21 And Jesus went away from there and withdrew to the district of Tyre and
Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman from that region came out and cried, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is severely possessed by a demon." 23 But he did not answer her a word. And his disciples came and begged him, saying, "Send her away, for she is crying after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." 25 But she came and knelt before him, saying, "Lord, help me." 26 And he answered, "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 27 She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered her, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." And her daughter was healed instantly.
Our new pastor, drew from it that Jesus must have been teaching his disciples a lesson in racial tolerance: that just because the woman was a Canaanite did not mean that she was beyond God's grace.
Something else was struck me, however, and it's not an angle I hear often, so I thought I'd toss it out for consideration.
For sure, there were racial divisions between the Israelites and the Canaanites, but the even bigger division was religious. The Israelites worshipped God while the Canaanites were pagan. So when this woman approaches Jesus, she's not only asking someone of another ethnic group to help her, but she's asking a prophet of a religion other than her own to help her. Jesus' reputation for holiness and miracles is so great that she seeks his help rather than a priest or healer of her own religion.
Similarly, I think Christ's response "It is not fair to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." more properly refers to his ministry being to believers than to a specific ethnic group. (After all, we several times hear of the Greek or Etheopian Jews in the New Testament, and it doesn't sound like they are treated differently because they are not ethnically Israelite.)
Christ's response is thus that he was sent to tend to the needs of believers in the One God of Israel, not worshipers of pagan idols. Yet the Canaanite woman shows by her persistence that she does believe in the efficacy of Jesus, and through him, God. And so Christ heals her daughter.
It's easy to forget the profoundly different world that first century Jews and Christians experienced because their neighbors were truly pagan. In that we often think of ourselves as a Christian Church surrounded by a pagan world, we lose the distinction between the ancient world and today. Today we are surrounded mostly be lax Christians and post-Christians, along with a few agnostics, atheists, neo-pagans, and members of other religious traditions. But the world as a whole, and it's understanding of reality, eternity and the human person, has been changed by its two millennia long contact with Christianity. Modern pagans and unbelievers are specifically post-Christian pagans and unbelievers. In some ways, this makes the job of evangelicalism more difficult. Non-Christians in our modern world often retain the more attractive elements of the Christian worldview, while dropping it's more difficult beliefs and strictures. Thus, Christianity has, to a certain extent, been robbed of its "newness" in the eyes of the world.