Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 15:21-28

Mat 15:21  And Jesus went from thence, and retired into the coast of Tyre and Sidon.

He came into Phœnicia, the capital of which was Tyre, on the borders of the Holy Land; for Tyre was more to the south, Sidon to the north. Many, both from Tyre and Sidon, who were stirred up by the fame of the doctrine and miracles of Christ, flocked to Him in crowds.

Mat 15:22  And behold a woman of Canaan who came out of those coasts, crying out, said to him: Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David: my daughter is grievously troubled by a devil.

And behold a woman of Canaan, &c. A Canaanite, not of Cana in Galilee, but one of the posterity of Canaan, the son of Ham, the son of Noah. The Canaanites were of the seven nations of Palestine. They dwelt near the coast, as appears from Num 13:29, and were expelled by Joshua, but not entirely. They remained in Phœnicia, that is to say in Tyre and Sidon, which the Hebrews were never able to capture. Sidon, the founder of the city of that name, is called (Gen 10:15.) the first-born of Canaan, the son of Ham. The Canaanites therefore are the same as the Phœnicians. For this reason the LXX, in Joshua 5:1. instead of kings of Canaan, translate kings of Phœnicia. Mark (Mark 7:26.) calls this woman, a Syrophœnician, because she was from that part of Phœnicia which borders upon Syria, or rather because Syria includes Phœnicia and all the adjacent countries which lie between the Mediterranean Sea and the river Euphrates. Moreover Mark calls her a Greek. She was called a Greek, although she was a Syrian, because in the New Testament especially by S. Paul, all Gentiles are called Greeks. (See Rom 1:17. Gal 3:28.). This was because of the wide extension of the Greek language, which in time became extended to Syria.

Crying aloud. A loud voice is a sign of earnestness and desire. Have mercy on me, that is upon my daughter, whom I love as myself. Her torture is my torture. Yea, rather would I be tormented myself, than behold her tormented. If you will have mercy upon her by her deliverance from the devil, it will be the same as though you had shown mercy unto me. Parents have greater love for their offspring than children have for their parents.

Son of David, i.e., 0 thou Messiah, whose special work it is to have pity upon the wretched, and to cast out of them the demons, and to restore men to themselves and to God, even as the Prophets have foretold, and the Jews proclaim with united voice. This woman of Canaan knew that Christ was Messiah, partly by common report, partly by a Divine instinct.

Grievously troubled by a devil: Arab. has an evil demon. For the devil torments, tears, excruciates the members of such as he possesses to their own great pain, and the horror of the beholders. He afflicts their souls with dreadful phantasms and spectres, and with griefs and fears. For the devil has an intense hatred against God, and consequently against man, who is the image of God. And so he injures and torments him to the utmost of his power.

The woman does not add, Come and deliver her. She only represents her affliction to Christ. She leaves the rest to His providence and His love. In this she shows her marvellous resignation, and her confidence in Christ.

Mat 15:23  Who answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying: Send her away, for she crieth after us:

Who answered her not a word. That He might prove and augment her faith, hope, humility and constancy: and, as S. Chrysostom says, that he might set her as an example to others.

And His disciples . . . Send her away, i.e., by giving her what he asks, the deliverance of her daughter. She crieth after us. Deliver her from the pain and labour of following our footsteps, and us from the misery of hearing her, lest she deafen us. But, “from the pleading and fervent heart, groans unutterable are emitted, whereby Christ is soothed, as with sweet music,” says S. Augustine.

You may observe, Mark says, she came into the house, and there fell at the feet of Christ. S. Augustine says (de consens. Evang. l. ii. c. 49), that she first came to Christ in the house, as Mark relates, and that afterwards when He went out of the house she followed Him, and continued to beseech Him. But it seems more probable that she first met Christ in the way, and afterwards made supplication to Him in the house.

Mat 15:24  And he answering, said: I was not sent but to the sheep, that are lost of the house of Israel.

But he  answering said . . . lost sheep: Vulg. sheep which have perished. Arab. wandering sleep. Syriac sheep which have wandered from the house of Israel. It was as though He said. To the Israelites alone Christ was promised, that they should be His flock, that I as their shepherd in bodily presence, should feed them alone. Whence Christ is called by S. Paul, “the Minister of the circumcision,” i.e., of the Jews. (Rom 15:8.)

Mat 15:25  But she came and adored him, saying: Lord, help me.

But she came and adored Him, &c., i.e., knelt down before Christ. When this woman of Canaan was rejected by Christ, she did not stand back, nor cast away hope. She persisted more eagerly, she was more hopeful, she cried more loudly. And by this her constancy and perseverance she deserved to be heard. For God, when He is invoked, often does not answer at first, in order that he who is praying may be yet more earnest. For God will refuse nothing to those who persevere, as is plain from the example of this woman. For, “she was persistent in prayers, wise in her answers, faithful in her words.” says S. Ambrose.

Mat 15:26  Who answering, said: It is not good to take the bread of the children, and to cast it to the dogs.

Who answering said: it is not good, Gr. καλὸν, that is, fair, becoming. Christ speaks after the manner of the Jews, who were wont to call the Gentiles, as being vilest idolators, dogs. This is the second repulse of the Canaanitish woman by Christ and sterner than the first. He pricks her, as it were, by calling her a dog, to whom it is customary to throw crusts of bread. By bread He means not corporeal, but spiritual bread, namely the grace of the Gospel and of His miracles. For these were promised to the Jews alone, as to sons of God. Mark adds that Christ said, suffer first the children first to be filled. In like manner Christ often humbles and mortifies holy souls, that they may ask yet more humbly and ardently, that they may obtain. Wisely says S. Chrysostom (Hom. 30 in Gen.) “Whether we obtain what we ask, or do not obtain, let us persevere always in prayer. And let us give thanks, not only when we obtain, but even when we suffer a repulse. For when God denies us anything, it is no less a favour than if He granted it. For we know not as He knows what is good for us.”

Mat 15:27  But she said: Yea, Lord; for the whelps also eat of the crumbs that fall from the table of their masters.

But she said, yea Lord, &c. She means to say, “It is altogether true what Thou sayest, 0 My Saviour. I acknowledge that I am a worthless dog, and not worthy that the children’s bread should be given to me, who am a Gentile. Yet the dogs and the curs (in Greek the word is the same, κυνάρια) are wont to eat the crumbs of bread which fall from the tables of their master’s children. Nourish me then as Thy dog. I cannot leave my master’s table. You cannot drive me from Thee either by rough words or by blows. I will not leave Thee, until thou give me what I ask. Give me therefore, 0 most merciful Lord, only a crumb, give me this least favour of my daughter’s health. Let this one crumb fall among us Gentiles, and I will gather it up.” She presses Christ prudently, convincingly, and yet modestly by His own words; and by her humble faith and reasoning conquers Him willing to be conquered by her prayer, says S. Chrysostom; and S. Jerome says, “‘I know,’ are her words, ‘that I do not deserve children’s bread, nor to receive whole food, nor can I sit at the table with the father, but I am contented with the leavings of the dogs.’”

Moraliter: Contemplate the ideal of perfect prayer, and imitate it. This woman of Canaan teaches us to pray. 1. With great humility, in that she acknowledges herself to be a dog. 2. With faith, because she calls Christ the son of David, i.e., the Messiah, the God and Saviour promised to the Jews. 3. With modesty because she sets before Christ the right of dogs and her own misery; yet does she not draw from thence the conclusion that Christ should heal her daughter, but leaves that to Him. 4. With prudence, in that she takes hold of Christ by His own words, and gently turns His reasoning against Himself, into an argument for obtaining her desire. 5. With reverence, with religion and devotion, because she made her supplication on her knees. 6. With resignation in that she did not say, “Heal my daughter,” but “help me,” in the manner which shall seem to Thee best. 7. With confidence, because although a Gentile, she had a firm hope that she would be heard by Christ. 8. With ardour. 9. With charity, in that she made intercession for her daughter, as if she were anxious for herself, saying, have mercy on me. 10. With constancy and perseverance, in that she persisted when she was twice repulsed and became yet more earnest in prayer. Truly says Chrysologus (Serm. 100.) “Deservedly is she adopted as a daughter, and raised to the table, who in her humility placed herself beneath the table.” S. Laurence Justinian, the first Patriarch of Venice imitated this woman, who prayed thus to God when he was at the point of death. “I dare not ask for a seat among the happy spirits, who behold the Holy Trinity. Nevertheless Thy creature asks for some portion of the crumbs of Thy most holy table. It shall be more than enough for me, 0 how much more than enough! if Thou wilt not refuse some little place to this Thy poor servant beneath the feet of the least of Thine elect.”

Mat 15:28  Then Jesus answering, said to her: O woman, great is thy faith: be it done to thee as thou wilt: and her daughter was cured from that hour.

Then Jesus, &c. Mark has, For this saying, go thy way. The devil is gone out of thy daughter. Christ would not restrain any longer His admiration, but cried out as it were with wonder, 0 woman great is thy faith. As S. Chrysostom says, He would adorn her with a shining crown. Let it be done to thee as thou wilt, i.e., what thou askest. These words says Chrysostom are like those in the first chapter of Genesis. Let there be a firmament, and it was done. Whence it follows, her daughter was cured. See here the efficacy of fervent prayer, as Jacob wrestled with the angel and overcame him, and obtained the blessing which he asked. Therefore was he called Israel, that is, having power with God. Prayer therefore makes us Israels, having power with God (Gen 32:23-33).

Tropologically, the daughter vexed by a devil is a soul that is tempted and polluted by sin, which ought to distrust its own strength and trust in Christ. It ought to invoke Him with humility, acknowledging itself a dog (that is, a vile sinner), yet not so as to despair of pardon. It becomes a great physician to cure great diseases, and the great God to do great works, and the great Christ to sanctify and save great sinners.

Allegorically, this daughter is the Gentile Church. The Jews, who were formerly the children, because of their unbelief in Christ became as dogs, according to the words, “Many dogs are come about me” (Ps 22:16); but the Gentiles, which were dogs, have been made children, and eat at Christ’s table the bread of the Eucharist and the hidden meaning of Scripture, as it were the marrow and fatness of the wheat. So S. Jerome.

And her daughter, &c. Mark has, she found the child lying upon the bed, taking rest, securely and joyfully. The sinful soul, when delivered by the pardoning grace of Christ rests upon the bed of a tranquil, serene, and joyful conscience.

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One Response to Cornelius a Lapide’s Commentary on Matthew 15:21-28

  1. Pingback: Commentaries for the Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A | stjoeofoblog

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