Matthew 15: 21-28
I propose a biblical analysis with the following steps: a study of each Greek word of the evangelical text, followed by an analysis of the structure of the narrative and its context, to which is added a comparison of parallel or similar passages. At the end of this analysis and as a conclusion, I propose to summarize what the evangelist meant, and I end up with some suggestions on how this Gospel could shed light on our current situation.
After hot discussions with Pharisees in Gennesareth on the clean and unclean, Jesus and his disciples withdrew in the Pagan region of Tyre and Sidon. Then, getting out of her region, a Canaanite women, belonging to people considered unclean and enemy by Jews, goes to Jesus asking that he heals her daughter possessed by a demon. But Jesus doesn't react and says nothing. It is now the disciples who are going to Jesus to do something because they are really bothered by the intensity of her cries. But Jesus reminds them about his original mission, which is targeting only Jews. Then, the woman is back to Jesus expressing somehow her faith in Jesus, calling him "master". Again, Jesus reminds her about his original mission, identifying pagans with puppies and stating that food needs first to be given to the children of the house so they could survive and grow. The woman agrees with Jesus, cunningly mentioning that this cannot stop puppies eating what is falling from the table of the masters, i.e. she could be fulfilled with the crumbs of Jesus' teaching, her master. Thereupon Jesus recognizes her astounding faith, and the strength of this faith heals immediately her daughter.
The story starts with words that Matthew enjoys using, starting with exerchomai (pulling oneself out of a place), where he stresses the rupture from the Jewish milieu of Gennesareth, then ekeithen (from there), and finally anachōreō (he withdrew) to present Jesus trip as a strategic retreat. And according to his habit in telling a story, he starts by requesting our attention: idou (behold!). The main figure is a Chananaia (a Canaanite woman), a term that he is the only one to use, in order to refer to this people considered unclean and enemy in the Old Testament. To describe her request, Matthew uses krazō (to cry out), to express a movement of great intensity, eleeō (to have mercy), what God was offering to his people in the OT, kyrios (master, Lord) in the mouth of the woman, telling her faith in Jesus, huios Dauid (son of David), as in his eyes she recognizes in Jesus the Jewish Messiah, kakōs (badly) daimonizomai (possessed by a demon), a way to tell us that there is something lamentable in her situation, which calls for more compassion.
Matthew's editorial work continue with ouk apekrithē autē logon (he did not answer her any word), a unique expression in the whole Gospel, a way to alluded to the fact that Jesus' mission is targeting first the "lost sheep of the house of Israel" (ta probata ta apolōlota oikou Israēl), a phrase unique to him, and the presentation of the disciples in the mediator role with the verb proserchomai (to come near), one of his favourite word, when they come near Jesus to pray him to apolyō (dismiss / release) the woman. Then Matthew uses his peculiar style to present the Canaanite woman as a person of faith with elthousa (having come), the verb proskyneō (to pay homage) and the verbe boētheō (come to the aid) also found in the Psalms.
Matthew's editorial work shows again at the end of the story with nai (yes) and kai gar (for even), when the woman, from her faith, agrees with Jesus that one should never throw bread to puppies, and also with the plural word kyrioi, alluding to the master of puppies and of the house, but also to Jesus as a master to believers. With his fetish word tote (then), Matthew concludes what is the consequence of the woman's faith, a faith described as great (megas), the only time this adjective is used about faith in the Gospels: what she wants (thelō), a key word for Matthew, happens, her daughter is healed, and it happens apo tēs hōras ekeinēs (at this very hour), Matthew's way to show the strength of faith.
Structure and composition
This story does not have the usual structure of a miracle story with its 5 steps. Because of the role of the disciples as mediators in the story, and how the Canaanite woman faith is evolving, we are talking here about the Christian mission that will open itself to non-Jews. This is confirmed by the whole context situated in the second part of the Gospel, where Jesus centers his teaching on his disciples, after the refusal to believe of his compatriots, and the story of the Canaanite woman is the pivotal moment introducing a non-Jewish setting that will have its apex with the second feeding of the crowd, in a non-Jewish territory: this the new mission of the disciples.
When Matthew writes his Gospel, he has before him the story from Mark of this pagan woman, where the emphasis is already on the fact that faith in Jesus as reached non-Jews. But he will give to the story his own twist: mainly the disciples become a significant character in the story, and after reminding the previous instructions on restricting the mission to Jews, he highlights the pagan's women faith so that she becomes a model, and so part of the Christian community.
Intention of the author
This Gospels probably had as its primary audience the Jewish Christian community of Antioch, and was written around the year 80 or 85 by a Jewish Christian. The Canaanite narrative cannot be understood without recalling the issue of the integration of the non Jews into the Christian community. In his letter to the Galatians, around year 53, Paul talks about the conflict with those Christians who believe that one cannot join the common Eucharist table without becoming a Jew and being compliant with all the Jewish rules. These Christians, called Judaizers, will be active for many years. Unfortunately, to address the issue, Christian leaders could not refer back to Jesus practice, as his mission was targeting only the Jews. In this context, around year 67, Mark, the first evangelist, gave us a story of a pagan woman healed by Jesus because of her faith, using probably an old tradition on Jesus miracle outside Galilee, and using it for a section of his Gospel on Jesus outside the Jewish environment.
Matthew will take over Mark's narrative, but will edit it strongly. First, the pagan woman will be called a "Canaanite", who was considered a defiled race and enemy for a Jew. Then in Jesus behaviour he will express Judaizers' view that Jesus mission was exclusively for Jews: "I was sent ONLY to the lost sheep of the house of Israel". At the same time, he introduced the character of the twelve disciples who, since Jesus death, are now the mediators, and so everything has to go through them and their successors. Finally, he puts the emphasis on the woman's faith who clearly says that Jesus is her master, and it this very faith that healed her daughter. All this is Matthew's response to the issue of Judaizers: even though Jesus mission was first for the chosen people of Israel, he would have recognized the faith of the non Jews, and the strength of their faith would have allowed them to be fully part of the Eucharist community.
|exelthōn (having gone out)||
The verb exerchomai is formed from the preposition ek (from) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go). It is therefore the idea of moving when leaving a place. It is found everywhere in the Gospels: Mt = 43; Mk = 37; Lk = 39; Jn = 30. But Matthew likes this word; in addition to copying it from Mark and the Q document, it appears in his own passages, or he sometimes adds it when he edits his sources. This is precisely the case here: Matthew copies an account he gets from Mark, which begins thus: "And rising from there, he went away (aperchomai)" (Mk 7:24). The verb aperchomai, formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go) is similar to exerchomai: the former translates the movement from a point A to a point Z, the latter translates the fact that someone is pulling himself out of a place or leaving a place. It is this last verb that Matthew chose in preference to Mark's; for him, it more clearly translated the idea of a rupture, whereas Jesus leaves a place to live a form of retreat.
|ekeithen (from there)||The adverb ekeithen (Mt = 12; Mk = 5; Lc = 3; Jn = 1; Ac = 3) appears in a slightly scattered way in the Gospels-Acts. We see it qualifying verbs such as to go out (exerchomai), to pass (paragō), to leave (metabainō), to withdraw (anachōreō), to go away (ekporeuomai), to get up (anistēmi), to move away (aperchomai); it indicates the origin of a movement. It is a familiar word in Matthew, even if the expression exerchomai ekeithen (to get out of there) is present in his sources (Mark, Q document); it is probably typical in a Greek environment. And here he is merely repeating the ekeithen in Mark's version. But where does this "there" refer to? If we look at the context, the only locality mentioned earlier in both Matthew (14:34) and Mark (6:53) is the city of Gennesaret, on the shores of Lake Galilee, a few miles south of Capernaum.|
|anechōrēsen (he withdrew)||The verb anachōreō is composed of the preposition ana (it describes a movement from bottom to top, or backwards or of starting over) and the verb chōreō (to make room, to move); it is a withdrawal movement. Again, Matthew is very fond of this verb: Mt = 10; Mk = 1; Lk = 0; Jn = 1; Ac = 2. It is used four times in the infancy narratives where it appears in a context of flight: the Magi retreats by another route to avoid Herod (2:12-13); also to avoid Herod, Joseph retreats to Egypt (2:14), then to Galilee (2:22). When Jesus is the subject, the verb describes a strategic retreat on his part in the face of an imminent threat:
Otherwise, it is Jesus who asks the crowd to withdraw or to leave the house of the ruler of the synagogue where his daughter is considered dead (9: 24), or it is Judas who withdraws from the temple after throwing away his thirty pieces of silver, a retreat that ends with his suicide (27: 5).
How, then, is Jesus' retreat to be interpreted here in v. 21? When we look at the context above, we see that Jesus had just experienced a controversy with the Pharisees to the point where his disciples said to him: "Do you know that the Pharisees were shocked to hear you speak like this?" This is what seems to motivate Jesus to make a strategic retreat.
The word meros does not play a great role in the Gospels: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 4; Jn = 4; Ac = 7. It basically means part of a whole, and is translated by portion (of a whole), part (in a group), piece (of a food), region (part of a country), remainder (of a whole), lot (among the different fates awaiting people), group (among a population). Of the four presences of the word in Matthew, three are proper to him and they are always used in the plural: in the infancy narratives, Joseph withdrew in the portions of Galilee (2: 22), then there is our verse where Jesus withdrew in the portions of Tyre and Sidon, and finally the arrival of Jesus in the portions of Caesarea Philippi (16: 13). The term is very often translated by region or district, but in Matthew, apart from the reference to Galilee, it does not really describe a political border (we can refer to this map of Palestine). For Tyre and Sidon belong to Phoenicia, and Caesarea Philippi to Ituraea.
|Tyrou kai Sidōnos (Tyre and Sidon)||
The area where Jesus withdrew is called Tyre and Sidon. The two cities always appear together in the Gospels, and elsewhere they appear only in Acts, and separately (for Tyre: Mt = 3; Mk = 3; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Ac = 2; and for Sidon: Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 3; Jn = 0; Ac = 1). These two cities of Phoenicia, now Lebanon, which are two ports on the Mediterranean Sea, some 25 miles apart, represent pagan cities for the Jews. In Matthew, of three references, two come from Q document (11:21-22), and here in the account borrowed from Mark, he adds the reference to Sidon, whereas Mark speaks only of Tyre; Matthew probably wanted to rationalize things, knowing that they are usually mentioned together.
Thus, Jesus makes a strategic retreat in a pagan milieu. It is not said that Jesus goes to Tyre, but to the region to which the city belongs. Note that the distance between Gennesaret and Tyre is about 37 miles.
|v. 22 Now, behold, a Canaanite woman, having come from these borders, began to cry out: "Take pity on me, master, son of David, for my daughter is in the grip of evil impulses".
Literally : And behold (idou) a woman (gynē) Canaanite (Chananaia) from these boundaries (horiōn) having come out (exelthousa), was crying out (ekrazen) saying: Have mercy (eleēson) on me, lord (kyrie), son of David (huios Dauid); the daughter (thygatēr) of me badly (kakōs) is possessed by a demon (daimonizomai).
The interjection idou is the imperative middle-passive, 2nd person singular, of the verb horaō (see, look, observe, notice); Literally it should be translated: be seen! In this form, the expression is so frequent that it deserves a separate treatment: Mt = 62; Mk = 7; Lc = 57; Jn = 4; Ac = 23. In a story, it is intended to attract attention: "And behold, a man comes...". This process is used a lot by Luke, Matthew and the Q document. In Matthew, the expression appears 62 times, but since it is found 9 times in Mark's text, which he copied, and 8 times in the Q document, there are 45 occurrences of it. But to measure how much Matthew likes to use this expression, it should be noted that 27 times he adds it to the account he receives from Mark, and twice to the account he receives from Q document. And here, in v. 22, in this account he receives from a tradition common to that of Mark, he takes the liberty of adding "And behold" to draw attention to his account which is about to begin. We are before a stroke of Matthew's pen.
|gynē (woman)||In spite of the very Jewish context of his Gospel, Matthew is the second after Luke (we know that the latter can be considered the evangelist of women) to mention women on a statistical level: Mt = 29; Mk = 17; Lk = 41; Jn = 22; Ac = 19; and of the 29 mentions, 16 are specific to him. In the Gospels, the word has two meanings, a female person and the spouse of a man. Let's look at them briefly.
From all these details emerges Matthew's deep respect for women and a certain effort to enhance them. And in the face of this, the disciples do not always look good (see 19: 10 and 26: 20).
A man's wife
In Matthew's presentation of women as spouses, the emphasis is always on the relationship, so that the fate of the man and his wife are linked. Her role is positive. What would have happened if Pilate had listened to his wife?
It is time to return to our v. 22. The reference here to a woman comes from what he receives from Mark. Thus, in a way, there is nothing original to report, except that the portrayal of a woman fits well with Matthew's general direction.
This is the only use of this adjective in the Gospels, and even in the entire New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 0; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. At the time of the Gospels, it refers to the people living in Phoenicia (the region of present-day Lebanon and Syria, see the Palestine map); Matthew preferred this adjective to Mark's who speaks of a Syrophenician woman. Why did he prefer this adjective to Mark's Syrophenician? We can guess it by going back to the Old Testament and to what the Canaanites people meant to the Jews. First of all, the territory of these descendants of Ham is originally very vague and very large:
(LXX) "The border of the Canaanites was from Sidon in the direction of Gerar, to Gaza, then in the direction of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim, and on to Lasha. These were the sons of Ham, after their clans and languages, after their countries and nations" (Gen 10:19-20)In other words, they occupy the entire Mediterranean coastline from Lebanon to Gaza. When Abraham arrives in this territory, he gives this instruction to his steward:
(LXX) "I want to beseech you, through the Lord God of heaven and earth, not to take a wife for my son Isaac from among the daughters of the Canaanites, among whom I am a passenger" (Gen 24:3)Because the Canaanites are strangers no one should have a relationship with them. Afterwards, when the Jews are unhappy in the land of Egypt, God gives them this promise:
(LXX) "I will deliver you from the oppression of the Egyptians and bring you into the land of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, the land flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:17)Thus, the fight for the possession of the land is announced, in which the Canaanites will necessarily become enemies:
(LXX) "You shall annihilate them - the Hittites and the Amorites, the Canaanites and the Perizzites, the Hivites and the Jebusites - just as the Lord your God has commanded" (Deut 20:17)At the time of Ezra, around the 4th century BC, the Canaanites are referred to as an impure people:
(LXX: 1 Ezra 8:66) "The people of Israel, the priests, and the Levites have not separated themselves from the peoples of the lands with their abominations, from the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Jebusites, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Egyptians, and the Amorites. " (Ezra 9:1)In this context, Matthew's introduction of this woman as a Canaanite woman creates a situation where Jesus must enter into a relationship with someone who belongs to the enemy and an impure race.
|horiōn (boundaries)||The word horion comes from the verb horizō which means: to define, to determine, to mark boundaries, to separate, and therefore is usually translated as: border, boundary, territory. It is uncommon in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 3; Mk = 5; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 1, and absent from the rest of the New Testament. It was Mark who introduced the word, and out of three uses in Matthew, two are a copy of Mark, as here (strangely, a little further on, in 15:39, Matthew also uses this word, whereas Mark has rather meros; it is possible that Matthew wants to be consistent and to standardize the vocabulary). Even if horion is not in Matthew's familiar vocabulary, it is clear that it serves his purpose well: it clearly suggests that there is a kind of wall between the pagan and the Jewish world.|
|exelthousa (having come out)||We have already analysed this verb above, when it was about Jesus who was leaving his place in Galilee to go abroad, as it were, to live a form of retreat and isolation. Here, however, it is the Canaanite woman who comes out. What does she come out of? From those borders, they say. What does that mean? We have said that her territory is pagan and unclean. Matthew insists that she comes out of this territory to meet Jesus. By this, he indicates two things to us: on the one hand, this woman takes a step out of her environment, on the other hand, Jesus, just like a good Jew, does not defile himself by crossing this border; the meeting takes place in a way on neutral ground. Let us not forget, Matthew's Gospel is primarily addressed to Jewish Christians. It is his version of an account he receives from Mark, and for the latter these frontiers do not exist.|
|ekrazen (she was crying out)||The verb krazō means: to shout, to cry out, to scream, to clamor for, to holler; it appears especially in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 12; Mk = 10; Lk = 3; Jn = 4; Ac = 11. Matthew likes this word, and of the 12 uses, 6 are his own, as is the case here in v. 22. Why do one shouts in Matthew? It is often a cry for help (two blind men ask Jesus to have mercy on them, 9: 27; a Canaanite woman asks to have mercy on her daughter, 15: 22-23), it is a cry of fear (the disciples cry out in fear when they see Jesus walking on the water, 14: 26; Peter, who tries to follow Jesus on the water, cries out for help when he begins to sink, 14: 30), the crowd proclaims its faith out loud (Hosanna to the son of David, 21: 15), and Jesus cries out with a loud cry before expiring (27: 50). Whatever the situation, the cry expresses a movement of great intensity.|
|eleēson (have mercy)||The verb eleeō is mainly used by Matthew in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 8; Mk = 3; Lk = 4; Jn = 0; Ac = 0, and of his 8 uses, 6 are unique to him, as here in v. 22. The word means: to have pity, to show mercy. In Matthew, it is part of the beatitudes: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy" (5: 7). This beatitude is illustrated by its opposite in the parable of the ruthless debtor which ends with a reproach: "Should you not also have pity on your companion as I had pity on you?" (18: 33). On the other hand, the word expresses the prayer of someone addressed to Jesus to take care of his infirmity (two blind men, 9: 27), or of the infirmity of someone close to him (the daughter of the Canaanite woman, 15: 22; the epileptic son of a man, 17: 15). And this is an important theme in the Jewish world, because it is linked to that of salvation, as Isaiah writes: "Rejoice, O heavens, and be glad. God has had mercy on Israel; sound the trumpet, foundations of the earth; mountains, shout for joy; and you hills, and you trees that cover them, the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and Israel shall be glorified" (Isa 44:23). Because the face of God is that of compassion, the believer dares to pray with these words as we see in the Psalms : (LXX 85:3) "Have mercy on me, Lord; for all the day long I have cried to you" (84:3). It is not by chance that, apart from the Gospels, it is in Paul, especially when he addresses the Jewish question in his letter to the Romans (9-11), that this theme becomes central:
"Just as you were once disobedient to God but have now received mercy because of their disobedience, so they have now been disobedient in order that, by the mercy shown to you, they too may now receive mercy. For God has imprisoned all in disobedience so that he may be merciful to all. O the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romains 11, 30-33)
What Paul is saying is that the refusal of the Jews to accept Jesus brought the good news to the non-Jews, i.e. the Gentiles, and afterwards, in turn, the Jews will probably accept this good news, showing that God's mercy is for everyone. This theological vision allows us to understand what is at stake in our story with the Canaanite woman. For, let us not forget, Jesus left Galilee after a controversy with the Pharisees and scribes who reproached the disciples for transgressing the tradition of the elders; it is the symbol of the Jews' closure to what God offers them in Jesus. And now Jesus finds himself in contact with a pagan woman who asks him for mercy, exactly what God is offering.
The masculine noun kurios in classical Greek means "he who is master of, who has authority", i.e. the master, the master of the house, the legal representative, the guardian (see our glossary). In a hierarchical society, it is therefore a generic term to describe the relationship of a superior to a subordinate: a superior exercises lordship over the subordinate. It is the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible that popularized this term to designate God: indeed, as in the Jewish world the proper name of Yahweh is unpronounceable and is replaced by אֲדֹנָי (Adonai), to express his role as master of the universe, then the authors of the Septuagint chose to translate Adonai by kurios (lord).
It will be understood that the term kurios is extremely frequent in the New Testament, and more particularly in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 80; Mk = 18; Lk = 104; Jn = 52; Ac = 106. Generally speaking, the term designates three different persons: 1) God, 2) Jesus and 3) the one who exercises the role of a master in society. Let us look more particularly at the Gospel of Matthew. If we make a distinction between the messiah and Jesus in the reference to Psalm 110, we get these statistics: God as lord = 18; Jesus as lord = 26; the master as lord (especially in the parables) = 33; the messiah as lord = 3 (concentrated in 22: 43-45 in the reference to Ps 110). Beyond these statistics, we must first of all remember that Matthew likes to use the term kurios, even if Luke surpasses him in this domain. To be convinced of this, it is sufficient to first take up these statistics by observing the cases where these references to kurios are unique to Matthew: God as lord = 9; Jesus as lord = 22; the master as lord = 19; the messiah as lord = 1. But we can then examine how he transforms his source, in particular Mark, to introduce kurios.
As we can see, Matthew replaces terms such as "you", Jesus, teacher, rabbi or rabboni found in Mark with the title of Lord. Or, when Mark's account is in indirect style, he transforms it into a direct style and adds the vocative Lord. What can we conclude? Two things. First of all, Matthew likes to clarify and standardize vocabulary; he designates the same realities with the same words. Then, we find in him the premises of a high Christology that will reach its peak with John, i.e. Jesus takes on more and more the characteristics proper to God. Let us remember that we usually date Mark's Gospel around the year 67, and Matthew's around the year 80 or 85. During this period of more than 10 or 15 years, reflection on the person of Jesus has evolved and become more refined, and the traits that associate him with God or faith after Easter become more important than those that reflect historical data as they are. This is how the Canaanite woman, in the eyes of Matthew, expresses her faith in a way by calling him : Lord.
|huios Dauid (son of David)||
Why refer to Jesus as the "son of David"? We know that Jesus is not the son of David, but the son of Joseph. However, in the Gospels - Acts the expression comes up a few times: Mt = 9; Mk = 3; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. Let us settle the case of Luke (18:38-39): his two references to Jesus as the son of David are simply a repetition of Mark's account of the blind Bartimaeus in Jericho. This brings us to Mark's own account (10:47-48) where twice the blind Bartimaeus calls Jesus "son of David". Why did he call him "son of David"? It seems that at the time of Jesus, King Solomon, son of David, had gained a reputation in Jewish circles as a great exorcist and healer. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus tells us the story of Eleazar, who performs exorcisms by invoking the name of Solomon and using incantations he is said to have composed. The Testament of Solomon, apocryphal writing from the 1st century BC, reflects the same perception (on this point see Meier: The Healings of Jesus.
But with Matthew we enter another world, because for him this title is of great importance. Of course, just like Luke, he takes from Mark the expression "son of David" in the story of the healing of the blind man in Jericho. But in the other seven instances the expression is unique to him. And it begins in the infancy narrative with the genealogy of Jesus when Matthew writes: "Book of the genesis of Jesus Christ, son of David, son of Abraham" (1:1). Thus, for Matthew, at the starting point Jesus is a descendant of David. And Jesus is the son of David because his father, Joseph, is the son of David (1:20). Later, Matthew thinks it is important that Jesus be questioned under this title, as by those two blind men who cry out: "Have mercy on us, son of David!" (9: 27). And the reaction of the crowds to all the healings he performs is to say, "Is not this the son of David?" (12: 23). On a few occasions, when he repeats an account of Mark, he adds the reference to the son of David.
Why this insistence on the part of Matthew? The key is given to us in this passage from Mark, when Jesus asks the Pharisees: "What is your opinion about the Messiah? Whose son is he?" (Mt 22: 42). The answer, of course, is: David. In fact, in Jewish tradition the answer is more nuanced, since the figure of the Messiah also takes the form of a prophet like Moses (see John 4:25). But the fact remains that God's promise to the prophet Nathan played a very important role: "And when your days are fulfilled and you have lain with your fathers, I will maintain after you the lineage that came from your womb... and I will establish his royal throne for ever. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me" (2 Samuel 7:12-14). A great Jewish current considered that the Messiah would be of the descent of David. In Qumran, the messiah of righteousness appears in the form of a descendant of David or a priest or prophet who has been anointed. In the Jewish apocrypha, he is the son of David who comes to gather his people like a shepherd, or he is a king who comes to reign for 400 years and rebuke the unjust (See also Meier and as well this presentation on the Psalms of Solomon, a writing from the 1st century BC). And the earliest statements of faith in the Epistles of Paul mention that Jesus is of the offspring of David: "[This Gospel] concerns his Son, who according to the flesh is of the lineage of David" (Romans 1:3). Thus, the Canaanite woman, this pagan woman, recognizes in Jesus the Jewish Messiah promised in the eyes of Matthew.
The word thygatēr means daughter, as opposed to son. We find it a few times in the New Testament (28 times), and especially in the Gospels-Acts (Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 9; Jn = 1; Ac = 3); it is not surprising to note that this number is small compared to the word son which appears 301 only in the Gospels-Acts and 2Jn. In Matthew, there is little to say, except that of the eight occurrences of the word, six come from a source common to Mark, the Q document and even John (21:5). And the other two occurrences are only an extension of the Q document (10: 37) and of Mark's account (15: 28). In short, Matthew does not present anything original on this point. A daughter refers either to a particular person: the daughter of a chief who has died (9:18), a woman with blood loss (9:22), the daughter of Herodias (14:6), the daughter of the Canaanite woman (15:22.28); or to the general reality of the daughter of a mother (10:35.37) or female persons belonging to a nation (daughter of Zion: 21:5). Even though Matthew receives the core of the Canaanite woman's story from one source, it must be emphasized that the fact of integrating into his Gospel a story about a woman and her daughter, thus two persons who have no social status in antiquity, reveals something of the values of the evangelist.
Kakōs is an adverb that means: badly, wickedly, miserably, pitifully. It is uncommon in the Bible, and in the New Testament it is found almost exclusively in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 7; Mk = 4; Lk = 2; Jn = 1; Ac = 1. In Mark, the adverb appears only in the expression echō kakōs (Literally: to have badly, i.e. to be in pain or unwell). Of the seven kakōs occurrences in Matthew, four are simply a repetition of Mark's echō kakōs expression. In the other three occurrences, Matthew seems to draw from a similar source as Mark, but his editorial work is more important, so he becomes the only one to use kakōs in these passages:
Thus, it must be recognized that kakōs is part of the Matthean vocabulary, and even if the evangelist draws from a source that Mark knows well, our text bears the mark of his editorial work.
|daimonizetai (she is possessed by a demon)||
At the root of the verb daimonizomai, there is the word daimōn (demon) which designates a higher, even divine spirit. In antiquity, there were a number of these beings who exerted an influence on humanity, primarily an evil influence. In Judaism, there is only one God who dominates over all the forces of the universe, but the fact remains that belief in these higher forces, hidden powers, some of which are responsible for the evils of mankind, is maintained (see for example, 1 Enoch, a Jewish apocryphal writing). Thus, behind the various illnesses, especially mental illnesses, we see the action of these demons. In this context, the verb daimonizomai, which is used in the passive, translates as: to be possessed by a demon. Note that it is very rare in the Bible and appears only in the Gospels: Mt = 7; Mk = 3; Lk = 1; Jn = 1; Ac = 0. With the exception of our v. 22, this verb always appears in the form of a participle and is used as a noun: the being possessed by a demon, usually translated as demonic. On three occasions, Matthew simply uses Mark's word. The fact remains that on four occasions the verb is unique to him (about a savage being of Gadara, 8:28; about a mute demon, 9:32; about a mute and blind demon, 12:22 and about the daughter of the Canaanite woman).
Let us come to our v. 22: two things are remarkable, on the one hand it is the only case where the verb does not appear as a noun with the use of the participle (the verb is in the passive present tense, 3rd pers. singular), and therefore cannot be translated as "demonic", and on the other hand, it is the only case where the verb must be qualified by an adverb (kakōs, evil or wicked), as if the mere mention of being possessed by a demon was not enough to describe the lamentable side of the situation. What to conclude? First of all, it is clear that here we feel the intervention of the evangelist's hand in shaping the narrative according to his perspective. The addition of kakōs does not give us any more details about the illness of the Canaanite woman's daughter (Mark, for his part, simply says that the mother asks Jesus to cast the demon out of her daughter), but nevertheless tells us that there is something lamentable in her situation, which calls for more compassion.
|v. 23 But he did not answer a word. After approaching him, his disciples insisted on saying, "Get rid of her, because she is behind us defeaning us."
Literally : Then him he did not answer (apekrithē) her a word (logon). And having come near (proselthontes) the disciples (mathētai) of him were asking (ērōtoun) him saying : Dismiss (apolyson) her, because she cries out from behind (opisthen) us.
|apekrithē (he answered)||
The verb apokrinomai is formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb krinō (to decide, choose, judge, interpret): literally, to make a decision or make a judgment based on what has been said, hence "to answer". It is extremely frequent in the Gospel-Acts : Mt = 55; Mk = 30; Lk = 46; Jn = 78; Ac = 20. But what is remarkable in the Gospels is to find the stereotypical expression: "to answer and to say", the first often in the present participle and the last expressed by the verb legō (to say) or phēmi (to declare), often in the past tense, for example: "But answering, he (Jesus) says" (Mt 15:24); to be convinced of this stereotype, one only has to look at the numbers: Mt = 50; Mk = 19; Lk = 40; Jn = 32. As we can see, Matthew is a bit of a champion of this stereotype. For he appreciates a lot of verbs that belong to his familiar vocabulary, so much so that out of the 55 uses in his Gospel, 43 are particular to him; because he often adds them to the sources he uses: for example, Mark writes : For example, Mark writes, "Peter began to say to him, 'Behold, we have left everything and followed you'" (Mk 10:28), but Matthew repeats the sentence like this: "Then answering, Peter said to him, 'Behold, we have left everything and followed you'" (Mt 19:27; see also Mt 13:11; 15:3.26; 17, 11; 21, 24; 22, 29; 24, 4; 26, 23.33.66; 28, 5); regarding the Q document, Luke writes: "At that very hour he rejoiced in the Holy Spirit and said, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because...'" (Lk 10:21), but Matthew prefers to write: "At that time, answering, Jesus said, 'I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because...'" (Mt 11:25; see also Mt 8:8; 25:26).
However, here in v. 23, we have a particular form: a negation (he did not answer). In fact, in the Gospels, apokrinomai is found in four different forms:
In Matthew, we find only forms i) and iii). Let us examine the five negative forms:
Let's settle immediately with 26: 62 and 27: 12 (ouden apokrinomai) which is an expression of Mark that Matthew reuses (see Mark 14: 60-61; 15: 4-5). The same goes for (ouk apokrinomai) of 27: 14 (Mark 15: 5); only the rest of the sentence is particular to him. Now, the expression "not answer a word" from 15:23 and 22:46 is not found anywhere else in the Gospels and appears to come from Matthew's editing work. The source of the story is known to Mark, but Matthew rewrites it in his own way. Finally, let us note that 15:23 and 22:46 are the only references to an absence of response outside the context of the passion; in the latter case, we understand the reaction of Jesus who knows that the dice in his trial are loaded and that it is useless to say anything. Here, in v. 23, Jesus refuses to respond to a woman who cries out for help.
If the expression "not answer a word" comes from Matthew's pen, the word "word" (logos) is very widespread throughout the New Testament and the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 33; Mk = 24; Lk = 32; Jn = 40; Ac = 65. Logos has the same root as the verb legō (to say), hence the usual translation of "word". It is a word that Matthew likes, to the point that of the 33 recurrences in his Gospel, 19 are his own. It is used to describe different realities because of its flexibility:
It is worth highlighting two aspects of Jesus' words in Matthew.
|proselthontes (having come near)||
The verb proserchomai is formed from the preposition pros (to) and the verb erchomai (to come, to go), and therefore means to come to, to go to, and therefore to approach. It is little present in the New Testament outside the Gospels-Acts, but it is at the heart of Matthew's vocabulary: Mt = 55; Mk = 5; Lk = 10; Jn = 1; Ac = 10. When editing his sources, the evangelist does not hesitate to add it to his account. For example, Mark writes: "And on the first day of the unleavened bread, when the Passover was being sacrificed, his disciples said to him, 'Where do you want us to go and prepare for you to eat the Passover?" (14: 12); Matthew rephrases the story as follows: "Now on the first (day) of unleavened bread the disciples came near (proserchomai) Jesus, saying, 'Where would you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?'" (26: 17). An example with the Q document, while Luke writes: "Now the devil said to him, 'If you are (the) Son of God, tell this stone to become bread'" (Lk 4: 3), Matthew prefers to write: "And coming near (proserchomai) the tempter said to him, 'If you are (the) Son of God, tell this stone to become bread'" (Mt 4: 3). It should be noted that out of the 55 occurrences of the word in his Gospel, 48 are particular to him; that is to say, his affection for this term.
What role does this verb play in his Gospel? It seems that it is a way for the evangelist to put the spotlight on the characters who are about to interact, as on a stage when it is dark all around. Let's not forget, Matthew likes order and clarity. This is his way of introducing a story and bringing all the attention to the main characters in the scene. And most of the time, it is Jesus that one comes near to (35 times out of the total of 55). Those who come near are first of all people who expect something from Jesus.
Those who come near Jesus are also adversaries
Here, in v. 23, the disciples come near Jesus to make a request. This literary process emphasizes the disciples' request and Jesus response that follows: all our attention should be focused on this interaction, because it is important.
Mathētēs is the masculine noun mathētēs in the plural accusative. It means: to be a disciple or a pupil or a learner; it refers to someone who listens to a master. As one can imagine, the word is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 72; Mk = 46; Lk = 37; Jn = 78; Ac = 28; 1Jn = 0; 2Jn = 0; 3Jn = 0. It can be the disciples of Jesus, John or even those of the Pharisees (Mk 2:18).
The question was asked: is the word "disciple" the work of the first Christian community, which referred to the members of the community as "disciple", or does it really reflect what people called all those who were attached to Jesus when he preached? After his analysis, J.P. Meier concludes that the term really belongs to the time of Jesus, since the early Christians rather abandoned the term to define themselves. Moreover, among those who considered Jesus as a master, we can distinguish three different groups of people:
It should be noted that although several women are mentioned, none of them were given the title of disciple, no doubt due to the culture of the time.
Matthew likes the word disciple: not only does he use it very often (he is 2nd, behind John), but of the 72 occurrences, 42 (about 60%) are unique to him. But what must be emphasized is that Matthew is keen to associate them with the Twelve: he is the only one to speak of the Twelve disciples, firstly to frame the discourse of mission (10:1 and 11:1), then to share the fate that awaits him as he goes up to Jerusalem (20:17). And when Judas has betrayed Jesus and committed suicide, Matthew will speak of the eleven disciples (28:16); he is the only one to have this expression. Mark, who is the source of Matthew and Luke, speaks only of the "Twelve" and the "Eleven". What does this mean? Matthew seems to restrict the title of disciple to the specific group of the Twelve who accompany him on the road and whom he sends on mission. And when we look at the whole of his Gospel, it is clear that he makes them play a special and unique role:
The disciples are special people to whom Jesus reserves a particular teaching and who have a greater knowledge of the Christian mystery.
The disciples have a unique relationship with Jesus and constitute his family
Disciples are called to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world
What is quite peculiar to Matthew, the disciples play the role of intermediary or mediator between Jesus and the crowd.
We should not be surprised by the unique place Matthew gives to the disciples. We are probably in the community of Antioch around the year 80 or 85 when the Church begins to structure itself on the model of the Old Testament and where this classification between clerics and laity takes shape.
However, despite the unique role Matthew makes the disciples play, he does not hesitate to underline their weakness, their limits and sometimes their narrow-mindedness. For example, they are afraid when Jesus walks on water (14: 26), or when they hear a voice from heaven (17: 6). When Jesus presents his vision of marriage where a man cannot divorce his wife for any reason, their remark would be considered macho today (19:10 "His disciples said to him, "If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry"). When Jesus tells them that it is difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, Matthew writes: "The disciples were greatly astounded: 'Who then can be saved?" (19: 25). When a woman pours an alabaster jar containing a very precious perfume on Jesus, it is in the mouth of the disciples' that Matthew put this cheap remark: "Why this waste? (26: 8). When Peter bravadoes that he is ready to die for Jesus and Mark writes that "all" said the same, Matthew makes it clear: "All the disciples said the same" (26:35).
Here, in v. 23, Matthew makes the disciples play this role of intermediary as they ask Jesus to intervene so that they may find peace again. This role allows Matthew to introduce an explanation from Jesus of his silence in the face of the woman's requests. At the same time, Matthew does not hesitate to present a not so flattering picture of the disciples: they want her to get off their backs.
|ērōtoun (they were asking)||
The verb erōtaō is here in the imperfect, and therefore refers to an ongoing action that is not finished. It means: to ask a question, to question someone, to address a request, to pray, to invite. It is especially present in the Gospel-Acts and the Epistles of John: Mt = 4; Mk = 3; Lk = 15; Jn = 27; Ac = 6; 1Jn = 1; 2Jn = 1. It is a familiar word in the Johannine tradition, as can be seen, but not very present in Matthew; in fact, in the four occurrences in his Gospel, only one is proper to him in the account of the rich young man (19:17 "Why do you ask me about what is good?"). The only thing to emphasize here in v. 23 is Matthew's transformation of this account of the Canaanite woman: whereas in Mark it is the woman who "asks" to Jesus, here it is the disciples who ask to Jesus, in accordance with the role of mediator that Matthew makes them play.
The verb apolyō is formed from the preposition apo (from, far from) and the verb lyō (to bind), and therefore means literally: to unbind or remove the link. It exists almost only in the Gospels-Acts throughout the New Testament (the only exception is Hebrews 13:23): Mt = 19; Mk = 12; Lk = 14; Jn = 5; Ac = 15. Its meaning is determined by its context. And when we look at the texts as a whole, the contexts can be grouped into four main categories:
As we can see, the idea is always the same: a link exists, and that link is broken. From all the Gospels-Act texts, we can establish the following table.
A first comment is in order. In spite of the number of occurrences of the verb apolyō in the Gospels, the latter appears mainly during three events: 1) the trial of Jesus before Pilate and the decision to release either Jesus or Barabbas, a scene recounted by Mark, and repeated by Luke and Matthew, and also recounted by John, monopolize the "prison/under arrest" context (the only exception being a parable from Mt 18:27); 2) the scene of Jesus feediing the crowds, recounted by Mark, and repeated by Luke and Matthew, monopolizes much of the "crowd/caught up in an event" context; 3) the controversy over divorce, narrated by Mark, and taken up by Luke and Matthew, almost completely monopolizes the "marriage" context (the only exception being Matthew, who adds it in his discourse on the Mount and in his infancy narrative when Joseph intended to dismiss his wife quietly).
The second remark concerns Matthew, where we note the greatest number of occurrences. But this number is misleading because there are in fact only seven occurrences of his own. And of these seven occurrences, three are simply an extension of the discussion on divorce (5:31; 19:7-8), and one is an extension of the scene of Jesus feeding the crowds (14:53). So we are left with three occurrences that are truly unique to Matthew: Joseph's decision to dismiss his wife in the infancy narrative (1:19), the parable of the master releasing his insolvent servant from prison (18:27) and our v. 23 where the disciples ask for the Canaanite woman to be sent away. This is not a word that is really familiar to Matthew and would be part of his literary arsenal; it seems to play a purely utilitarian role.
Now we have to answer the question: what does apolyō mean here in the mouth of the disciples? Note that most Bibles (see other translations) have translated this verb, here in the aoristic imperative, 2nd person singular, as "Send her away" except the Jerusalem Bible which translated : "Give her what she wants" with the note that the only way to hope this woman goes is for Jesus to give her what she wants and heal her. Technically, the verb apolyō can mean to dismiss someone as well as to free someone from his or her evil (the latter is confirmed by one case, Luke 13:12: "Jesus said to her, 'Woman, you are set free (apolyō) from your ailment'"). In short, the primary meaning of what the disciples are asking is to see the disappearance of the woman who is bothering them with her loud cries, especially in the context of this "retreat" to which Jesus seems to have invited them by moving away from the Jewish world. But at the same time, we know very well that this woman will not stop crying until she has obtained what she wants; it is a little like the parable of the unjust judge and the unwelcome widow in Lk 18:2-8 which ends with this sentence of Jesus: "But when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?" So Matthew is probably playing on the two sides of apolyō: dismiss and release.
|opisthen (from behind)||
Opisthen is an adverb that means: from behind, at the back, after, hereafter. It is very uncommon: Mt = 2; Mc = 1; Lc = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. If we consider the fact that this word, used by Mark in the account of the woman with blood loss (5, 27), is taken up as it is by Luke and Matthew for the same account, we find ourselves with only three different occurrences. Elsewhere, Luke uses it to speak of Simon of Cyrene who carries the cross behind Jesus (23, 26) and Matthew uses it here in our account. What role do the evangelists make him play? In Mark's case, it shows the intensity of the woman who is in the midst of the crowd and ends up sneaking in and touching Jesus' garment with pain and misery; this is what Matthew and Luke understand when they speak of the "fringe" of his garment. Thus the back describes the limit of how far his faith could go, and for Jesus it describes his healing power that is exercised even when only the back of his garment is touched. In Luke, where Simon of Cyrene carries the cross behind Jesus, the allusion is quite clear to the situation of the disciple: "If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Lk 9:23); "Whoever does not carry his cross and come after (opisthen) me cannot be my disciple" (Lk 14:27). What about Matthew? First of all, let us note that the adverb accompanies the verb krazō (to cry out). Elsewhere, in Matthew, two blind men shout to Jesus, following him and saying: "Have mercy on us, Son of David!" (9:27); shouting and being behind Jesus is a way of expressing their faith in asking for help. But here the cries are behind the disciples. Let us remember the role of intermediary or mediator of the disciples that we have underlined above: the woman addresses Jesus through the disciples. And we understand the gesture of the woman to turn to the disciples after Jesus' silence.
|v. 24 But Jesus answered them, "I have been sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
Literally : Then him, having answered he said: I was not sent (apestalēn), if not (ei mē) towards the sheep (probata) the having been lost (apolōlota) of house of Israel (oikou Israēl).
|apestalēn (I was sent)||
The verb apostellō is formed from the preposition apo (from) and the verb stellō (to equip, to prepare for a journey, to dispatch, to send), and therefore means: to send to someone, to send to a place, to send on a mission. It is easy to guess that it is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 22; Mk = 20; Lk = 25; Jn = 28; Ac = 23. Usually it is a superior who sends a subordinate to accomplish a mission or to do a job: God sends his prophets or messengers, the angels, Jesus sends his disciples, a master sends his servants. Matthew follows this great tendency and offers nothing special compared to the other Gospels. There is, however, one point where he differs from the others. In a section (10: 1 - 11, 1) about sending the disciples on mission where he gives his instructions, Matthew puts the following into Jesus' mouth:
Do not go in the way of the Gentiles, nor enter a city of the Samaritans; but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 10: 5-6
In other words, Jesus asks his disciples to restrict their mission to the Jews only. Thus, what Jesus says here in v. 24 is totally consistent with the mission he entrusted to his disciples: just as Jesus, from Matthew's perspective, perceived his mission received from God as being reserved exclusively for the Jews, so it is the same type of mission that he asked his disciples to pursue.
|ei mē (if not)||
This Greek expression to express a restriction is composed of the conjunction ei (if) and the negation particle mē (not). It is usual in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 14; Mk = 13; Lk = 10; Jn = 12; Ac = 2. Matthew seems to like it well, because of the 14 occurrences in his Gospel, five are particular to him, and in this last case he sometimes modifies his source to add the expression. For example, when he repeats Mark 9:8 ("Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more (ouketi), but only Jesus"), Matthew writes instead: "But when they looked up, they saw no one if not (ei mē) Jesus alone" (17:8; see also Mt 14:17; Mk 6:38 and Mt 12:24; Mk 3:22). He does the same thing with the Q document (see Mt 5:13; Lk 14:34-35). All this to say that we are in Mathean literary territory.
The word probaton refers primarily to a small herd of four-legged grazing animals such as sheep and goats. But in the New Testament it refers to ewes, the female sheep, especially when distinguished from the male sheep, the goat (eriphos) or the lamb (arēn). It is less frequent than one would have expected, given Jesus' peasant background: Mt = 11; Mk = 2; Lk = 2; Jn = 19; Ac = 1. But with Mark probably addressing the Christians of Rome, and Luke perhaps addressing those of Corinth, one can understand these evangelists not to be very "sheepish". It is Matthew who has best preserved the setting of Palestine and the pastoral images that Jesus may have used (in John, despite the number of occurrences, the word is concentrated above all in the parable of the good shepherd, and at the end, in the appeal to Peter to take care of the flock). In addition to taking up certain texts of Mark, such as Jesus' reaction before a crowd that appears to him as a flock without a shepherd (Mt 9:36), or the reference to Zechariah 13:7 where the shepherd is beaten and the sheep scattered is a prediction of the flight of the disciples to Gethsemane (Mt 26:31), and a text from Q document where a shepherd has 100 sheep and one goes astray (Mt 18:12), Matthew introduces eight occurrences of his own.
Speaking to a predominantly Jewish milieu, Matthew can hope that his audience will grasp the references to all those pastoral images that the Old Testament is full of. Let us recall some of them.
Thus, it must be concluded that our v. 24 is totally aligned with Matthean theology and its literary style.
|apolōlota (having been lost)||
The verb apollymi (to lose, to destroy, to cause to perish, to lead astray, to demolish, to waste, to kill) is quite widespread in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 18; Mk = 10; Lk = 27; Jn = 9; Ac = 2. We can divide his 18 occurrences in Matthew into three main categories:
In which category does our v. 24 fall? We're certainly not talking about physically dead sheep. To understand what we're talking about here, we have to go back to the Old Testament.
Thus, the lost sheep is the one that seems to have left the people of the covenant for whatever reason, that no longer demonstrates its belonging to the Chosen People, and of which God has somehow lost possession: the relationship seems broken. For this reason, from God's point of view, the apollymi verb in v. 24 falls into the category of "loss of possession" or "loss of relationship". But this loss of relationship also implies a loss of value and integrity. For Jesus, reaching out to these lost people was the goal of his mission.
It is worth noting that although the use of apollymi is well attested to by all evangelists, Matthew likes this verb, so that of its 19 occurrences, 10 are his own. And he sometimes adds it to his sources. For example, while Mark 9:47 writes: "And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell", Matthew 5:29 prefers to write: "If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose (apollymi) one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell." (see also 27:42). Similarly, while Luke 12:4 reflects the Q document as follows: "Fear not those who kill the body and after that have nothing more to do", Matthew 10:28 prefers to reflect this version as follows: "Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy (apollymi) both soul and body in hell".
|oikou Israēl (house of Israel )||
The word Israēl is composed of the Hebrew noun el "goal, domain, leader", hence "god", and the verb from the root either ssr (to shine, enlighten, save, dominate) or srh (to fight, struggle). The name Israēl was first attributed to Jacob, using a popular etymology: "He (the stranger against whom Jacob fought all night) said, 'You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have been strong against God and man and have prevailed'". But here in v. 24 we speak of the "house of Israel", so not of an individual, but of an ethnic group descended from Jacob. In fact, traditionally, the house of Israel referred to all the descendants of Jacob who lived in northern Palestine, while those in the south were called the house of Judah. This was one of the achievements of King David (10th century BC). It was one of the achievements of King David (10th century BC) to reign first over the house of Judah (2 Samuel 2:4: "The men of Judah came and there they anointed David as king over the house of Judah"), and then also over the house of Israel (2 Samuel 12:8: "Yahweh, according to the words of Nathan) have given you your master's house, I have put your master's wives in your arms, I have given you the house of Israel and Judah, and if that is not enough, I will add anything else for you"). Unfortunately, the continuation is more complex and more painful, while a schism tears the two houses apart from 933 BC, and in 721 BC, Samaria, which belongs to the house of Israel, is taken by the Assyrians who deport a certain number of people and install foreigners, so that a prophet like Jeremiah (about 620 BC), in his promises in the name of Yahweh, must constantly distinguish the two groups :
The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness." For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel (Jer 33: 14-17)
The house of Judah in the south will also know the fate of the house of Israel in the north and will be condemned to exile in Babylon in 587 BC. But after the return from exile of the house of Judah and the reconstruction of the temple in Jerusalem (around 520 BC), the lines between the house of Israel and the house of Judah begin to blur and the meaning of the expressions begin to change. An example is given by 1 Chronicles 28:4 (the book of Chronicles is dated around 340 BC) where David talks about Yahweh's decision to choose him
Yet the Lord God of Israel chose me from all my ancestral house to be king over Israel forever; for he chose Judah as leader, and in the house of Judah my father's house, and among my father's sons he took delight in making me king over all Israel.
David came from the south, from the tribe of Judah, but he became king over all Israel, which includes, according to the old terminology, both the house of Israel and the house of Judah. We see another development in the Psalms, where the house of Israel comes to refer to the laity as opposed to the clergy (priests and Levites): "House of Israel, bless the Lord, house of Aaron, bless the Lord, house of Levi, bless the Lord, those who fear the Lord, bless the Lord" (Ps 135:19-20). At the dawn of the Christian era, the expression "house of Judah" seems to have fallen into disuse, and only "house of Israel" remains (for example, the book of Judith, about 75 BC, knows only "house of Israel": 4:15; 6:17; 8:6; 13:14; 14:5.10; 16:14).
What about the New Testament? The only reference to the house of Judah is a quote from Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8:8 ("Behold, the days come, says the Lord, and I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah"). On the other hand, the expression "house of Israel" is present twice in Matthew in reference to the mission of Jesus and his disciples (10:6; 15:24), and twice in the Acts of the Apostles, first in Peter's discourse following Pentecost (2:36, "Let the whole house of Israel know this with certainty: God made him Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified"), and then in Stephen's discourse, which tells the whole of holy history and makes reference to the prophet Amos (7:42, "Then God turned away from them and gave them up to the worship of the host of heaven, as it is written in the book of the Prophets: Did you then offer me, O house of Israel, victims and sacrifices in the wilderness for forty years?")
Thus, Israel and Judah evolved differently. While Judah is the source of the term "Jew", i.e. of Judah, designating a specific race, Israel has come to designate a politico-religious entity. While the expression God of Judah is never used, the expression God of Israel is omnipresent. And it is thus that it is found in the mouth of Jesus in Matthew to designate the object of the mission: the whole community which has its roots in Jacob and occupies a precise territory.
Did Jesus really see his mission as limited to a specific group and a specific territory? Is the expression "saviour of the world" not found in Jn 4:42 (see also 1 Jn 4:14)? It is likely that Matthew reflects the historical Jesus. The most weighty argument is that it took almost a revolution and Paul's hard work to bring about the acceptance of a decision made at the Jerusalem assembly in 51, more than twenty years after Jesus' death, into the Christian community of non-Jews; the attitude of the former disciples is rooted in what they observed in the teacher. And even after the decision at Jerusalem, tensions remained high with the action of the so-called "Judaizers", under the leadership of James, Jesus' brother, who wanted all Jewish practices to be preserved (on this point see Paul's letter to the Galatians, especially 2:4-16). Thus one can speak of the "saviour of the world" in the year 90, the probable date of John's Gospel, but this is the result of a long evolution.
|v. 25 However, the woman began to bow down against him with her words, "Master, help me".
Literally : Then her, having come (elthousa), was paying homage (prosekynei) to him saying: master, come to the aid (boēthei) of me.
|elthousa (having come)||After legō (to say) and eimi (to be), erchomai (to come, to arrive, to go, to appear) is the most frequent verb in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 113; Mk = 86; Lk = 99; Jn = 155; Ac = 50. In Matthew, it appears almost every ninth verse. This frequency is partly explained by the fact that it is a verb of everyday life and that he copied this verb which appears in his sources. But there is more, since of the 113 occurrences, 51 are specific to him. Moreover, on several occasions, he modifies his source to add erchomai. And in the passages where erchomai is his own, very often it appears in the form of a participle (22 times): for example, "having arrived", the person or a thing did this or that (2: 9 "having arrived, the star stood above the place where the child was"). This is also reflected when he modifies a source. For example, when he copies Mark 2:15, which says, "And as he sat at dinner in Levi's house, many tax collectors and sinners were also sitting with Jesus and his disciples" he changes the sentence to: "And as he sat at dinner in the house, many tax collectors and sinners having arrived (erchomai), they were sitting with him and his disciples" (9:10). This is an example of the Matthean style.|
|prosekynei (she was paying homage)||The verb proskyneō means: to prostrate oneself, to obey or submit to someone, to greet or welcome respectfully, from which to pay homage or worship. It usually means to recognize the dignity of someone who is before you. Apart from Matthew and John, it is not so common in the Gospel-Acts : Matthew = 13; Mark = 2; Luke = 3; John = 11; Acts = 4. But even the number of occurrences is misleading in John, for of the 11 presences of the verb, 9 appear in the dialogue with the Samaritan woman where the place of worship is discussed (proskyneō). And if we limit our analysis to the cases in which one prostrates oneself before Jesus as a sign of true homage, then we obtain the following statistics: Mt = 10; Mk = 1; Lk = 1; Jn = 1; Ac = 0. This is a peculiarity of Matthew's Gospel where people bow down before him. First of all, people bow down before him to ask for a favour: a leper asks to be cleansed (8: 2), a leader asks to lay his hand on his dead daughter (9, 18), the Canaanite woman asks to intervene for her daughter (15: 25), the mother of the sons of Zebedee asks for her sons to sit on the right and left of Jesus in the kingdom (20: 20). Each time we have the same sentence structure: to come near (proserchomai) or to come (erchomai) + to bow down (proskyneō) + to say (legō). For Matthew, it is a faith process.
But we also prostrate ourselves before Jesus to pay homage to him, to recognize his particular dignity: the Gospel begins in this way ("When they (the Magi) entered the house, they (the Magi) saw the child with Mary his mother, and falling on their knees, they paid homage (proskyneō) to him", 2: 11), and it ends in the same way ("When they (the disciples) saw him, they bowed down (proskyneō)", 28: 17). There is even more. When Matthew takes from Mark the scene where Jesus walks on the sea, he completes the story at the moment when the wind calms down with this sentence of his own:
Those in the boat bowed down (proskyneō) to him, saying, "Truly, you are the Son of God!" (14: 33).
There is in Matthew a form of high theology, i.e. a theology that looks at Jesus, no longer in his human traits, but with the outlook of faith after Easter and with feelings proper to a liturgical environment. And the verb proskyneō serves as a vehicle for this perception and these feelings, so that he does not hesitate to modify certain scenes from Mark to add proskyneō: the leper kneeling in Mk 1:40 becomes someone who bows down or prostrates himself in Mt 8:2; the chief who falls at his feet in Mk 5:22 becomes someone who prostrates himself in Mt 9:18; the woman in our story who falls at his feet in Mk 7:25 becomes here someone who prostrates herself in Mt 15:25. This is the Matthean universe.
Here, in v. 25, it is the second time that the Canaanite woman intervenes with Jesus. The first time, she had challenged Jesus by saying: "Have mercy on me, Lord, son of David", thus appealing to his messianic title (son of David). Here she "comes" to Jesus and "prostrates herself" or "pays homage", which is an attitude of faith in Matthew. And between the two requests of the woman, there was the intervention of the disciples. If we decode Matthew's language correctly, there was a change in the woman's faith thanks to the role of the disciples, which allowed her to see in Jesus all his dignity.
|boēthei (come to the aid)||The verb boētheō (to come to the aid, to help, to come to the rescue) is very rare throughout the New Testament: Mt = 1; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 1; 2 Cor 6; Heb = 1; Rev = 1. In the Gospels, it only appears in Mark in the scene of a mute epileptic child where the father first asks for help ("But if you can do anything, come to our aid (boētheō) out of pity for us", 9: 22), then after Jesus' remark ("If you can!... Everything is possible for the one who believes"), the father asks for help a second time ("I believe; help (boētheō) my unbelief!", 9: 24). Thus, the verb boētheō really appears in a context of faith. Here, in v. 25, we have noticed the evolution of the woman who comes to Jesus and pays homage, an attitude of faith in Matthew. We must recognize that by using the expression "come to my help" (boētheō), something of her faith is expressed. Matthew chooses his words well, and he knows that it is the typical vocabulary of the Psalms. Let's give some examples:
|v. 26 Jesus replied, "It is wrong to take the children's bread and throw it to the puppies (kynariois)."
Literally : Then him, having answered, he said : not it is good (kalon) to take (labein) the bread (arton) of the children (teknōn) and to cast (balein) it to little dogs.
|kalon (good)||Kalos is an adjective meaning: good, beautiful. Without being frequent, it is nevertheless very present in the Gospel-Acts: Mt = 21; Mk = 11; Lk = 9; Jn = 7; Ac = 1. It is used in three different ways.
To qualify a material object (27 times)
To qualify a person or what they do (9 times)
To qualify a situation or an intangible reality (13 times: all the occurrences have their source in Mark); kalos is then used as an attribute of the verb to be (he is good)
Here, in v. 26, Matthew takes up a phrase from Mark where it is said that it is a good decision not to squander the good that belongs to one's family. "Good" has the moral meaning of "good", as in "doing good". The opposite would be to do something that is wrong.
|labein (to take)||The verb lambanō is part of the common Greek vocabulary and is very frequent in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 53; Mk = 20; Lk = 21; Jn = 46; Ac = 29. Basically, it means: to take. But "to take" can have two dimensions, an active dimension where one takes something and manipulates it (30 times in Matthew; for example 5: 40: "If anyone wants to sue you and take your tunic, give him even your cloak"), and a passive dimension where one takes something upon oneself, and therefore one welcomes it and receives it (18 times in Matthew, for example 10: 41 : "Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous man as a righteous man will receive a righteous man's reward"). But Matthew also presents us with a specialized use (5 times) that comes from Greek stylistics: to "take counsel", i.e. to "hold counsel" (lambanein symboulion; see 12: 14; 22: 15; 27: 1.7; 28: 12; on the other hand Mark uses the expression "to give counsel" (didōmi symboulion) in 3: 6 and "to do counsel" (poieō symboulion) in 15: 1). Matthew stays away from Mark's variations, as he likes to standardize the way of naming things.
Lambanō is a word that Matthew likes (38 times the verb is his own), so he sometimes prefers it to the verb used by its source; for example, while Mark uses airō (to take away) in 8: 19 ("When I broke the five loaves of bread for the 5,000 men, how many baskets full of pieces did you take away?"), Matthew substitutes it with lambanō 16:9 ("Do you not remember the five loaves of bread for the 5,000 men and the number of baskets you took?").
But here, in v. 26, we have the expression "take the bread". This expression appears on five occasions in his Gospel: here with the account of the Canaanite woman, with the two accounts of the crowds feeding (14: 19; 15: 36), with the discussion about the disciples forgetting to take bread (16: 5.7), and at Jesus' last supper (26: 26). And each time Matthew only uses the expression of Mark's pen.
Even if it is not the most frequent word, artos is quite present: Mt = 20; Mc = 21; Lc = 14; Jn = 24; Ac = 5. Usually, Matthew is content to copy the sources that speak of bread, and in this sense, bread is not a theme that he likes to propose. As we know, bread is at the core of our diet. And this is shown in two passages that he copies from the Q document, first the account of the temptation of Jesus where the tempter asks him to transform stones into bread while he is hungry (4: 3), and the prayer of the Our Father where the daily bread is asked for today (6: 11). It is therefore a precious good, and we understand the image of Jesus here in v. 26 who does not want to squander such a precious good. But this precious good is also at the core of the Eucharistic symbolism that Mark proposes with its two crowds feeding scenes and Jesus' last meal, a symbolism that Matthew takes up again (14: 19: 15: 36; 26: 26).
There are, however, two passages where Matthew differs from his parallels: firstly, in his discourse on the mountain, while he takes up the theme of the effectiveness of prayer from the Q document, he gives the example of a son asking his father for bread, and thus what is at the core of a Jew's diet, and to which the father will certainly not respond by giving a stone (7: 9), whereas Luke rather presents the example of the son's request for a fish, the food of a people from a sea area, and to which the father will certainly not respond by giving a serpent (11: 11); then Matthew gives an extension to the discussion in Mark (8:14-21) where the disciples seem dismayed at having forgotten to take bread and where Jesus reminds them of the two crowds feeding scenes, but an extension that takes up Jesus' warning about the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, a misunderstood warning in Mark, which ends with the discussion about the lack of bread, but which is well explained in Matthew, where the issue is not bread, but the leaven represented by the teaching of the opponents of Jesus (16: 11-12).
In short, we must conclude that Matthew does not bring anything original to the theme of bread and is content most of the time to go back to his sources. And here, in v. 26, in taking up Mark, he also takes up the theme of the Eucharistic bread which underlies a good part of the references to bread in his Gospel.
The word teknon derives from the verb tiktō which means: to generate. It thus designates the progeny, and it is present in the Synoptics and Acts: Mt = 14; Mk = 9; Lk = 14; Jn = 0; Ac = 5. It differs from nēpios (infant, being weak and helpless), pais (a boy from 7 to 14 years old) and hyios (son). Matthew reflects the different meanings of the word teknon
In v. 26, the word teknon refers quite clearly to the offspring of the parents on whom their affection and responsibility is expressed. Indeed, parents are responsible for feeding their children, and it would be wrong for them not to see this, or to take actions that prevent them from fulfilling their responsibility. Thus, the evangelist takes up the idea that Jesus' primary responsibility is to nourish Israel with his teaching.
|balein (to cast)||The verb ballō means first of all: to cast, from which derives: to throw, to place, to drop, to put, to put down. It appears only in the Gospels-Acts, with the exception of Revelation, and a passage in the Epistle of James and the first of John. It is a verb that we regularly see in Matthew: Mt = 33; Mk = 17; Lk = 18; Jn = 17; Ac = 5. Even if 20 of the 33 occurrences of the word in his Gospel are of his own, the evangelist does not try to put it forward by substituting it for certain key words from his sources. For ballō is well present in all evangelists, and the majority of Matthew's particular occurrences appear in scenes that are specific to him, such as the discourse on the mountain, or certain parables where one have to sort out, or certain stereotypical expressions like being thrown on a bed (bedridden), being thrown into prison, throwing the hook. And here, in v. 26, as we have pointed out, Matthew simply copies a sentence from Mark 7:27.|
|kynariois (chiots)||The name kynarion (little dog, puppy) appears only in this scene throughout the Bible: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 0; Jn = 0; Ac = 0. It is Mark who introduced it in his account of the Syro-Phenician woman (7, 27-28), taken up again by Matthew (15: 26-27). Why this reference to puppies? First of all, what does the dog represent? We must avoid the modern bias that sees in the dog the faithful and endearing pet that we like to spoil, and that sometimes occupies a place in the bed. A passage from Matthew's Mountain Discourse may enlighten us:
Do not give to the dogs (kyōn) what is holy, do not throw your pearls before the swine, lest they trample on them and then turn against you and maul you (7: 6).
Here, the dog is on the same level as the pig who has to make do with leftovers or garbage. In antiquity, the dog lives outside and often leads a life of scavenger (see 1 Kings 14:11: "Those of Jeroboam's family who die in the city will be eaten by the dogs"), as is also implied in this parable of the rich man and Lazarus: "Moreover, the dogs themselves came to lick his ulcers" (Lk 16:21). To call someone a "dog" is an insult, because the dog is often associated with someone who has disgusting habits: "It happened to them what the true proverb says: The dog has returned to his own vomit, and the sow is whashed only to wallow in the mud" (2 Peter 2:22). This is how Paul can associate bad workmen with dogs and ask them to stay away: "Beware of dogs! Beware of bad workers! Beware of those who mutilisate the flesh!"(Phil 3:2). It is the same echo in Revelation: "Beware of dogs, and of sorcerers, and of unclean men, and of murderers, and of idolaters, and of all who delight in doing evil!" (Rev 22:15). The same perception is found in the Old Testament: one is afraid of the dog that appears to be an enemy ("Many dogs surround me, a band of rascals surround me, as if to tear my hands and feet to pieces", Ps 22:17); it is even presented as an abomination: "You shall not bring to the house of the Lord your God the wages of a prostitute or the payment of a dog, whatever you have vowed: for both are an abomination to the Lord your God" (Ex 23:19).
What about puppies, like here in v. 26? As the following v. 27 suggests, it seems that puppies, unlike dogs, were allowed to stay in the house. Why did they do this? Undoubtedly because of their fragility: they were not yet able to defend themselves against the hyena or the wolf, and had to be protected until the day they could face the enemy. Thus they could be fed with the scraps of the table, but never with good food, as Ex 22:30 shows: "You shall not eat the meat of a beast torn apart by a wild beast in the field, you shall throw it to the dogs". Even if the puppies were temporarily housed at home, they were not of great value. Thus, Jesus' assertion that it is immoral to waste children's essential food on future scavengers remains valid (the Old Testament uses the term "dead dog" to describe a worthless being, see 1 Samuel 24:15; 2 Samuel 9:8).
One might finally ask the question: since we are in non-Jewish territory, is there a link between the dog and the pagan world? This is possible, although it is not clearly stated. First of all, we have two examples (Mt 7:6 and 2 Pet. 2:22) where dogs and pigs are associated when we speak of vile beings we must keep away from. Now, pigs are associated with the pagan world, since the Jews did not eat them. Moreover, dogs are presented as evil and dangerous beings that must be avoided. Thus, there is a certain congruence in drawing the parallel between the pagan world and dogs.
|v. 27 She continued, "It is true, master, but there are also puppies that eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table".
Literally : Then her she said: Yes (nai), master, for also (kai gar) the little dogs eat (esthiei) of the crumbs (psichiōn) the falling (piptontōn) from the table (trapezēs) of the masters (kyriōn) of them.
Nai (yes, really) is an uncommon affirmative adverb in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 9; Mc = 0; Lc = 4; Jn = 3; Ac = 2. It is found most often in the Gospel of Matthew. And moreover, of the nine occurrences, seven are his own. Let us note right away that this "yes" always appears as an answer to a question or a challenge, and not in the context of a solemn affirmation by Jesus, Matthew preferring the expression: "Amen, I say to you"; the only two exceptions are 11: 9 ("What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. ") and 11:26 ("yes, Father, for such was your gracious will"), which come from Q document (the four occurrences in Luke are an echo also of Q document). Thus, the Sermon on the Mount asks the disciples to have a frank language ("Let your word be 'Yes, Yes' or 'No, No'; anything more than this comes from the evil one", 5:37), the disciples answer "yes" to Jesus that they have understood the parables (13:51), Peter answers "yes" to the tax collectors who ask him if his master pays the didrachma (17:25), finally Jesus answers "yes" to the chief priests and scribes who ask him, indignant, if he hears the children shouting in the temple: "Hosanna to the son of David".
Here, in v. 27, we have the expression "Yes, master", the Canaanite woman's response to Jesus' challenge to understand the meaning of his decision. Now, we also find this expression a little earlier in the Gospel according to Matthew (9:28): "When he entered the house, the blind men came to him; and Jesus said to them, 'Do you believe that I am able to do this?' They said to him, 'Yes, master.' " In the latter case, we are truly in a context of faith. This expression does not appear anywhere else in the Gospels except in John :
The fact that we find the same expression in both Matthew and John is surprising, since most biblical scholars agree that the Gospels of Matthew and John are independent of each other. It must be thought that the expression must have been known in the Christian communities and must have served to express their faith. It is precisely this expression that Matthew puts in the mouth of the Canaanite woman. And this gesture is conscious, since in Mark the woman simply says "Master" (some manuscripts have "Yes, master" also in Mark, but according to us, it is an attempt to harmonize by the copyists; see our argumentation in reference 1). What does this mean? Matthew clearly wants to place us in a context of faith, which will be confirmed in the following.
|kai gar (for also)||
With kai gar we have two conjunctions that follow each other, a linking conjunction, kai (and), and a causal conjunction, gar (for, because, indeed, that's why). The combined effect of the two conjunctions introduces the idea of an explanation which accentuates what has just been said and which is usually translated as : "yet even" or "for even" or "but even" or "for also". The expression is not very frequent in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 3; Mk = 2; Lk = 6; Jn = 1; Ac = 1. It is mainly found in Luke. As for Matthew, of the three occurrences, two come from his sources, the Q document in 8:9 ("For I also am a man under authority, with soldiers under me") and Mark in 26:73 ("Certainly you are also one of them, for even your accent betrays you"). There remains our verse here where Matthew seems to add the conjunction gar (for) to what he receives from Mark. Let us look closely at the beginning of the woman's response in the two evangelists:
In Mark, it seems that the woman brings a new point of view: Jesus says that it is not right to give the children's bread to the puppies, and the woman replies that he forgets to mention (the meaning of "and" (kai)) that the puppies eat the children's crumbs under the table. Matthew, on the other hand, apparently wants to prevent the woman from taking Jesus at fault, and so presents the woman's remark as a continuation of what Jesus said. First of all, she says, "Yes, master". This "yes" says: I agree with what you said. Then the "for also" accentuates what has just been said; it could be paraphrased as follows: you are right to say that it is not good to throw the children's bread to the puppies, since it is only crumbs that fall by chance from the table that the puppies eat. Hence our translation: for even puppies only eat... The change of tone in Matthew compared to Mark's is subtle, but very real, as we will see later on. Why is this? Let's not forget two things: Matthew has a high Christology, i.e. Jesus is seen through the eyes of faith after Easter, and therefore knows very well what he says and what he does, he is never caught in default; then, the Canaanite woman, as seen, is presented by Matthew as someone who has faith.
|esthiei (it eats)||
The first thing to note is that the original verb (esthiei, active present indicative, 3rd person singular) is a singular verb, while the subject (puppies) is plural. Did Matthew commit a syntax error? This is a peculiarity of the Greek language, more specifically the Attic version, where the verb can remain in the singular even if the subject is a neutral plural noun (there are examples in Homer): in this case the subject is considered as a whole composed of several parts (see Herbert Weir Smyth, A Greek Grammar for Colleges). However, the subject is kunaria (puppies), a neutral plural noun.
The verb esthiō (to eat, devour, put in the mouth) is very present in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 24; Mk = 27; Lk = 32; Jn = 15; Ac = 7. Only on the statistical level, we notice from the outset that Matthew finds it less interesting than Luke or Mark. And when we look more closely, we note that Matthew is most of the time content to simply copy his sources, the Q document (5 times), the Marcan source (14 times). As for the five occurrences that are proper to him, we observe that he adds it in 12:1 to clarify the reason why the disciples pluck heads of grain in Mark's account, in 15:20 to clarify the question of the clean and the unclean which Mark keeps at a high moral level, but which the Jew Matthew links to the fact of washing his hands or not, in 15:38 to clarify Mark's conclusion on the 2nd account of crowds feeding by specifying that the numbers mentionned are related to those who have eaten, and finally in 25:35.42 in the great fresco of the Last Judgment where giving food to the hungry is one of the criteria for entering the Kingdom. Thus, if we can find a point of insistence in Matthew, it is that the theme of eating concerns above all the fact of feeding the hungry. This is a far cry from Luke's scenes where Jesus accepts invitations to eat and sits at the table, or from his parables where people are feasting. There is something austere about Matthew.
Here, in v. 27, Matthew takes the verb from Mark's pen. But underlying the act of eating is Jesus' teaching that a puppy like the Canaanite woman is eager to eat, as we shall soon see.
Unfortunately, the name psichion is unique: it was introduced by Mark, whom Matthew copied, and does not appear anywhere else in the entire Greek Bible, and is almost absent from the writings of the great Greek authors. On a symbolic level, it translates the idea that puppies are content with the tiny remains of bread, and therefore that the pagan woman is willing to make do with the tiny remains of Jesus' teaching.
The verb piptō is the most frequent in Matthew, but the latter does not seem to make it play a particular role: Mt = 19; Mk = 8; Lk = 17; Jn = 3; Ac = 9. It has three main meanings:
Here, at v. 27, piptō belongs to an accidental reality where bread crumbs fall off the table. It seems to happen regularly, since the puppies are on the lookout. This is confirmed by this passage from Luke who writes: "He (Lazarus) would have liked to be satisfied with what fell from the rich man's table" (16, 21).
Contrary to what one might think, the word trapeza is infrequent in the New Testament and in the Acts of the Apostles: Mt = 2; Mk = 2; Lk = 4; Jn = 1; Ac = 2. It has two main meanings in the Gospels-Acts. First, there is this table, probably low with legs (obviously without a chair), to place the food for the meal. On the occasion of a feast and where there were guests, this table was on the first floor, on the terrace, as suggested by this passage of Mark where Jesus asks to prepare the Passover: "He (the owner) will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready. Make preparations for us there" (14:15). It is the same situation that is presented in the Acts of the Apostles: "He (the jailor) brought them (Paul and Silas) up into the house and set a table before them; and he and his entire household rejoiced that he had become a believer in God." (16:34). Thus, lying on a carpet with cushions, each one stretched out his hand to take food ("But behold, the hand of him who betrays me is with me on the table", Lk 22:21).
But trapeza also translates as the counter or bench of the moneychangers (which gave rise to our word "bank", from "bench"): "And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves" (Mk 11:15). Luke's reference to the money-changer's table or bench as a bank is more explicit: "Why did you not entrust my money to the bank (trapeza)? When I returned, I would have withdrawn it with interest" (19:23).
Here, in v. 27, it should be noted that, while Jesus only mentioned giving the children's bread to the little dogs, it is the woman who introduces the idea of the table and what falls from the table. The scene has a certain congruence, because since ancient times one of the responsibilities of the woman has revolved around the table. But this experience here becomes for her the way to express in faith her request to Jesus: the experience of the table allows her to grasp what could only be implicit in Jesus' words (the bread is for children only) and to make it her prayer (but the puppies can be content with the crumbs from the table). And for Matthew, a leader of the Christian community, this is certainly the echo of the Christian table, the Eucharist (for the table as synonymous with the Eucharist, see 1 Corinthians 10:21 where Paul must call to order the Christians who participated in the feasts in the pagan temples: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot participate in the table of the Lord and the table of demons").
We have already analyzed above kyrios and we have noted that the word is sometimes attributed to God, Jesus, or to humans who exercise a form of authority and is generally translated as master. First of all, let us note that the word is here in the plural, and that it obviously refers to humans, more particularly to the owners of the puppies. But the very fact that the woman identifies herself with the puppies in her request to Jesus, and that Matthew accentuates her attitude of faith, we can see here in kyrios a double meaning: the masters of the dogs, and Jesus who became a master for the woman. For Matthew could simply refer to the puppies without mentioning their masters, as Mark does, and write: "that is why the puppies eat the crumbs that fall from the table". Why did he add "from their masters," which is not necessary? It is a reference to the woman's faith journey in Jesus as his master, and a transition to what follows.
|v. 28 Then Jesus said to her, "My dear lady, how great is your faith! Let whatever you want happen!". And her daughter was healed at that very moment.
Literally : At this moment (tote) having answered, the Jesus said to her: O (ō) woman, great (megalē) of you the faith (pistis)! Happen (genēthētō) to you as you want (theleis). And was healed (iathē) the daughter of her from the hour (hōras) this one (ekeinēs).
|tote (at this moment)||
Tote is such an ordinary adverb that there would be nothing to say, if it were not a word almost fetish in Matthew: Mt = 90; Mk = 6; Lk = 15; Jn = 10; Ac = 21; it comes up in about every 12 verses. It is an adverb of time that is usually translated as "at his moment", "then", i.e. when the thing under consideration had been said or done, thereupon. It expresses a logical sequence of cause and effect. Since Matthew likes to structure things and present them in an orderly fashion, tote becomes the ideal tool for him. For example, "leave your offering there, before the altar, and go first to be reconciled with your brother; then come back, and then present your offering" (5:24); here, reconciliation must precede the offering. Of the 90 occurrences of his Gospel, 81 are proper to him. And so he likes to add this adverb to his sources, beginning with Mark. For example, in the scene in which Jesus is trapped about the tax to Caesar and he replies with a question about the effigy of the coin, Mark writes, "They said to him, 'Of Caesar'. But Jesus said to them, "Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's" (12:16-17). When Matthew copies this scene, he makes a slight modification: "They say, 'From Caesar'. Then he says to them, "Give therefore to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's" (22:20-21); thus Mark's "but" has become a "then" for the payment of taxes is due to the use of Caesar's money. He does the same with the Q document. In Jesus' discourse on the return of the unclean spirit where the latter seeks a place of rest and does not find one, Luke writes: "He says, 'I will return to the house from which I came out'" (11:24). For his part, Matthew writes: "Then he said, 'To my house I will return, from whence I came'" (12:44); the addition of the small "then" allows Matthew to show the logical sequence between wandering without finding rest and returning to the point of departure.
What about tote in v. 28? What Jesus is about to declare is the consequence of what the woman has just said: there is a logical relationship. The healing that is about to take place is a consequence of what the woman has just said, i.e. the expression of her faith.
Ō is an interjection or exclamation expressing surprise, joy or sorrow. It is at the same time a call, because the word "woman" that follows is in the vocative and could be rendered thus today: "My dear lady! Do you realize how great your faith is? As one can imagine, ō is rather rare in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 2; Mk = 1; Lk = 2; Jn = 0; Ac = 3. In fact, one could say that there are only three occurrences in the Gospels, not five.
The other two occurrences (Lk 9:41 and Mt 17:17) are only a repeat of Mk 9:19. What do we observe? The interjection is always in the mouth of Jesus, and it is always around faith: Jesus expresses either his surprise and joy in front of faith, or his surprise, disappointment or sorrow in front of the lack of faith. Surprise and joy are in front of a pagan woman, as if one did not expect to find faith in pagans (think of the account of the Roman centurion of Capernaum in Mt 8:10: "When Jesus heard this, he marvelled and said to those who followed him, 'Truly I say to you, I have not found such faith in Israel in anyone'"). On the other hand, Jesus was disappointed in his fellow countrymen in whom he expected to find faith.
Megas is a very ordinary adjective meaning literally: large, but can include the dimension of strength and power. It is used regularly in the Gospels-Acts: Mt = 20; Mk = 15; Lk = 26; Jn = 5; Ac = 31. Matthew uses it like the other evangelists (of the 20 occurrences, 12 are his own). He uses it to accentuate certain feelings (great joy of the Magi (2: 10), great joy of the women leaving the tomb (28: 8), the value of the commandment of God's love (the greatest commandment of the Law (22: 36. 38)), the impressive side of the end times (great signs (24: 24), loud trumpet (24: 31)) and the resurrection of Jesus (great stone before the tomb (27: 60), great earthquake as the angel descends from heaven (28: 2)). But what is remarkable here in v. 28, it is the only case in the Gospels where someone's faith is described as great: a woman, and a pagan woman in addition.
The term pistis (faith) is well known throughout the New Testament. But one will be surprised to learn that it is not so frequent in the Gospels: Mt = 8; Mk = 5; Lk = 11; Jn = 0; Ac = 15. In Matthew, of the eight occurrences, four are his own. But the occurrences unique to him come mainly from particular sources, and are not additions that he makes here and there to Mark or Q document, according to his habit. Does this mean that faith is not important to him? On the contrary, he is the only one to use the term oligopistian (of little faith: 17: 20) and three times that of oligopistos (people of little faith: 8: 26; 14: 31; 16: 8). Furthermore, while Mark attributes the disciples' inability to heal an epileptic to the fact that only prayer can succeed (9: 29), Matthew attributes it rather to their lack of faith and concludes that a person with faith "as big as a grain of mustard seed" would be able to move mountains (17: 20). And in his rebukes to the scribes and Pharisees, he mentions the fact of having neglected "the most serious points of the Law, justice, mercy and faith" (23:23). But faith is not a central and recurring theme for him, as is, for example, the practice of compassion (see the scene of the Last Judgment in chap. 25, and the leitmotif "It is mercy I want, not sacrifice" (9:13; 12:7)).
We cannot speak of faith without also speaking of the verb: to believe (pisteuō): Mt = 11; Mk = 14; Lk = 9; Jn = 98; Ac = 37; 1 Jn = 9. What is obvious is that the theme of faith comes above all from the Johannine tradition; the evangelist John never uses the word pistis, but always the verb pisteuō (to believe). As for Matthew, he remains true to himself: out of the 11 occurrences, six are his own, but they do not play a particular role.
So what is faith or belief for Matthew? Let us note first of all that the word "faith" for him, as for all the Gospels (the only exception being Mk 11:22 which speaks of faith in God), has no explicit object; Matthew does not specify faith "in whom" or "in what". Faith is something that is observed ("in no one have I found such faith in Israel": 8:10; "Jesus seeing their faith": 9:2). Faith has the ability to work wonders ("your sins are forgiven: your faith has saved you", 9:22; it can move a mountain: 17:20). Faith, therefore, appears as a fundamental trust in a happy outcome. But implicitly, the evangelist suggests that this fundamental trust comes from the presence of Jesus who triggers all these requests for healing (We will have noted in passing that this faith is different from the notion observed among some of our contemporaries where faith is defined as the belief in the existence of God or the adoption of a religion such as Islam).Now let's look at the act of believing in Matthew. Once again, we find cases where the object is not explained (twice), one of which is peculiar to Matthew: "Go, as you have believed" (8:13). Implicitly, we know very well that it is a question of trusting in the happy outcome of a process, and that Jesus is its mediator. There are other cases where the object is made explicit (3 times), one of which is specific to Matthew who insists on trusting in Jesus' ability to heal: "Do you believe that I can do this" (9:28). Finally, there are cases where the object is a particular person (6 times), and if we focus on what is proper to Matthew, we first have to "believe in Jesus" ("If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea" (18:6); (note that Matthew here roughly copies Mark, but it is he who adds the "in me"); and then we have "to believe in John the Baptist": "For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe in him; but the tax collectors and the harlots believed in him; and you, when you saw this example, did not even have a belated remorse that made you believe in him" (21:32) (note that this faith in John the Baptist is different from that in Jesus, for it means above all believing in the truth of the message he proclaims, which points to Jesus).
What can we conclude? There is a basic framework that emerges in Matthew: faith is this fundamental trust in the possibility of a happy outcome to what I seek, what I want, what I desire, and Jesus is in some way the catalyst. It is as if everything rests in the hands of the individual for things to happen. A typical example is that scene unique to Matthew where, after seeing Jesus walking on the water, Peter asks to be able to do the same thing, but after taking a few steps, he begins to sink, overcome by fear before the rising wind; and Jesus has this reply: "Man of little faith, why did you doubt?". Everything rested in Peter's hands and in his confidence despite the wind. Basically, Jesus is only making possible the expression of the full strength of faith.
Let us return to the Canaanite woman. What does Jesus say? "Great is your faith". We can now guess what happens next.
The verb ginomai (to arise, to become, to come into existence, to appear) is as frequent in Greek as the verbs to have and to be in English: Mt = 76; Mc = 54; Lc = 132; Jn = 50; Ac = 110. It is useless to make a detailed analysis here. Let us rather observe how this verb perfectly describes Matthew's perception of faith.
Thus, to the Canaanite woman, the centurion and the two blind men, the Jesus of Matthew says the same thing: let what you desire and want happen with great confidence. As we have pointed out in analyzing faith in his Gospel, everything rests in the hands of the believing person who can make things happen; Jesus is only there, so to speak, to proceed to the final delivery. We are far from a magical Jesus who multiplies miracles by his own power.
|theleis (you want)||
The verb thelō means: to want, to be determined to, to desire, to wish, to enjoy, to love. Here is a completely Matthean word: Mt = 43; Mk = 25; Lk = 28; Jn = 23; Ac = 14. Among the 43 occurrences in his Gospel, 27 are his own. Thus, not only does he use it more often than the other evangelists, but he sometimes adds it to his sources. A typical example is the account of the transfiguration. Mark 9:5 writes: "And Peter spoke and said to Jesus, 'Rabbi, it is good for us to be here, and let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah'", Matthew copies this text with two modifications: "And Peter spoke and said to Jesus, 'Lord, it is good that we are here; if you want, I will make three tents here, for you one and for Moses one and for Elijah one" (see also the crowds feeding narrative where, before the prospect for Jesus to send the crowd away on an empty stomach, Matthew adds to Mark's account "I do not want to, they might faint" (15: 32).
Why this insistence on the verbe "to want"? As we read through Matthew's Gospel, we note a particular insistence on action: "Not by saying to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will they enter the kingdom of heaven, but by doing the will of my Father in heaven" (7:21). This is a typically Jewish attitude in which the emphasis is on orthopraxis, "doing", right action; it is more important to have right actions than right ideas (orthodoxy). Thus, it is probable that he is the one who adds "Thy will be done, as it is in heaven, so also on earth" to the Lord's Prayer (a phrase absent from Luke 11:2). The importance of this will can be seen in some parables, such as that of the laborers in the vineyard: "Take what is yours and go. I want to give to the latter as I give to you. Am I not allowed to do what I want with my possessions? Or is your eye bad because I am good?" (20: 14-15); or the two sons whose father asks them to go to work in the vineyard: "I don't want to," replied the first; then, remorsefully, he went.... The second answered, "Yes, Lord, and he did not go. Which of the two did the will of the father" (21:29-31).
Thus, for Matthew, the human being has the immense responsibility for his decisions and actions, which he is called to adjust to God's will. When he puts in the mouth of Jesus: "Let whatever you want happen", he underlines the importance of the action taken by the woman from the beginning, of respecting her free decision to pursue him to the point of annoying him. This decision and action were rooted in her immense faith.
|iathē (she was healed)||
The verb iaomai means to heal, to cure. It is not much used in the Gospels, except in Luke: Mt = 4; Mk = 1; Lk = 11; Jn = 3; Ac = 5 (the Gospels seem to prefer its synonym: therapeuō). In Matthew, the word is also little used: out of the four uses, one is borrowed from Q document in the scene of the centurion of Capernaum ("Say just one word and my child will be healed", 8, 8), which he copies at the end of the scene ("Let it be done to you according to your faith!". And the child was healed in the hour", 8:13); another is a citation from Isaiah 6:10 ("Let not their spirit understand, nor let them be converted, and I will heal them", 13:15). Only this scene from the Canaanite woman remains, therefore, where the word is really proper to Matthew. But one cannot help but see it as a somewhat stereotypical formula, as can be seen in the juxtaposition of the healing of the centurion's child, where Jesus marvels at the faith of the centurion and the Canaanite woman to whom Jesus says that his faith is great.
Healing is in fact only the consequence of faith. Jesus is only a witness to it.
Let's start with the name hōra which is quite present in the Gospels-Acts : Mt = 15; Mk = 11; Lk = 5; Jn = 25; Ac = 8. We will have noted the high number in John where the hour plays an important theological role. What about Matthew? We can distinguish three different meanings:
Of course, hōra at v. 28 does not indicate a specific time of day, but the coincidence in time between the expression of the Canaanite woman's faith and the healing of her daughter: this form of immediacy wants to establish a causal relationship between the process in the faith of the Canaanite woman and its outcome.
|ekeinēs (this one)||
The complete and literal expression is: apo tēs hōras ekeinēs (from the hour that one). Why underline this expression? It is found only in Matthew in the Gospels, with one exception (it also appears once with a slight variation in John 19:27: "Then he said to the disciple, 'Behold your mother'. From that hour (apo ekeinēs tēs hōras), the disciple took her (Jesus' mother) as his own". Here are the other cases.
These two examples are all the more remarkable because in 9:22 Matthew copies Mark 5:34 which simply reads: "Go in peace and be healed of your infirmity, my daughter, your faith has saved you"; and in 17:18 he copies Mark 9:25-27 which reads: "Jesus commanded the unclean spirit, saying to him, 'You, dumb and deaf spirit, I command you, come out of him.... And, crying out and shaking him strongly, he came out. And Jesus, taking him by the hand, straightened him up, and he stood up".
Thus, clearly and deliberately, Matthew added this expression to his sources. In this way he underlines, on the one hand, the authority of the word of Jesus, which bears no delay, and on the other hand, the strength of faith, which acts in an irrevocable way.