(Mt. 10:5-6) Was Jesus cruel in not ministering to the Gentiles? (cf. 15:24)

CLAIM: Jesus told the Twelve, “Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter any city of the Samaritans; 6 but rather go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 10:5-6). He also said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Mt. 15:24). Was Jesus racist against Gentiles? Why does Jesus only care about the Jews?

RESPONSE: A few observations can be made:

First, however we interpret this passage, we need to remember that Jesus cares for all people—not just the Jewish people. This same author (Matthew) records that Jesus came to bring light to the Gentiles (Mt. 4:15-16). Jesus’ disciples were to be the light of the world—not just the nation of Israel (Mt. 5:13-16). Jesus healed the Gentile centurion’s servant (Mt. 8:5-13). His disciples would speak before Gentile kings (Mt. 10:8). He predicted that Gentiles would take over God’s kingdom (Mt. 21:43). He predicted that his love would reach all peoples (Mt. 24:14), and he also commanded it (Mt. 28:18-20). Therefore, Jesus was anything but unloving to Gentiles!

Second, it was more strategic to reach the Jews first. Remember, the Jewish people had the Scriptures, and they believed in an infinite-personal God. It made more sense to spread the gospel to them, rather than Gentiles who were polytheistic. Paul adopted the same method (Acts 13:5, 44-48; 14:1) and prescribed it too (Rom. 1:17).

Third, Jesus’ disciples may not have been ready to reach the Gentiles and Samaritans. Carson notes that the disciples showed themselves to be “temperamentally ill-equipped to minister to Samaritans.”[1] At one point, they asked to reign down fire on them (Lk. 9:52-56), and even after the command of Jesus (Acts 1:8) and the arrival of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the apostles were hesitant to embrace the Samaritans. This is because there was incredible hostility between the Jews and the Samaritans (see “History of the Samaritans”).

[1] Carson, D. A. (1984). Matthew. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 244). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.