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Sean Milner wrote:

Hi, guys —

I am confused by today's Gospel, Matthew 15:21-28:

The Canaanite Woman's Faith

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.

Matthew 15:21-28

  • What was Jesus telling the Apostles when he said he was here for the children of Israel?
  • What was he saying to the woman by saying one should not take children's bread and give it to the dogs?

Sean

  { Can you explain Jesus' words about the children of Israel and not giving children's food to dogs? }

Mary Ann replied:

Hi, Sean —

Christ was sent to preach, teach, and minister to God's chosen people, the Jews. Only after His death and Resurrection would the Gentiles be included.

As to giving food to the dogs, the term used was that of a pet, so it was not a put down, but a test of faith. It may even have been a playful test, a play on words in Latin (which He would have spoken in that heavily Roman area to a foreigner) on Canaanite and canis, dog.

Mary Ann

Mike replied:

Hi, Sean —

This passage from the Gospel has always interested me too so I thought I would share with you what my 1954 Commentary on Catholic Scriptures said:

On Matthew 15:21-28

21. This incident, one of the most touching in the Gospel and treated with a delicate realism unusual in Matthew's Gospel, takes place in the pagan district of Tyre and Sidon. This Phoenician territory borders Galilee on the north. It is possible that our Lord leaves Israelitic ground to give his disciples the respite which they had been recently denied. 22. Matthew uses the term 'Canaanite' (Mark 'Syrophoenician') to underline the significance of a miracle worked for one who belonged to the hereditary enemies of Israel. The term is not inaccurate: this district, colonized by Canaanites, Genesis 10:15, was still basically Canaanite. The woman salutes our Lord with the Messianic title 'Son of David'. The phrase must have spread with his reputation beyond the confines of Israel. 23. (Matthew only). The realistic reference to the disciples' intervention is strangely absent from Mark. Matthew's Greek translator is evidently independent of Mark here. Since it is not his habit to enter into detail of this kind, it is clear that the detail is not invented 'to heighten the effect' but rather that the translator has under his eye 'a second and longer account (than Mark's)'. Yet even here the lifelike quality of the incident is due as much to what is implied as to what is expressed. Our Lord's silence (we gather) naturally drives the poor mother to the disciples. These are more concerned to rid themselves of the annoyance but, as our Lord's reply in 24 hints. They suggest that the only way to do so is to dismiss her with the request granted. 24. Our Lord's personal concern (like that of the Apostles on their first mission) is with Israel. His remark recalls that made to his mother at Cana, John 2:4, where, evidently, the tone was sufficiently kindly to encourage. 25. In any case, the woman's quick eyes have seen him at last open his mouth. She seizes the slight advantage and falls at his feet with a cry for pity. 26. The words of Jesus are not as harsh as they read and they seem deliberately to invite a riposte. That they are a little parable, turned into allegory only by the situation, lessens the shock of the words. Moreover, the term 'dogs' would be better rendered 'little dogs', or 'pet dogs'; it serves to bring out the importance of priority for the children yet eliminates the absolute idea of contempt. 27. Nevertheless, the remark would have checked one with a vestige of pride (contrast Naaman, 4 Kings 5:11-12) as our Lord well knows. But the woman's simple humility rises to the occasion and there is wit in her reply: 'How true' or: 'Please! Lord! for the little dogs also get their meal—from the crumbs that fall'. The woman quaintly turns the parable to her own advantage: it is true, she implies, as far as it goes, but it has not been taken far enough. As a mother, she knows that she would not thus rob her children of bread, but she also knows their table manners and how the floor is kept clean. 28. The Sacred Heart is won by a faith that stood so sharp a test. When the woman got home she found her child well again. (Mark)

Mark's Gospel gives us this account:

The Syrophoenician Woman's Faith

24 And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. 25 But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. 26 Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoenician by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. 27 And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." 28 But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." 29 And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." 30 And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.

Mark 7:24-30

My commentary on Mark's account states the following:

24-30 The Syrophoenician Woman; cf. Matthew 15:21-28 — This was one of the few occasions on which Christ went outside Palestine. The district of Tyre and Sidon, part of ancient Phoenicia, now belonged to the Roman province of Syria. The population was pagan, and though the report of Christ's miracles had reached there, 3:8, it does not appear that it was his intention to preach the Gospel in the district. He may have wished to proceed quietly with the instruction of the disciples. 24. 'Region' meaning districts or territories. 27-28. The 'children' represent the Jews to whom Christ's personal mission extended; cf. Matthew 15:24. The 'dogs' represent the Gentiles. The comparison is based on a familiar domestic scene, but the woman was probably well aware of the contempt which Jews had for the Gentiles and their gods. It is not certain that at the time of Christ the Gentiles were called dogs by the Jews. With profound humility and understanding she turned the image to her advantage — her request was only for a crumb of consolation, something which would not be missed from the rich feast offered to the Jews. 29-30. Christ granted her request as a reward of her strong faith and deep humility.

Hope this helps,

Mike

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