Summary: The faith of the Canaanite woman moved Jesus with compassion to meet her need - even though she wasn’t within his primary goal at that time

Mt 15:21-28 The Canaanite Woman

Have you ever wondered why St Matthew included this story about Jesus in his Gospel?

As you know the first century Jews used to refer to non- Jews as Gentile dogs.

And it used to grate me when Jesus said to the Canaanite woman

"It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs."

But I don’t think this is the central message of the story and so I’d like to park that for now

Rather I would like to dig further behind the story. I’d like to ask the question

WHY did Matthew include this story in this Gospel?

To find the answer, we need to look at the context of the story within the Gospel of Matthew.

The whole of Matthew Chapter 15 goes to the subject of what is and what is not unclean.

1. What is unclean?

The chapter opens with the Pharisees attacking Jesus because his disciples don’t adhere strictly to the letter of their man made laws.

They said to Jesus: “Why do your disciples break the traditions of the elders. They don’t wash their hands before they eat”

Getting to the heart of their question, Jesus replies by saying that

“What goes into a man’s mouth does not make him ’unclean,’ but what comes out of his mouth that is what makes him ’unclean.’ " (v.11).

2. Who is Unclean?

Jesus then goes on to reinforce his teaching by interacting with a person the Pharisees would consider unclean – a Gentile woman.

In the story of the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter – Jesus shows compassion to the needs of an “unclean” person thereby DIGNIFYING her.

3. The feeding of the Unclean

And the Chapter ends with the feeding of the four thousand Gentiles (again people the Jews would consider unclean) – and we read that seven baskets of leftovers picked up afterwards (v37).

Which compares to the twelve baskets that were leftover at the feeding of the five thousand in the previous chapter. Mt 14: 13-21)

Unlike the feeding of the five thousand in the previous chapter who were Jews – the four thousand who are fed are Gentiles.

Where do I get that from - the parallel passage in St Mark’s Gospel (Mk 7:31).

Here we read that Jesus was in the region of the Decapolis – a group of ten independently governed Greek cities in the Transjordan region when he performed this miracle.

The key to understanding the stories of Jesus in Mt 15 is that the Gospel is available NOT ONLY to God’s chosen people – the Jews - but also to us Gentiles too.

And as we are in Lent - and look towards Good Friday and Easter, we are reminded that NO –ONE is beyond the pale in God’s eyes - not even Slob-o- dan Mil-os-evic who died yesterday (11-03-06)

The Gospel is not just for a select body of fine upright men and women.

Rather the story of the healing of the Canaanite woman’s daughter REMINDS us that the Kingdom of God is available for the”riff raff” too.

I’d like to end my thoughts on this story today by coming back to that part of the story that often grated when Jesus said:.

"It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs."

Jesus knew that his primary mission AT THAT TIME was to take the Gospel to the Jewish people – and if he hadn’t been singleminded – he would never have achieved that goal, which his Heavenly Father had set him.

And I wonder if we see Jesus struggling with his calling when the Canaanite woman comes to him.

He says in verse 24:

“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel”

But in Greek there is no punctuation and so it has to be inferred

Michael Green in his commentary “The Message of Matthew” suggests that the same passage might also be translated as

“Was I sent only to the lost sheep of Israel?”

Which puts a completely different complexion on the story

And Michael Green goes on to suggest that Jesus continues to muse by saying

“Is it fair to take the children’s bread and give it to the pups” ( v.26)

(Again using different punctuation)

And immediately, brilliantly she picks up the half derogatory, half affectionate description. (The Greek word Kyn-aria here translated as “dogs really means “puppies”). And she comes out with a reply full of humour and faith

“Yes, Lord even the pups eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table” (v.27)

Michael Green –The Message of Matthew p. 172-173)

Look at her response, which Jesus so highly commends.

1. It is interesting to note that she doesn’t take offence. I certainly would have in her position

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