Reflecting on Matthew for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time

From The Gospel of Matthew, by Curtis Mitch and Edward Sri, commenting on Matthew 15:21-28

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Jesus’ reputation as a healer and exorcist had apparently preceded him here, for a local mother whose daughter was afflicted by a demon identified him and pressed him to intervene.

At first, Jesus gave no answer to her pleas, and the disciples grew annoyed that she kept calling out for his help. When he finally responded, he explained his reason for not getting involved: his ministry was directed not to the Gentiles but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (see 10:5–6). The people of Israel, being the Lord’s collective firstborn (Exod 4:22), stand first in line to receive the Messiah’s blessings (see Acts 3:26).

Not content with this response, the woman did him homage, which probably means that she bowed before him or performed some comparable gesture of reverence. Then she renews her request with the words, Lord, help me. Accepting his lordship, she is confident that Jesus wields the divine power necessary to release her little girl from demonic oppression.

Still, Jesus declines. It is inappropriate, he says, to toss the food of the children to dogs. His first priority is to bring blessings to the Israelites, the “children” of the Lord by covenant (Deut 14:1). The Gentiles, for their part, are depicted more like little house dogs than true family members, for they are ignorant of the God of Israel and his ways.

Many would have given up after this second failed attempt at soliciting Jesus’ help, but not this woman. Undaunted, she presses forward, engaging the details of the parable. Please, Lord, she begs, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.

At last Jesus responds favorably with glowing words of praise: O woman, great is your faith! He is impressed with her persistence and rewards it by freeing her daughter from the nightmare of demonic assault. And from that hour on, the woman’s daughter was delivered from the evil spirit.

© 2010 Curtis Mitch, Edward Sri, and Baker Academic. Unauthorized use of this material without express written permission is strictly prohibited.