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23. THE HEALING OF THE DAUGHTER OF
THE SYROPHENICIAN WOMAN.
It is not probable that our blessed Lord actually overpassed the limits of the Jewish land, now or at any other moment of his earthly ministry ; though when it is said that he “ departed into the coasts of Tyre and Sidon,” this may seem at first to favour such a supposition. St. Mark, however, tells us that he only “went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon," and the true meaning which even St. Matthew's words will abundantly bear, is, that he came into the confines of that heathen land*. The general fitness of things, and more especially his own words on this very occasion, " I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” would make it extremely unlikely that he had now brought his healing presence into an heathen land; and, moreover, when St. Matthew speaks of the “woman of Canaan” as coming out of that district, “ of the same coasts,” he clearly shows that he has no other intention than to describe the Lord as having drawn close to the skirts of that profane land.
Being there, he “ entered into a house, and would have no man know it :” but as the ointment bewrayeth itself, so he whose Name is like ointment poured out, “could not be hid;" and among those attracted by its sweetness, was a woman of that country,—"a woman of Canaan,” as St. Matthew terms her, “a Greek, a Syrophenician,” as St. Markt, meaning by the first term to describe her religion, that it was not Jewish but heathen; by the second, the stock of which she came, which was even that accursed stock which God had once doomed to a total excision, but of which some branches had been spared by those first generations of Israel that should have extirpated them root and branch. Everything, therefore, was against her; yet she was not hindered by that everything from coming and craving the boon that her soul longed after. She had heard of the mighty works which the Saviour of Israel had done: for already his fame had gone through all Syria ; so that they brought unto him, besides other sick, “those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and he healed them.” (Matt. iv. 24.) And she has a boon to ask for her daughter, or rather indeed for herself, for so entirely has she made her daughter's misery her own, that she comes saying, “ Hace mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David ; my daughter is grierously vexed with a devil ;” as on a later occasion the father of the lunatic child, “ Have compassion on us, and help us.” (Mark ix. 22.)
---- --- - ---- --- • Kuinoel here : In partes Palæstinæ regioni Tyriorum et Sidoniorum finitimas. So Exod. xvi. 35, eis pépos tis Dowvians (LXX.) “to the borders of Canaan."
4 Eukopolvikiona the best manuscripts have; so Lachmann; and not Evpopoiviooa, which indeed were the more Greek form, yet not therefore
2 here T. M.
But very different she finds him from that which report had described him to her; for that spoke of him as the merciful Son of man, who would not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, who encouraged every weary and afflicted soul to come and find rest with him. He who of himself came to meet the needs of others, withdrew himself from hers; “ He answered her not a word.” In the language of Chrysoston, “ The Word has no word; the fountain is sealed; the physician withholds his remedies ;"' until at last the disciples, wearied out with her long entreaties, and seemingly more merciful than their Lord, them
here to be preferred, but rather the contrary. See a learned note in Grotius, on Matt. xv. 22. This woman's name, according to the Clementine Homilies (1. 2, c. 19), was Justa, where legends of her later life, and her transition from heathenism to Judaisin, are to be found.
selves come to him, making incercession for her that he would grant to her her petition and send her away. Yet was there in truth the worm of selfishness at the root of this seemingly greater compassion of theirs, and it shews itself when they give their reason why he should dismiss her with the boon she asks : “ For she crieth after us ;" she is making a scene ; she is drawing on us unwelcome observation. Theirs is one of those heartless grantings of a request, whereof we all are conscious; when it is granted out of no love to the suppliant, but to leave undisturbed the peace and selfish ease of him from whom at length it is extorted, - such as his who said, “ Lest by her continual coming she weary me.” Here, as so often, under a seeming severity lurks the real love, while selfishness hides itself under the mask of bounty. But these intercessors meet with no better fortune than the suppliant herself ; and Christ stops their mouth with words unpromising enough for her suit : “ I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” (Cf. Matt. x. 5, 6.)
But in what sense was this true? All prophecy which went before declared that in him, the promised Seed, not one nation only, but all nations of the earth, should be blest: he himself declared, “ Other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice." (John x. 16.) It has happened indeed with others, as with the founders of false religions, that as success increased, the circle of their vision has widened ; and they who meant at first but to give a faith to their nation, have aspired at last to give one to the world. But here all must have been known: the world-embracing reach of his faith was contemplated by Christ from the first. In what sense then, and under what limitations, could it be said with truth that he was not sent but unto Israel only? Clearly in his own personal ministry, That, for wise purposes in the counsels of God, was to be confined to his own nation; and every departure from this was, and was clearly marked as, an exception. Here and there, indeed, he gave preludes of the coming mercy *; yet before the Gentiles should glorify God for his mercy, Christ was first to be “a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers.” (Rom. xv. 8, 9.) It was only as it were by a rebound from them that the grace was to light upon the heathen world; while yet that issue, which seemed thus accidental, was laid deep in the deepest counsels of God. (Acts xiii. 44—49 ; Rom. xi.) In the form of Christ's reply, as St. Mark gives it, “Let the children first be filled," the refusal does not appear so absolute and final, and a glimpse appears of the manner in which the blessing will pass on to others, when as many of these, of “the children,” as will, have accepted it. But there, too, the present repulse is absolute : the time is not yet; others intermeddle not with the meal, till the children have had enough.
• Augustine (Serm. 77, c. 2): Hic verborum istorum oritur quæstio : Unde nos ad ovile Christi de gentibus venimus, si non est missus nisi ad oves quæ perierunt domùs Israel? Quid sibi vult hujus secreti tam alta
22 disdispensatio, ut cùm Dominus sciret quare veniret, utique ut Ecclesiam haberet in omuibus Gentibus, non se missum dixerit, nisi ad oves quæ perierunt domûs Israel ? Intelligimus ergo præsentiam corporis sui, nativitatem suam, exhibitionem miraculorum, virtutemque resurrectionis in illo populo eum ostendere debuisse. Jerome (Comm. in Matth., in loc.): Perfectam salutem gentium passionis et resurrectionis tempori reservabat.
The woman hears the repulse, which the disciples who had ventured to plead for her, receive; but she is not daunted or disheartened thereby. Hitherto she had been crying after the Lord, and at a distance ; but now, instead of being put further still, “came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.” And now he breaks the silence which hitherto he has maintained toward her; but it is with an answer more discomfortable than was the silence itself: “Ile answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's breadt, and to cast it to dogs.” “ The children” are, of course, the Jews, “ the children of the kingdom.” (Matt. viii. 12.) He who spoke so sharply to them, speaks thus honourably of them; nor is there any contradiction in this : for here he is speaking of the position which God has given them in his kingdom ; there, of the manner in which they have realized that position. On the other hand, extreme contempt was involved in the title of dog* given to any one, it being remarkable that the nobler characteristics of the animal, which yet were not unknown to antiquity, are never brought out in Scripture. (See Deut. xxxii. 18; Job xxx. 1; 1 Sam. xvii. 43 ; xxiv. 15; 2 Sam. iii. 8; ix. 8; xvi. 9 ; 2 Kin. viii. 13; Matt. vii. 6; Phil. iii. 2; Rev. xxii. 15.)
• Calvin : Præludia quædam dare voluit communis misericordiæ.
+ Maldonatus: Habent canes panem suum minùs delicatum, quàm filii; res naturales, Sol, Luna, pluvia, et cetera idem genus canum, id est
This at length would have been enough for many; and, even if they had persevered thus far, now at least they would have gone away in anger or despair. But not so this woman; she, like the centurion, and under still more unfavourable circumstances than his, was mighty in faith ; and from the very word which seemed to make most against her, with the ready wit of faith, she drew an argument in her own favour. She entangled the Lord, himself most willing thus to be so entangled, in his own speech; she takes the sword out of his own hand, with that sword to overcome him t:
Gentilium, panis sunt; quæ providentiâ quidem Dei, sed generali minùsque accuratâ dispensantur, et omnibus in commune, sicut porcis glandes, projiciuntur : Evangelica gratia, quæ supra naturam est, panis est filiorum non projiciendus temerè, sed majore consilio rationeque distribuendus.
* Many as Maldonatus assume that there is yet a further aggravation of the contempt in the kuvapious (the Vulgate, catellis), not even dogs, but whelps. Yet rather I should be inclined to say with Olshausen that there is in the diminutive a slight mitigation of the exceeding sharpness of the words; yet not so but that they remain most severe and cutting still. Calvin brings out well the force of the Baleiv. Projiciendi verbo utitur significando non bene locari, quod Ecclesiæ Dei ablatum profanis hominibus vulgatur. Clarius exprimitur consilium Christi apud Marcum v. 27, ubi habetur, Sine prius saturari filios. Nam Cananæam admonet præposterè facere, quæ velut in mediâ cænâ in mensam involat.
+ Corn. à Lapide : Christum suis verbis irretit, comprehendit, et capit. Rationem contra se factam in ipsum leniter retorquet.