Matthew 15:21–39 Jesus Heals and Feeds the Multitude
and Teaches Us Gentiles Who We Are .
Key Notes: Jesus' mission to Phoenicia. Putting people off. How Jesus treated women. A seat at the table.
The criticism of this passage comes from moderns who object to Jesus’ treatment of a Syro-phoenician (Canaanite) woman. Others with a low view of inspiration have thought that the feeding of the four thousand and the feeding of the five thousand were two accounts of the same event. It is easy to confirm that the feeding of the five thousand and the feeding of the four thousand were separate events. Jesus reminded the disciples of both events in the next chapter. Matt.16:9–10
15:21–28 Jesus journeyed into Lebanon, the seacoast of two famous ports, Tyre and Sidon. He was seeking privacy. (Mk.7:24). A woman from the region came out crying for healing of her demon-possessed daughter. She addressed Jesus as “Son of David” and “Lord”. He did not answer. Evidently He was walking on because the disciples complained that she was following them and making a lot of noise.
Jesus, evidently turning to her and said His mandate was to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
She knelt and made her second appeal “Lord, help me.”
Jesus replied that it was not fair to give the children’s food to the house-dogs, the puppies; or, as Mark puts it, the children had to be fed before the little house-dogs.
She picked up the theme and responded that the little house-dogs got the crumbs from the master’s table.
Jesus was pleased and congratulated her for great faith. Her daughter was healed at once.
15:29–31 Jesus went into a mountain along the Galilee coast and a great crowd assembled, bringing the chronically disabled—lame (crippled), maimed (extremities injured), blind, dumb (aphasic, speechless) and others. The group seems different from the epileptics, paralyzed, demon-possessed and diseased which He had treated earlier. Matt.4:24
The crowd had no doubt that God’s power was at work. They did not appear to grasp that Jesus had this power in Himself.
15:32–38 As it was after a previous healing ministry (Matt.14: 3), Jesus did not want to send the people away hungry. The disciples did not know how to feed them. (They had short-term memory loss.) Jesus asked how much food was in hand; they had seven flat-breads and a few fish. He commanded the crowd to sit down and prayed over the little meal. Then He divided the food and fed 4,000 men, perhaps 15,000 people. The disciples picked up seven baskets full of fragments. Jesus dismissed the crowd and left by boat for the other side of the Lake.
The exchange between Syro-phoenician woman and Jesus has been interpreted in various ways.
- He was a typical sexist male who needed a strong woman to teach Him how to treat women. This is a feminist, liberationist view.
- He was slowly learning the will of God for this occasion and was silent until He knew what to say. This view emphasizes Jesus’ humanity, but suggests that He does not know what He is doing..
- We cannot see the wink and smile that accompany Jesus’ rough talk. If we knew how middle-Eastern people banter in the market-place, we might understand the exchange more clearly.
- Jesus was on a planned visit, partly to rest, and partly to cure the daughter of a faithful pagan woman. He also had to teach the disciples truths about the Kingdom.
I prefer the fourth position. It holds a lot of spiritual nourishment.
I think Jesus was on a mission. Jesus made two other excursions out of Jewish territory on obvious missions to individuals. He went through Samaria in order to evangelize the people of Sychar through the Samaritan woman at the well. He ventured into the territory of the Gadarenes to drive demons out of two violent men. The Gadarenes were a mixed populace at least, because we know they herded pigs, an abomination to the Jews.
I think this is the third outreach. It reaches out the farthest in territory and ethnicity, targeting a woman who belonged to the Canaanites. (Mark calls her Greek, meaning non-Jewish.) God had put the Canaanites under the bans more than a millennium before. God said He would drive them out of the land (Ex.33:2) for their abominations. Deut.18:9
“…she came crying after Him…” The word means a loud and annoying noise.
“…but He did not answer her a word. “
Is God ever silent? “Give ear to me” is a plea written 16 times in the Psalms.
“You have seen, O Lord; be not silent. O Lord, be not far from me.” (Psa.35:22)
“Do not hold your peace or be still, O God, for lo, Thy enemies are in tumult.” (Psa.83:1)
“If you are silent to me, I become like those who go down to the Pit. “ (Psa.28:1)
Does God ever put people off?
Our most dramatic example is Abraham, who had to wait 24 years for the child God promised.
Then God asked him to sacrifice the child—a severe test of faith, and a model for us all. Gen.23
Jacob wrestled with God all night and came out lame—but greatly blessed. Gen.32:24
God tempers faith with time.
Did Jesus ever put people off?
When Mary asked him to help with the wine, He said “Woman, what have you to do with me? My hour has not yet come”. (Jn.2:4)
An official in Capernaum had a son who was at the point of death. He begged Jesus to come and heal his son. Jesus said “Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe.” The official said “Lord, come down before my child dies.” Jesus spoke the word of healing. Jn.4:49
After He heard that Lazarus was ill, he waited two more days until Lazarus died. (Jn.11:6,15). He intended to raise Lazarus from the dead.
When walking on the water, He acted as if He would go past them. Mk.6:48
Walking to Emmaus after the Resurrection, He appeared to be going further. Lk.24:29
We believe Jesus sometimes put people off to test their resolve and strengthen their faith.
Would Jesus hesitate to heal a Gentile?
The sick came from all over Syria. Matt..4:24
He healed the Roman centurion’s servant. Matt.8:5–13
He healed a Samaritan leper. Lk.17:12–16
How did Jesus treat women?
He was tender toward the repentant,
the woman who came to Simon’s party, Lk.7:36–50
the woman caught in adultery. Jn.8:1-
He invited women into His entourage. Lk.8:2,3
He healed a woman on Sabbath who had been bent over for eighteen years. (Lk.13:11). She should not wait another day.
He healed a woman with chronic bleeding. Matt.9:20
Mary and Martha were His good friends. Jn.11,12
Jesus is our model for how men should treat women.
This Canaanite had all the marks of a godly, believing woman. She knew how to address Jesus. She was humble, perceptive, persistent and confident. Jesus gave her her request with joy.
Whenever we find an event in Scripture where God appears to be harsh, we should look again. There is an important spiritual lesson. For example, Moses was denied entrance in the Promised Land because he struck the rock twice. (Christ, our Rock, was struck once and for all.) Great spiritual truth is hidden there.
Jesus said “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Then He said
“It is not fair to take the children’s bread and give it to the puppies.”
In this He confirmed what He instructed the apostles: ”Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matt. 10:5–6
This priority was carried on through the New Testament.
Peter said “God…sent Him to you (Jews) first….” (Acts 3:26)
Paul and Barnabas said “It was necessary that the word of God should be spoken first to you.” (Acts 13:46)
Paul said three times that the Gospel is “to the Jew first and also the Greek. “ (Rom.1:16; 2:9, 10)
Paul followed this policy on his missionary journeys all through the Book of Acts.
This theme reverberates through the NT.
The woman replied: “The puppies get the crumbs that fall from the Master’s table.” Jesus affirmed her and instructed the disciples in the same breath: the Gentiles are in the house. They may be under the table, but they are already in the house. Later, they will be sitting at the table. As He said of the Jews later,
“There you will weep and gnash your teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and you yourselves thrust out. And men will come from the east and the west, and from north and south and sit at table in the Kingdom of God. And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.” Lk.13:28–30
We often quote “the first shall be last and the last first” but we must realize that the first were the first. God chose Israel in His love to be His special possession. (Deut.7:6–11). We do not like to think that we Gentiles were ever on the outside looking in, and then were allowed in under the table, but Paul describes our status elsewhere.
“Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called the uncircumcision by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you at that time were
separated from Christ
alienated from the commonwealth of Israel
strangers to the covenants of promise
having no hope
without God in the world
But now in Christ Jesus you who were once were far off have been brought near in the blood of Christ. For He is our peace
who has made us both one
broken down the dividing wall of hostility
abolishing in His flesh the law
creating in Himself one new man in place of two
no longer strangers and sojourners
fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God
built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets
built into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.” Eph.2:11–22
We have believed that we always had a seat at the table in the Kingdom. Jesus says we have not. We are invited to the table after the primary guests refused. Matt.22:1–10
“…do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you. You will say ‘Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in’. That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast only through faith. So do not become proud, but stand in awe.” Rom.11:18–20
We must acknowledge God’s priorities for our witness in the world. Go to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel". God intends that they all are saved. Rom.11:26