Matthew 15:21-39

Gospel Readings:

Matthew 15:21-28
Matthew 15:29-31
Matthew 15:32-39

Devotion 1

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, allowing space for God’s voice to be heard.

Read: Matthew 15:21-28

Today’s episode begins with Jesus in the district of Tyre and Sidon, where he is approached by a Canaanite woman who “came out and started shouting, “Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David.” As we read this story, we need to pay attention to the contours of domination and subjugation. Who is oppressed? Who is the oppressor? Who is liberating? Who is the liberator?

The woman’s identity as a Canaanite is significant. She belongs to a people who, like Israel, are subjugated by the Roman empire. There is more to this intercultural relationship though, as, according to biblical history, this woman’s people were invaded and subjugated by Israel—the people to which Jesus belongs! It is not coincidence then that the Canaanite woman addresses Jesus by identifying him with Israel’s greatest military leader, King David. Like the blind men, she begs for mercy from one who is a historic enemy (Mt 9:27). Leticia Guardiola-Sáenz says: “[T]he recognition of Jesus as the son of David is not a statement of faith on the lips of the Canaanite woman. It is an asseveration of protest and a demand that she who has been dispossessed raises to disrupt the comfort of the invader.”1

Jesus’ response to the woman’s request is first of all silence, followed by the words, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” We might recall that Israel saw itself as God’s people in exile—subjugated by Rome and waiting desperately for God to enact liberation from foreign domination. It seems it is in these terms that Jesus defines his mission. At his point it is a mission only to Israel, or more specifically for Jesus, only to the doubly marginalised people of Galilee.

Yet, there are other peoples in Jesus’ world, who are also living under the curse of Roman domination. Is he unable to see the full humanity of these of other subjugated peoples? His response in verse 26, “[i]t is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs,” seems, jarringly, to point in that direction.

This unnamed Canaanite woman, however, courageously prises open Jesus’ heart. Like the bleeding woman, she is the bold protagonist in her own story of liberation. Jesus finally recognises in her the faith of one who will not live according to the empire’s narrative of domination—one which divides subjugated nations and places them in opposition to one another. The Canaanite woman invites Jesus into a narrative where subjugated nations stand together, recognising one another’s humanity and living in generous and just community even in the shadow of their oppressors. For in the face of shared solidarity of all of those on the underside, the empire cannot stand.

Reflect:

  • In what ways do you encounter the struggle to recognise the full humanity of other peoples?
  • In what ways have you struggled with this personally?
  • In what ways do hear God’s voice inviting you to live out this story?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

1. Leticia A. Guardiola-Sáenz, “Borderless Women and Borderless Texts: A Cultural Reading of Matthew 15:21-28,” Semeia, 78 (1997): 76.

2. Ben Witherington, Matthew (Macon: Smyth & Helwys, 2006), 219-220.

Devotion 2

Wait: Take time to sit in silence together, aware of God’s presence in a broken world.

Read: Matthew 15:29-31

Matthew begins this passage with references to the Sea of Galilee and Jesus going “up the mountain”. That Jesus passes by the Sea of Galilee reminds us of Galilee’s social location—one of economic exploitation and imperial subjugation, while the reference to the mountain reminds Matthew’s community of Israel’s tradition, where God acts to liberate the Hebrews from Egyptian slavery and leads them to Mount Sinai where they are constituted as God’s people (Ex 14, 19). God is acting anew amongst an enslaved people to liberate them and recreate them as God’s people.

This action is expressed as the lame, maimed, blind, mute, “and many others” are brought to Jesus—those who are suffering under an oppressive and life-draining rule, and they are healed. The crowds’ response, “[a]nd they praised the God of Israel” is a subversive claim, made in the face of Roman gods. In the time of the Babylonian empire, when it might be expected that the gods of victorious Babylon would be seen as the “true” gods, the conquered and exiled Jews claimed that, contrary to all appearances, the God of Israel was the one true God. It was a subversive assertion which refused to relinquish both their identity as a people and their hope for liberation. Here, the claim is made in Matthew’s Gospel that the God of Israel, in the face of Roman power, is acting for the liberation of God’s people.

Reflect:

  • What significance do you think this reading might have had for Matthew’s community?
  • Take a moment to reflect in silence. How is God inviting you into this narrative today?

Pray for one another.

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Devotion 3

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of repentance together, aware of our inadequacy and God’s grace.

Read: Matthew 15:32-38

Today’s reading is the second such feeding story in Matthew’s Gospel. Again, the setting is the “wilderness” and again Jesus is moved out of “compassion for the crowd” whose hunger perhaps reflects the hunger experienced by members of Matthew’s community.

In Matthew’s Gospel, these twin stories of feasting in the wilderness form an outer frame of a section which centres on the Pharisees’ meal practice (15:1-20). The contrast between Jesus and the Pharisees’ practice could not be greater.3 While the Pharisees concern is for purity, Jesus concern is to feed the hungry. While the Pharisees show no mercy toward even their parents, Jesus acts out of compassion for the crowd. While the Pharisees’ practice revealed hearts that were far from God, Jesus’ activity reveals a God who is powerfully present with those on the margins.

Reflect:

  • Where do you hear God’s voice in this story?
  • What challenges and encouragements arise for you and your community?

Pray. 

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer

3. We should keep in mind that Matthew’s presentation of the Pharisees is in the context of fierce debate between Matthew’s community and Pharisaical groups, and might be seen as something of a caricature. As we read, we need to take care not to demonise those on the “other side of the fence”.

Devotion 4

Wait: Take time to sit in the silence of gratitude together, giving thanks for the ways you’ve experienced God’s loving kindness.

This week’s Common Value: Spirituality

Read: Psalm 139

Ask: How might we give space to hear God’s voice this week?

Pray

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Close with the Lord’s Prayer