Matthew 15: 21 – 28

First reading of the Gospel

To-day’s reading demands of us a radical change in our thinking.

As you read it for the first time consciously seek to find how this text is moving you towards a change in your thinking. Certainly this is what it meant for Matthew’s community.

Now let us read the text several times. As you read you will doubtless find words and phrases the meaning and significance of which may not be apparent to you. Mark the places where you have questions.


Words
21Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

22Then out came a Canaanite woman from the district and started shouting, “Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.23But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. “Give her what she wants,” they said, “because she is shouting after us.” 24He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.25 But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. “Lord,” she said “help me.” 26He replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.” 27She retorted, “Ah yes, sir, but even the house dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Gennesaret to Tyre and Sidon is quite a journey. Gennesaret is on the shores of the Sea of Galilee and Tyre and Sidon are on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea. An even greater journey is that it was a move from Jewish territory to Pagan. This is our first clue as to what the passage was saying to Matthew’s community. “Accept the pagans into the Christian community.”   But why did Jesus leave. The answer to this question is to be found in the incident just prior to this reading, 15: 1 – 20.

This story challenges the thinking and teaching of the Pharisees.

Canaanite woman: To speak to a woman in public was taboo. There was even less regard for someone who was a Canaanite. This phrase embodies both antipathy and distrust.

A devil: The current belief was that all physical disorders were caused by demons. Today we know that the cause of illness is germs, viruses etc.

The lost sheep of Israel: Jesus had to decide where he was going to start his mission. His choice was to begin with his own people. The Jewish people of Galilee were not well regarded by the religious authorities of the day. Their orthodoxy was certainly questionable.

The house dogs: Jews at the time of Jesus were sure that they were the only holy and pure human beings. The pagans were looked on as “dogs” because they did not know the law of God, while Israel was the delight of the Lord.

Woman, you have great faith. What a challenge to all the so called good Jews. This is not the first time that Jesus spoke this way; 8: 10


Characters

Jesus and the Canaanite Woman are the central figures.

Canaanite Woman:

Read the text once more this time marking every part of the text that throws light on this woman. Having done this, enter into the text as the woman. Become aware of her feelings as the story progresses. In your imagination place yourself in her position. Become aware of the changes that take place in her as a result of this encounter with Jesus.

Enter into prayer moving from your own words to using the words of scripture. Note her heat felt prayer, “Lord, help me.”

Here are some phrases you might use in your reflection.

21Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.

22Then out came a Canaanite woman from the district and started shouting, “Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.” 23But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. “Give her what she wants,” they said, “because she is shouting after us.24He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.” 25 But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. “Lord,” she said “help me.” 26He replied, “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.” 27She retorted, “Ah yes, sir, but even the house dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” And from that moment her daughter was well again.

Jesus

Now let us enter into the story as Jesus seeking a deeper understanding of him.

21Jesus left Gennesaret and withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon.
22Then out came a Canaanite woman from the district and started shouting, “Sir, Son of David, take pity on me. My daughter is tormented by a devil.23But he answered her not a word. And his disciples went and pleaded with him. “Give her what she wants,” they said, “because she is shouting after us.” 24He said in reply, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the House of Israel.25 But the woman had come up and was kneeling at his feet. “Lord,” she said “help me.26He replied, It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs. 27She retorted, “Ah yes, sir, but even the house dogs can eat the scraps that fall from their master’s table.” 28Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.” And from that moment her daughter was well again.

But he answered her not a word.
It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the house dogs.

This behavior is so out of character we are forced to think carefully about what is happening. The rest of the story shows how it was all show to lead the apostles to a radical change of mind. “Woman, you have great faith!” – exclaims Jesus at the end of the story. No Israelite was ever praised by him like this. Makes you think – it certainly must have made the apostles and the early Christians think again.

Then Jesus answered her, “Woman, you have great faith. Let your wish be granted.”
This is revolutionary. All the barriers of prejudice and racism, all divisions are pulled down. The new “people of God” is open to all. It may be worth pointing out how Jesus ridicules the spiritual guides of his people. He shows that the pagans have more trust than the Israelites … the “dogs” are better than the “masters”. No wonder he found himself disliked by the authorities.

Qualities of our God
We receive another insight into our God.

We have a tough God:
He knows that only in challenge do we grow;
Difficulties area as necessary to us as the air we breathe;
He allows us to struggle – in this way we grow;
He only gives us insights into knowing him slowly.

We have a totally – “ON US” – orientated God.
We are his creation. We are the centre of his being.

Our God requires us to take full responsibility:

for our lives;
for our community;
for humanity.

We do not have a cruel god. The cruel god is the invention of some people.