaanite woman as a human being, but he has a deep respect and admiration for her. In our society, it is important for us to engage in relationship with people who are different in order to move from dehumanization toward mutual respect.

Discussion: What do you make of this story? What lessons can you take from this story that you can apply in your life today?


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  1. Dixon Murrah July 9, 2017 at 10:54 pm - Reply

    But the Bible says Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever so He did not and would not change His mind. It was all a matter of timing. God does not change!

  2. Joshua Hook July 14, 2017 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    How do you read and understand this story then? At first, Jesus says that he was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel. But through his interaction with the Canaanite woman, Jesus makes a shift and does something different (i.e., ministers to someone outside of the lost sheep of Israel). And by the end of his life, it appears that his ministry focus has shifted and broadened (e.g., Matthew 28:19).

  3. Bamboo Dread October 18, 2017 at 3:53 pm - Reply

    So Jesus was making it up as he went along, just like every other preacher then?

  4. Terry Campbell November 13, 2018 at 5:45 pm - Reply

    I don’t think Jesus changed his mind, and I certainly don’t think that he was racist. Perhaps he was expressing what he knew was in the hearts of his disciples. I think that Jesus goal here is both to get her too fully express her faith and to teach his disciples, and us, a lesson. Jesus said that he only spoke what the father told him to speak (John 12:49). Certainly God the Father is not racist.

  5. rodd morgan December 28, 2018 at 5:02 pm - Reply

    Jesus said He came only for the lost sheep of Israel…..BUT He added to them “those of another fold” in John ch 10 v 16. (This reads, to me, of individuals being added (eg the Canaanite woman) but NOT whole races or nations. ???) Certainly the disciples were unprepared for such a commission to win over everyone in the world.(see Acts eg Acts ch 10 v 28, and I wonder why would Jesus land this on them- after 3 1/2 years with them without a word – and then promptly leave them and go to His Father ! In His life on earth, Jesus spoke in parables for the soul purpose to PREVENT the understanding, it seems, of more than just individuals…even groups or races. (Matt ch 13 vs 10-15 ) Jesus writes off the “Jews” ( who were Edomites ) in John ch 8, vs 43-44 and in John ch 10, v. 26, the same Edomites were clearly told by Jesus that they were NOT His sheep….which sounds pretty ‘final’ !! (Mal ch 1 vs 2-4 seems to support that comment !!!) God, Himself, in the O.T. wrote off whole races of “…ittes ” for obstructing or otherwise ‘hurting’ the Israelites. There was no attempt to “save these races” and include them in any all-world commission to win them over for God.
    Then :- Suddenly:-
    We have Eph ch 3 vs 3-7 , Col ch 1 vs 25-28 and Rom ch 11 when Paul claimed (in Eph.) to be privy to God’s thoughts and ideas and claimed he had been given sole rights to open the preaching to the wide world of {“gentiles”} (I dispute this word ) – that Paul could claim the “mystery of Christ ” v. 4 and so be “top apostle” !! (I say sarcastically !)
    Paul gets so much wrong, I do not accept what he claims here either. But it does leave the dilemma of it appearing in the “Bible”.
    Whatever, the state of the world today indicates a COMPLETE FAILURE of the world being ‘won over’ to Christ, which makes me believe Jesus was very correct in Matt ch 15 + John ch 10 v.16.
    Thus I believe Matt ch 28 v 19 directs the apostles to go to the nations to only find the lost Hebrew Israelites who were (still are) scattered over the world. After all, the New Covenant is only for Israel ( Jer ch 31 v 31 ) and Jer. ch ch 30 v 11 tells us that God will put a complete end to the other nations from amongst which God will gather the lost Israelites.
    (Gen ch 12 v 3…a ” blessing to all nations” may be perfectly well explained in another way…and has already come to pass. )
    Please tell me if you disagree with any or all and tell me where I am mistaken …that I may learn also.
    Thank you for your interest.

  6. Joshua Hook December 29, 2018 at 4:30 pm - Reply

    Hi Rodd, thanks for sharing. I probably ascribe to the more traditional Christian interpretation that Jesus broadened the scope of his mission from (1) focused on the Jewish people to (2) all people. I think you see the early church focused on this issue (e.g., the story of Peter and Cornelius in Acts 10, much of Paul’s writing). My sense is that even the apostles who were focused on ministering to the Jewish people (e.g., Peter, James) were supportive of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, although there was definitely some disagreement and issues that needed to be worked out over time. That said, much of the expansion of the message of Jesus to the Gentiles is based on Paul’s ministry and writings, so it makes sense that you might disagree with the expansion if you disagree with Paul. I wish I knew more to specifically respond to your points. I’ll forward the link to this post to my pastor and see if he has any additional thoughts.

  7. rodd morgan December 30, 2018 at 8:54 am - Reply

    Hi Joshua,
    I am delighted that you have responded ! Thank you. I have to admit that I hadn’t read your own article :- ‘The woman who changed Jesus’ mind’ before I wrote previously ! Obviously I am now better able to respond to it !! ( Though reading through what I wrote, I wouldn’t change a word.. (other than spell ‘sole’ correctly ) – but merely add to it !!!)
    The life on earth of Jesus is example for us to follow. But we must be aware that the words Jesus spoke were NOT His own ! Best to explain is to read Deut ch 18 vs 15, 18 and 19 ….and that Jesus came into the world that God may be heard. (Emmanuel) At His Baptism, Jesus received the Holy Spirit and throughout His ministry the words He gave to us were His Father’s words – and NOT His own !! ( eg. John ch 14 vs 10 or John ch 17 vs 8 and 14 + many others))
    (So the Canaanite woman would not have changed Jesus’ mind , but God’s mind !!) But God does not change !
    I feel absolutely that we must accept what the Gospel of Jesus tells us !! (2 John v 9 ) The churches generally take the easier route….ie. the path of Paul….which is very different -but it will attract more customers !!!
    Regarding the Canaanite woman, what she replies —–[ ie. “Truth Lord, yet the dogs eat the crumbs which fall from the master’s table” — (capital “M” in this case ) is absolutely consistent with Jesus’ comments . He said He has only come for the lost sheep of Israel – (but that others may be gathered up in the process. if, as this woman was, ‘believing and faithful ‘. )
    John ch 3 v 16 sounds like an open invitation to all….but in reality, most will not even want to enter – and for various reasons – which will all boil down to the fact that they do NOT believe -nor want to believe. This is called free-choice…which will perfectly reflect the numbers of names of people which God gives to Jesus to be received. (John ch 6 v 36 and 44 )
    (And the Bible IS inclusive of the people outside Israel – in John ch 10 v 16 -and thus, anyone ‘may ‘ enter. )
    We must understand that God has ALL KNOWLEDGE….and had it at “the beginning”. God does not get surprises !!! Every detail is known by Him beforehand..because all is planned.
    I believe that the ignorance of the churches is responsible for this “desire”, by them, to change -or amend – what we are told in the Bible…by God ! eg Matt ch 15 v 24 !
    Pastors want to be seen as kind and all-inclusive…..but the Bible is sometimes seen as unfair ..because it is misunderstood. If we wish to join, the family of God, then we do so on God’s terms, not our own. (If we doubt God, then we are free NOT to partake. )
    In my opinion, Paul tries to change the does the church…… my opinion, that is against God. I see Paul as a confuser and, as his apostleship is so questionable …..and…. as we are told that Christ is sufficient…… then why not just FOLLOW JESUS as our “ONE MASTER” ?? We don’t need Paul !

    Thank you. rodd

    (((I would prefer to write privately, initially, to explain some sensitive issues and facts about which the churches are so ignorant of eg. who is Israel , who is NOT Israel. This is vital knowledge to understand the Bible ! IF you wish, you have my email and you are most welcome to use it, thank you. ) I would also be pleased to hear your own Pastor’s thoughts on anything we have written between us, thank you. r.

  8. Ismael Andres February 8, 2020 at 1:28 pm - Reply

    I am going to talk about this on my vlog and I will tell people about this site. Thank you. I have been looking for this to provide the biblical basis for compassion and innovation in ministries and services

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