Placed immediately after a discussion of purity in both Matthew and Mark, Jesus' encounter with this Gentile woman brings out the implications the Evangelists find in his view of purity: Gentiles will no longer be separated from Israel (compare Acts 10:15, 28; 11:9-18). Like an earlier Gentile in Matthew's Gospel (8:10), this woman becomes an illustration of faith. Also like the centurion, this outsider's faith compares favorably with that of some religious insiders among Jesus' contemporaries (15:1-20).
Matthew reinforces this point by specifying exactly what Mark's Hellenistic Syro-Phoenician woman (Mk 7:26) means. She is a descendant of the ancient Canaanites, the bitter biblical enemies of Israel whose paganism had often led Israel into idolatry (compare Jub. 22:20-22). "Yes," Matthew seems to reply; "God's compassion extends to all Gentiles." If Tyre and Sidon (15:21) lead some readers to recall Jezebel, others must recall instead the widow who supported Elijah (1 Kings 17:8-24; Lk 4:26). The narrative thus constitutes another of Matthew's invitations to the Gentile mission (like 2:1-11; 8:5-13), reinforcing the message of 11:21-24 (where Tyre and Sidon were more open to repentance than Galilean towns were).
IVP New Testament Commentaries are made available by the generosity of InterVarsity Press.
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