I indicated in the last part, that for a full understanding of the passage Matthew 15:21-28 we will also have to explore the context provided in the verses that come immediately after it. 29 Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then he went up on a mountainside and sat down. 30 Great crowds came to him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at his feet; and he healed them. 31 The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel. 32 Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." 33 His disciples answered, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?" 34 "How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish." 35 He told the crowd to sit down on the ground. 36 Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. 37 They all ate and were satisfied. Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. 38 The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children. 39 After Jesus had sent the crowd away, he got into the boat and went to the vicinity of Magadan. Let us continue with observations: 4) From this encounter with the Canaanite woman, Jesus and his disciples leave and go along the Sea of Galilee [on the East side, into the non-Jewish pagan territory] and a great crowd comes and gathers around him. Jesus must already have been famous even to them [not just in Israel] for his power to heal, and many people come and bring their sick relatives and friends to be healed by Jesus (verse 30). 5) This is already obvious, but necessary to explicitly state here: Jesus does HEAL these PAGAN people! Why is this so important to realize? Because it is so obviously against the statement in our "strange text" in the verses 21-28. Jesus is NOT in Israel, but in Pagan territory, he is NOT healing Jews but pagans and while he is at this place he can not be in Israel at the same time. He in fact IS taking away the 'bread' from the 'children' and giving it to the 'dogs' when we want to speak with the word picture used in verse 26. 6) I have kept you in suspense long enough by now. How do I know it is indeed pagan country? Look at the end of verse 31. What is the reaction of people? In response to the miracles Jesus does the people praise the God of ISRAEL. If he were in Jewish territory and the people were Jews, that would be a most strange expression. And indeed, whenever Jesus heals in Israel, we only read and the people praised God, i.e. their OWN God, who is the God of Israel, but that has not to be mentioned. But for these people, the God who Jesus was proclaiming was not "their" (usual) God, he was a "foreign" God, he was the God "of Israel". There are quite a number of more subtle hints in this passage as well as in the parallel one in Mark where this incident is reported from a slightly different perspective and Mark explicitly mentions that they are in the region of the Decapolis (Mark 7:31) which is the pagan East side of the Sea of Galilee. But I think the clue of "praising the God of Israel" would be proof enough even on its own. 7) Looking at this evidence that Jesus is doing the EXACT opposite of what "his own statement" appears to say, would it be more reasonable to assume that both Jesus and those who reported it were just incredibly stupid and didn't see the contradiction or would it be more reasonable to assume that this is a deliberate action on the part of Jesus in order to teach a lesson? If something like that would happen in two far removed parts of the Bible I might consider the charge of "contradiction" or "inconsistency". But this is too obvious to be an "oversight". There are only 4 verses in between. 8) I strongly believe that this story of the Canaanite women is the joint that connects the teaching by Jesus on "clean and unclean" and the "true religion" to his practical deeds of compassion in healing the pagan sick [and no doubt also teaching the pagan populations to the East of the Sea of Galilee about the one true God and his love for all people] as well as repeating one of his most astonishing miracles he earlier has done on Jewish territory. In Matthew 14:13-21 we read of the miracle of Jesus feeding 5000 (Jewish) men plus women and children [a crowd of at least 15000 people by a modern day conservative estimate of "father-mother-child" nuclear family, but families were a bit bigger in those days]. And from the few loaves and fishes they have 12 baskets of left overs afterwards - and 12 is the number of Israel [the twelve tribes]. Now Jesus repeates this miracle for 4000 (pagan) men plus women and children and the left overs are 7 baskets - seven is one of the holy numbers of fullness or completion [seven days for creation give one week]. The gentiles are vital part of Jesus' mission and only after they have received the same offer and mercy from God [through Jesus] is the mission of Jesus complete. This is an integral part of what Jesus came for [and this can be demonstrated from many Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah just as well, Isaiah 49:6 for one example - feel free to ask for more evidence]. This is clear Biblical teaching not just "number symbolics" which are just a nice add-on, but can not establish a doctrine on its own. Now that we have collected all our observations from the context, the conflict about "clean and unclean" before our text and the healing ministry of Jesus among the gentiles and the repetition of one of Jesus greatest miracle signs among the gentiles, let us now go back and finally look at the story we want to understand. Let me reproduce the text so that it is easier to talk about it. 21 Leaving that place, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." 25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. 26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." 27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." 28 Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. This event now, I want to tell "as a story", supplying some more details from my own "imagination" which I believe to be perfectly in harmony with the true meaning of this text because of all the observations we have made so far and a few more to come. With all our background knowledge about the Jewish contempt for the "unclean gentiles" and Jesus JUST coming from his teaching about "purity" and "what it really is that defiles a man", of all places has he could have gone, he chose to go with his disciples to the area of the despised, hated and ritually impure pagans. We don't know how this Canaanite woman has heard about Jesus [and note: Canaanites are THE symbol of impurity as everybody knows who has read the Old Testament history of the Jews], but she evidently has heard about him and even knows a bit "theology" since she addresses Jesus with his Messianic title "Son of David". I believe that Jesus doesn't answer her at first because he wants to wait for a reaction of his disciples [remember, his priority to teach them]. Pretty soon, his disciples are bothered by this woman, get very indignant, and therefore come to Jesus and ask him to send her away. Probably this meant, "Can't you just give her what she wants so that this annoying person will leave us alone?" What are their thoughts, their motivation for this request? The woman used one Messianic title when crying out to Jesus [Son of David, and David was a shepherd before he became the king, and "shepherd of Israel" is another description of the Messiah], so Jesus uses this second Messianic expectation of the Jews to perfectly express the thoughts of the disciples and answers to the disciples: "I was only sent to the lost sheep of Israel". What did the disciples think? EXACTLY!!! This woman has NO right at all to Jesus, he is OUR Messiah, we don't want to bother with her. Give her what she wants and so that we can get rid of her as quick as possible. The woman might or might not have heard what what Jesus said to the disciples. In any case, she comes up closer now and falls on her knees before him and simply asks him to help her. [And kneeling down before somebody else is not something that comes easy to anybody in any culture and definitely not out on the streets in public and in front of at least the disciples and probably more people.] And now comes this seemingly utterly cruel response by Jesus saying: "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to the dogs." How cruel and insensitive! Or is it? I believe that again, Jesus is only formulating what the disciples really "think" even though they might not have dared formulate it in such a clear way. Maybe this was only a "subconscious" racist prejudice and opinion, but isn't it very, very real all over the world? Jesus speaks out the "ugly reality" of the thoughts of his disciples and of most of us if we are honest. He brings into the open the "thoughts of our heart which defile us" [Matthew 15:18, compare also John 4:39] Jesus never lets us get away with our sins. He never allows us to whitewash the evil in our hearts but he exposes it. Because only the disease that is diagnosed can then be successfully treated. Here it is the evil thoughts of his own disciples which become exposed. It is to them that Jesus takes this occasion to teach a lesson. Meanwhile let us not forget the woman. I believe that she has seen somehow that this was not meant as complete rejection towards her. Whether it was the eyes of love with which Jesus looks at her while he speaks this sentence, or the tone of his voice or whatever other sign. But she does pick up one essential thing in Jesus answer. She has no right, she cannot demand the help of Jesus. And in total contrast to the Pharisees in the confrontation that came before and the disciples opinion just as well, who both think that they have a right to Jesus, that he is THEIR Messiah and has to conform to THEIR expectations of him, the woman recognizes that she has no right to Jesus help and mercy, but she trusts that he is merciful nevertheless. And she gives a truly astonishing answer, an answer coming out of this realization of having no right, but also "knowing" and trusting in Jesus great love and mercy, she picks up this completely derogatory picture, and turns it around and in this great expression of faith she says: "Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Even Jesus is astonished at her faith, and then praises her: "Woman, YOU have great faith! Your request is granted." ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ Take this incident together with a many others where Jesus praises people for faith. It is always the quality of "faith" that Jesus is looking for. [Matthew 8:10-12, 8:26, 9:2, 9:22, 9:28-30, 13:58, 14:31 are just a few verses from the Gospel according to Matthew only, which should put it in clear context how much of a honor it is that Jesus tells her she has GREAT faith.] Let me just quote three of them in full so that you will be able to appreciate it [I is worth reading the whole story!]: Matthew 8:10-12 is about a gentile (officer) who lives in Jewish territory: 10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. 11 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west [gentiles], and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the subjects of the kingdom [Jews] will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 13: 58 And he [Jesus] did not do many miracles there [his own home town] because of their lack of faith. And only five verses before chapter 15 starts, Jesus says to Peter, the leader of the disciples, "You of LITTLE faith, why did you doubt?" (14:31) With this critique in his ears, what do you think Peter must have felt, when he heard Jesus say to the woman "You have GREAT faith!" ? Looking at Jesus' encounter with the Canaanite woman under this perspective this story suddenly looks totally different from what it appears to be at first sight. I hope this praise of the woman's faith has opened the eyes of the disciples and they realized that what Jesus has said before was NOT the opinion of Jesus, but that he had only formulated the thoughts and prejudices of the disciples. I don't know if they have fully grasped at this point already, or if it took a while longer. But from the very composition of the whole of chapter 15, it is clear that Matthew and the other disciples must have understood it later on. Recognizing their FAITH is always one of the greatest compliments Jesus makes to people and the lack of faith is what he is concerned about. Now, this is already quite clear. But there is even more supporting evidence that this is the meaning of this story because it strongly links the report of the "clean and unclean" debate on true religion [FAITH! even the Old Testament speaks of "the faith of Abraham" not of the "religion" of Abraham etc.], with the upcoming healing and miracle sign events afterwards. Notice: The proverbially "impure" Canaanite, the comparison to 'dogs' from the general vocabulary of the contempt for pagans, the expectations that Jesus is "only for us" and "he has to behave according to our expectations, which he does not and so attracts the complains and opposition of the religious leadership. This "the good things that come with the arrival of the Messiah are for US only" attitude of the Jews and "not for these "despicable" pagans", under which Israel has had a long history of suffering. The greater part of all their history the Jews have been ruled by other people. By impure people, by people who oppressed them. Their expectation was that the Messiah would come to liberate them and pay back the nations and then the Jews would rule over the other nations. "It is ALL for US and nothing for them" was the attitude. Jesus summed up perfectly in "You don't take the bread away from the children and throw it to the dogs." After praising this woman for her faith, Jesus was not content to have stated his case, no, he stays longer in pagan territory and then really starts to pass out the bread to 'the dogs'. He heals scores of people, sicknesses of all variations. He teaches THEM about Israel's God, the true God. And in the end the people know it was not just some mysterious reason or "magic" that they are healed, but it is on account of the God of Israel, and their praise is directed to this God [who was not their own God before]. So, the (Jewish) disciples find that they do not only have to share the mercies of God in healing miracles with the 'dogs' but even their very own and cherished faith in the true God, the one thing that set them apart from the pagan nations, this faith was given to the pagans by Jesus, too! And just to top it off, if they still have missed the point, and this irony is just too beautiful, when the people, who have stayed with Jesus already a long time, are exhausted and hungry, Jesus asks his disciples, the children of Israel, if THEY have something to eat for these people. The disciples don't think about sharing, but ask "where could we get so much bread around here for such a crowd?" Jesus comes back to them. No, "How many loaves do YOU have?" he asks them (verse 34). And then he makes the crowd sit down, takes the bread of the disciples, blesses it and tells THEM to pass it out to the people. Jesus tells the disciples (children) to take the bread they have and give it to the gentiles (dogs)! How often does he have to repeat his lesson until they will finally understand? [In the light of this read Acts 10!] Well, it is a difficult concept. It is so absolutely against our human nature. But Jesus is patient and is not tiring to repeat his lessons ever so often in different words until we understand and obey. And the gentiles do not just get "crumbs" but the same real good bread just like the Jews! And in the end, are the disciples the losers because they had to give it all away? What do we see at the end of the story? Jesus asked them to "invest their seven loaves of bread" and they get back seven baskets full of bread. And the emphasis on "giving" is a constant teaching of Jesus, who promises that if we give to others, God will make sure we won't be the losers (Luke 6:38), that we should give freely just as we have received freely from God (Matthew 10:8), based on the model of the life of Jesus (Mark 10:45) and ultimately based on the character of God's sacrificially giving love to us (John 3:16). I do readily admit, for a long time I had quite some trouble with this story myself and found it hard to understand. It looked so "wrong" when I read it superficially. But nobody has ever said, that the Bible [the teaching of Jesus] is easy. Even in our very chapter, it is clear that those who only want to find fault with Jesus [the Pharisees] will be even more annoyed after their encounter with him (verses 2 and 12 and also 12:22-42) but those who ask and want to understand the sometimes mysterious words of Jesus will get deep, wonderful and clear answers (verses 15-20). What will be your approach? The human nature is just the same today as it was in Jesus time. Those who in their own self-righteousness come only to find fault with Jesus and his teachings [in the Bible], will leave even more annoyed and enraged. BUT: Jesus is not content to clearly expose the evilness of his enemies, he will not gloss over the evil in the hearts of his own followers either. His disciples ask him and so he teaches them what it really is that defiles a man in the eyes of God, and then, lest they think they are "better" than the Pharisees, he takes them to the pagan country where their own evil heart [of racial prejudice and attitude of religious superiority] is exposed, so that they will learn to know themselves and their need for forgiveness of sin. I think his disciples didn't feel like looking down on these 'self- righteous' Pharisees anymore after they had been shown by Jesus their own evil thoughts. If we come to Jesus and ask him to teach us, he will. He will teach us by his word [the Bible] (as in 15-20) and by leading us into situations where we can practically experience what it means to follow him. And his goal is to transform the character of his followers into the beauty of his own character of love and truth (Romans 8:29, John 13:12-17). God will show his secrets to those who ask him humbly. The Bible is written in order to be understood. But only by those who come with the right spirit. Whoever reads it with the mindset to attack it and to find fault with it, he will for sure find. And because of it he will completely miss its riches and the beauty of the teachings of Jesus. After meditating on this for quite a while, thinking about it very hard, and having it written up for you now, I can only ask: Is this not a beautiful and powerful Teaching of Jesus on Purity and Compassion and Equality of all people in the sight of God ? How can anybody use this passage for an attack on the Holy Scriptures, the very word of God? Can you understand why I love the beauty of the "injil" and am very hurt if some Muslims have nothing better to do than to attack the precious words of Jesus? Warm regards, Jochen Katz Today's (and every day's) book recommendation: The Holy Bible ------------------------------------------------------------ God will not show himself to the casual observer. -unknown ------------------------------------------------------------ PS: What can we conclude from this chapter on the Muslim claim that the mission of Jesus was only to the Jews? That Jesus was only a prophet to Israel and only meant to be of "local" importance? PPS: (Some ideas only come when thinking very hard how to make the article more relevant to Islam in the eyes of the moderator ... but I think this is actually a very natural question here:) I have never heard about it, so I am not sure, but: Did Muhammad ever (not on his caravane business tours before he was "called" but DURING his time of "prophethood") leave Arabia for the purpose of preaching his message to other tribes and nations? Shouldn't we expect that if he was convinced that he was indeed a prophet to all the world?
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