Matthew 15 sees the continued efforts of the Pharisees to trap Jesus with questions. There is, perhaps, something to be learned from His unwillingness to engage their assaults directly. Rather than play the exact same game or give them clear answers, He asserts His own authority. The opening question for this chapter is one He meets head-on. Not with an answer, but with a challenge.
He then has to explain what He was talking about to the Apostles. They are, as we are, sometimes a bit behind. They were probably quicker to pick up on some things while we’re quicker with others, so there’s no room for pride here. They at least knew this: if you don’t understand, ask Jesus. When we don’t understand, we ask “experts.” Score one for the motley crew of fishermen, tax collectors, and others...
We then see Jesus in a trip outside of Israel, where He heals the daughter of a Canaanite woman. He commends her faith, though there are some tough details about the interaction. Jesus comments that His purpose is the lost sheep of Israel, not Canaanites. He even calls her a “dog” in 15:26. I think we see Jesus responding to events not recorded in Scripture. He is, after all, out of Israel and in Tyre and Sidon—out in “Canaanite” lands. One might expect that both Jesus’ opponents and supporters criticized this decision.
And this is Jesus’ response: “See her? This is the ‘dog’ you referred to. A real, live human being who has a daughter in need.” That may not be what is really happening here, but that’s how I see it. Sometimes we need to see the “enemy” with skin on and realize the truth.
The chapter wraps up with healings of crowds and another miracle of feeding a large group. The strange thing about looking at the Gospels: healing crowds and feeding 4,000 with seven loaves is hardly worth making mention of. That’s a dangerous way to be about the amazing works of God.
Let’s put our focus back on the Canaanite woman. Mark calls her a “Syro-Phoenician Woman” in Mark 7, though the story unfolds in the same manner. What does that tell us?
Matthew is emphasizing Jesus’ move beyond national and ethnic Israel. By highlighting the Canaanite heritage of this woman, Matthew makes clear that even those who were once under judgment are now welcome in the Kingdom of Heaven.
Practically speaking, the application should be obvious. However, I like to restate the obvious, so here it is: the blessing of God is not restricted to any one nationality or ethnicity. Not at all.
Beyond that, we need to remember that our own obedience to God should not depend on how someone else values us. We are to call our Lord, “Lord,” no matter what others are calling us. That includes those who should be encouraging us and drawing us closer to Jesus, but aren’t.
- V. 31 speaks of “glorifying the God of Israel,” an indication that these are people who are out of the nation of Israel. It’s another way this chapter emphasizes God’s blessing on the nations.
- The feeding of the 4,000 is a separate event from the feeding of the 5,000. Yet it’s not met with the same response—note that the crowds in John want to make Jesus king by force. That doesn’t happen here. Is this because this is out of Israel? In a space without a messianic tradition?
- The first portion of this chapter deals with the dietary laws of Israel. If Jesus is God, which He is, then He knows the original purpose of the Levitical dietary laws. And so when Jesus poinst out that eating does not make one unclean, it’s not a change in God’s intention. It is a continuation of what God intended from the beginning.