The Syrophoenician Woman's Faith
And from there he arose and went away to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And he entered a house, and would not have any one know it; yet he could not be hid. But immediately a woman, whose little daughter was possessed by an unclean spirit, heard of him, and came and fell down at his feet. Now the woman was a Greek, a Syrophoeni'cian by birth. And she begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter. And he said to her, "Let the children first be fed, for it is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she answered him, "Yes, Lord; yet even the dogs under the table eat the children's crumbs." And he said to her, "For this saying you may go your way; the demon has left your daughter." And she went home, and found the child lying in bed, and the demon gone.
Theophylact - After that the Lord had finished His teaching concerning food, seeing that the Jews were incredulous, He enters into the country of the Gentiles, for the Jews being unfaithful, salvation turns itself to the Gentiles.
Wherefore it is said, "And from thence He arose, and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon."
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - Tyre and Sidon were places of the Canaanites, therefore the Lord comes to them, not as to His own, but as to men, who had nothing in common with the fathers to whom the promise was made. And therefore He comes in such a way, that His coming should not be known to the Tyrians and Sidonians.
Wherefore it continues: "and entered into a house, and would have no man know it." For the time had not come for His dwelling with the Gentiles and bringing them to the faith, for this was not to be, till after His cross and resurrection.
Theophylact - Or else, His reason for coming in secret was that the Jews should not find occasion of blame against Him, as if He had passed over to the unclean Gentiles.
It goes on: "But He could not be hid."
Pseudo-Augustine, Quaest e Vet. et N. Test. 77 - But if He wished to do so and could not, it appears as if His will was impotent; it is not possible however that our Saviour's will should not be fulfilled, nor can He will a thing, which He knows ought not be.
Therefore when a thing has taken place, it may be asserted that He has willed it. But we should observe that this happened amongst the Gentiles, to whom it was not time to preach; nevertheless not to receive them, when they came to the faith of their own accord, would have been to grudge them the faith.
So then it came to pass that the Lord was not made known by His disciples; others, however, who had seen Him entering the house, recognized Him, and it began to be known that He was there. His will therefore was that He should not be proclaimed by His own disciples, but that others should come to seek Him, and so it took place.
Bede, in Marc., 2, 30 - Having entered also into the house, He commanded His disciples not to betray who He was to anyone in this unknown region, that they, on whom He had bestowed the grace of healing, might learn by His example, as far as they could, to shrink from the glory of human praise in the shewing forth of their miracles; yet they were not to cease from the pious work of virtue, when either the faith of the good justly deserved that miracles should be done, or the unfaithfulness of the wicked might necessarily compel them. For He Himself made known His entry into that place to the Gentile woman, and to whomsoever He would.
Pseudo-Aug. - Lastly, the Canaanitish woman came in to Him, on hearing of Him; if she had not first submitted herself to the God of the Jews, she would not have obtained their benefit. Concerning her it continues: "For a woman, whose daughter had an unclean spirit, as soon as she had heard of Him, came in and fell at His feet."
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - Now by this the Lord wished to shew His disciples that He opened the door of faith even to the Gentiles, wherefore also the nation of the woman is described when it is added, "The woman was a Gentile, a Syrophenician by nation," that is, from Syria and Phaenice.
It goes on: "and she besought Him that He would cast forth the devil out of her daughter."
Augustine, de Con. Evan., 2, 49 - It appears however that some question about a discrepancy may be raised, because it is said that the Lord was in the house when the woman came, asking about her daughter. When, however, Matthew says that His disciples had suggested to Him, "Send her away, for she crieth after us," [Matthew 15:23] He appears to imply nothing less than that the woman uttered supplicating cries after the Lord, as He walked. How then do we infer that she was in the house, except by gathering it from Mark, who says that she came in to Jesus, after having before said that He was in the house? But Matthew in that he says, "He answered her not a word," gave us to understand that He went out, during that silence, from the house; thus too the other events are connected together, so that they now in no way disagree.
It continues: "But He said unto her, Let the children be first filled."
Bede - The time will come when even you who are Gentiles will obtain salvation; but it is right that first the Jews who deservedly are wont to be called by the name of children of God's ancient election, should be refreshed with heavenly bread, and that so at length, the food of life should be ministered to the Gentiles.
There follows: "For it is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to the dogs."
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - These words He uttered not that there is in Him a deficiency of virtue, to prevent His ministering to all, but because His benefit, if ministered to both Jews and Gentiles who had no communication with each other, might be a cause of jealousy.
Theophylact - He calls the Gentiles dogs, as being thought wicked by the Jews; and He means by bread, the benefit which the Lord promised to the children, that is, to the Jews. The sense therefore is, that it is not right for the Gentiles first to be partakers of the benefit, promised principally to the Jews. The reason, therefore, why the Lord does not immediately hear, but delays His grace, is, that He may also shew that the faith of the woman was firm, and that we may learn not at once to grow weary in prayer, but to continue earnest till we obtain.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - In like manner also to shew the Jews that He did not confer healing on foreigners in the same degree as to them, and that by the discovery of the woman's faith, the unfaithfulness of the Jews might be the more laid bare. For the woman did not take it ill, but with much reverence assented to what the Lord had said.
Wherefore it goes on, "And she answered and said unto Him, Truth, Lord, but the dogs under the table eat of the children's crumbs."
Theophylact - As if she had said, The Jews have the whole of that bread which comes down from heaven, and Thy benefits also; I ask for the crumbs, that is, a small portion of the benefit.
Pseudo-Chrys., Vict. Ant. e Cat. in Marc. - Her placing herself therefore in the rank of dogs is a mark of her reverence; as if she said, I hold it as a favour to be even in the position of a dog, and to eat not from another table, but from that of the Master himself.
Theophylact - Because therefore the woman answered with much wisdom, she obtained what she wanted; wherefore there follows, "And He said unto her, etc." He said not, My virtue hath made thee whole, but for this saying, that is, for thy faith, which is shewn by this saying, "go thy way, the devil is gone out of thy daughter."
It goes on: "And when she was come into her house, she found her daughter laid upon the bed, and the devil gone out."
Bede - On account then of the humble and faithful saying of her mother, the devil left the daughter; here is given a precedent for catechising and baptizing infants, seeing that by the faith and the confession of the parents, infants are freed in baptism from the devil, though they can neither have knowledge in themselves, or do either good or evil.
Pseudo-Jerome - Mystically however the Gentile woman, who prays for her daughter, is our mother the Church of Rome. Her daughter afflicted with a devil, is the barbarian western race, which by faith hath been turned from a dog into a sheep. She desires to take the crumbs of spiritual understanding, not the unbroken bread of the letter.
Theophylact - The soul of each of us also, when he falls into sin, becomes a woman; and this soul has a daughter who is sick, that is, evil actions; this daughter again has a devil, for evil actions arise from devils. Again, sinners are called dogs, being filled with uncleanness. For which reason we are not worthy to receive the bread of God, or to be made partakers of the immaculate mysteries of God; if however in humility, knowing ourselves to be dogs, we confess our sins, then the daughter, that is, our evil life, shall be healed.
- text taken from by Saint Thomas Aquinas, translated by William Whiston, 1842