Father MacEvilly’s Commentary on Matthew 15:21-28
Posted by Dim Bulb on July 23, 2016
Mat 15:21 And Jesus went from thence, and retired into the coast of Tyre and Sidon.
Seeing the obstinate incredulity and ingratitude of the Jews, our Redeemer retires from the land of “Genesar,” or from Capharnaum and the neighbouring places, into the confines of Tyre and Sidon, probably, with the view of pointing out to His Apostles, by this mode of acting, how they were, after His resurrection, to transfer the preaching of the Gospel to the Gentiles, from the Jews, who were obstinately bent on resisting them. He also retired, probably, for the purpose of retreat and rest after His labours. Hence, we are informed by St. Mark (7:24), that, entering a house, He wished to remain concealed, unknown to any person. He might have wished to remain in this private way, lest, by publicly preaching and performing miracles, He might furnish the Jews with a pretext for rejecting Him, in consequence of His having held intercourse with the Gentiles; and, moreover, He would be acting in opposition to the instructions He gave His Apostles on this subject.
“The coasts,” that is, the country bordering on, and belonging to “Tyre and Sidon.” These were maritime cities of Phœnicia, to the north of Galilee, near Mount Lebanon, which bordered on Judea. Some commentators (Maldonatus and others) are of opinion, that our Redeemer did not enter the territories of the Gentiles, but, that He only came to the extreme confines of Galilee, on the borders of Phœnicia, of which Tyre and Sidon were the principal cities. These expositors derive an argument in favour of their opinion, from the fact, that the “woman came out” of these parts to see Jesus. The words, however, might be explained, that while He was in these parts, she came out of her house, for “she heard of Him” (Mark 7:25)—Franciscus Lucas.
Mat 15:22 And behold a woman of Canaan who came out of those coasts, crying out, said to him: Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David: my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil.
“A woman of Chanaan.” She was a Gentile and Phœnician, as we learn from St. Mark (7:26). She is said to be “of Chanaan,” one of the descendants of Chanaan, the son of Cham, and grandson of Noe. The first-born of Chanaan was Sidon, the founder of the city bearing his name. The Chanaanites were one of the seven nations, that inhabited the land of Chanaan. They inhabited the sea coast, whence they were partly expelled by Josue. A portion, however, remained. The Jews did not subdue Tyre or Sidon. The Phœnicians and Chanaanites were the same people. They were called Chanaanites, by the Hebrews; and Phœnicians, by the Greeks. This woman is called a “Syro-Phœnician,” by St. Mark (7:26)—for she was a Syrian, as well as a Phœnician, Phœnicia being a part of Syria—to distinguish her from the Phœnicians of Lybia, in Africa; and “a Gentile,” in the original (ἑλληνις), a Greek, which is properly rendered, “a Gentile.” For, in the New Testament, in accordance with Jewish usage, the Gentiles are called Greeks—“Judæis et Græcis debitor sum.” (Rom. 1) The word, Gentile, does not convey that she was an idolater, but only, that she was neither of Hebrew extraction, nor, of the Jewish religion.
“Have mercy on me.” She says, “on me,” to entreat Him the more earnestly, and to show that, her daughter’s affliction was fully shared in, and borne by her, which was a great proof of maternal affection.
“O Lord, thou son of David,” shows her great faith. She believed Him to be the Messiah, promised to the Jews, and to have power over devils, whom she besought Him to expel from her daughter. Hence, she says to Him, as having this power from Himself, “Have mercy on me, O Lord.” “Lord, help me” (v. 25).
Mat 15:23 Who answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us:
Our Redeemer made no reply whatever, probably, for the purpose of testing her great virtue, her faith and humility; or, perhaps, He had in view, to avoid giving His enemies a pretext for accusing Him of having violated His own instructions to His Apostles, on the subject of not transferring their ministry to the Gentiles, and to show, that if He preformed a miracle in favour of this woman, He did so from a kind of moral necessity.
“And His disciples came,” &c. From this, it would seem it was on the road this happened. St. Mark says, “she came in and fell at His feet,” in the house. Both accounts are true. She, in the first instance, did as St. Mark describes; and, again, when He paid no heed to her, she followed them on the way, and then He heard her petition. Others say, she, in the first instance, met Him on the road, and after that, following Him into the house, obtained, by her faith and humble perseverance, the fruit of her petition.
Mat 15:24 And he answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep, that are lost of the house of Israel.
Our Lord was not sent as an Apostle from His Father to the Gentiles, to favour them with His presence; but, to the Jews, according to the predictions of the Prophets. Hence, although the Redeemer of all, He was the Apostle (“sent”), only of the Jews, “minister circumcisionis” (Rom. 15:8). He was sent by His Father personally, to the Jews only. For them alone, He was to perform His miracles, in proof of His doctrine. Had He preached, and worked miracles indiscriminately among the Gentiles, the Jews might have some pretext for rejecting Him as the promised Messiah (Rom. 15:8, 9); and this is the reason why He refuses working the miracle sought for in favour of the Chanaanite woman. “But to the sheep that are lost,” &c. (See 10:6.) It was predicted by the Prophets, that our Lord was to preach to the Jews; and hence, in order to fulfil these prophecies, He confined His preaching and miracles generally to that people (see Rom. 15:8, 9).
Mat 15:25 But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me.
Her faith and humility are more and more inflamed and stimulated by the repulse she met with in the first instance. Hence, coming forward and falling down, in prostrate adoration before Him, she urges her petition with still greater earnestness.
Mat 15:26 Who answering, said: It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs.
“Good” (καλον), equitable, fair, or congruous. “To take the bread of children,” that is, the grace of miracles, and, in general, the grace of the Gospel, embracing His own doctrine and miracles, which were promised the Jews, the “children” of God, the seed of Abraham, as their special nourishment—“bread”—“and cast it to dogs.” Such was the estimation in which the Gentiles were held by the Jews; and such the opprobrious epithet with which they were designated, on account of their idolatry and sinful practices. Our Lord, as we are informed by St. Mark (7:27), replied, “Suffer the children to be filled first;” as if holding out some hope to her, that after the children were satiated, she might then expect the fruit of her petition. Others derive a contrary inference; they say, the harsh comparison instituted between the Gentiles and dogs, was calculated to show the utter hopelessness of the case, and was employed by our Divine Lord in giving utterance, not to His own sentiments—for, He knew the Gentiles were soon to be the favoured sons of God, while the Jews were to become “dogs” (Philip. 3:2; Psalm 21:17)—but speaking after the manner and feelings of the Jews, for the purpose of eliciting a strong proof of her great faith and humility, which no repulse, however apparently harsh and discouraging, could damp. His words come to this: Is it fair for Me who am sent specially to the Jews, the chosen children of God, to transfer My miracles, until the Jews are fully satisfied, to the Gentiles, who hold no other place than that of dogs in the family or household of God?
Mat 15:27 But she said: Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.
Her humble perseverance was not to be baffled or frustrated in its object. “Yea, Lord.” Granted, that I am but a whelp, a worthless dog; and that to such the bread of children is not to be cast, still, even in this capacity, however mean, I have a claim to be attended to.
“For, the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from,” &c. She did not demand abundance of bread. The miraculous cure she sought for was only “a crumb,” compared with the many splendid miracles performed among the Jews, whom she calls not only “children,” but her “Lords,” in the family household of her Sovereign Master. In this, she shows her great faith, which our Redeemer so strongly commends, and also her profound humility. As if she said: You call me a whelp; and so I am; nourish me, therefore, as whelps are nourished, with a crumb of the bread that falls from my master’s table.
Mat 15:28 Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour.
As if acknowledging Himself to be vanquished by this woman’s faith and perseverance, our Redeemer at once exclaims, “O woman, great is thy faith”—“great,” rare, excellent, in its constancy; great, in its perseverance.
“Great,” in the things you believe regarding Me, and in the confidence it inspires. “Be it done.” He uses an imperative form in restoring his creature, as He did in the original act of creation, “ipse mandavit et creata sunt.”
It is worthy of remark, that in the great encomiums bestowed by our Lord in instances of singularly great faith, the objects of these encomiums were Gentiles.
“And her daughter was cured,” &c. From the history of the Chanaanite woman, we can clearly see how parents should have recourse to our Lord in the necessities of their children; and implore His Divine aid in their favour. We are also taught how frequently our Lord puts off hearing us in the first instance, in order to test our faith and perseverance, and thus in the end, to render His gifts more acceptable. We also see from it, the efficacy of persevering importunity in prayer; of firm, unfaltering, faith, confidence and humility. The prayer of the Chanaanite woman was accompanied with all these conditions; and so, she was heard.