Those with a high view of the authority of the inerrant, infallible scriptures can’t be wishy-washy about the status of Canaanites. Those people are unclean, unwanted, excluded.
The Bible is very clear on this point. Jesus knew that. He knew what the scriptures said about Canaanites. But that didn’t matter to him as much as the person in front of him:
Jesus left that place and went away to the district of Tyre and Sidon. Just then a Canaanite woman from that region came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is tormented by a demon.” But he did not answer her at all. And his disciples came and urged him, saying, “Send her away, for she keeps shouting 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.” He answered, “It is not fair to take the children’s food 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, “Woman, great is your faith! Let it be done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed instantly.
In his final post reviewing Robert A.J. Gagnon’s The Bible and Homosexual Practice, Scot Miller writes:
The question for believers is not finished by asking, “What did the Bible say?” This is at best a trivial question about a historical document. (And it is a naive question, for it disregards the fact that we cannot escape the historically conditioned prejudices we bring to the text. The historical question hides within it prejudices that can obscure the meaning of the text.) The more significant question for a believer is, “How am I to understand what the Bible says?”
The story above from Matthew’s Gospel shows Jesus engaging both of those questions. “What did the Bible say” about Canaanites? It said they were undeserving — “dogs.”
But how did Jesus decide to understand what the Bible said? By welcoming and embracing this Syrophoenician woman, this unclean, unchosen, Canaanite. “As you wish,” Jesus said to her, and anybody who’s seen The Princess Bride can tell you what that means.
(For a beautiful retelling of this story from the Gospels, see the Real Live Preacher’s “The Smallest Person in All the World.”)