Matthew 15:10-20, 21-28

Commentary Excerpt by Tom Boomershine

The sound track that links the first part of this story together is the contrast between what goes into the mouth and what comes out of the mouth. This motif is introduced at the end of the first episode "It is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.” This same motif is picked up and developed in the episode after Peter asks him to explain this saying: "Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth enters the stomach, and goes out into the sewer? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles." This is a typical verbal thread or sonic echo; in music, a theme and variation. There is development in the verbal thread each time it occurs. If you recognize the logic of this speech, it will be much easier to remember.

The story of the Canaanite woman has only one significant sonic connection around “the dogs:” “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” To which she replies, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table.”This is the central interaction between Jesus and the Canaanite woman. The other thing to notice is the contrast in volume. In the first episode, the woman is shouting. When she comes and kneels before him, her words are quieter and more intense.

The two stories are linked together by the common theme of uncleanness or defilement.In Israelite tradition particularly in the late Second Temple period, there were many potential sources of uncleanness. Two of the most important were eating unclean foods and contact with unclean persons. Gentiles were unclean persons because they ate unclean foods and did not follow the purity laws: washing hands, cooking utensils, sexual practices, etc. Thus, going into a Gentile’s house or eating with a Gentile made a Jew unclean (Peter and Cornelius, Acts 10). Women were also often unclean because of menstrual blood. In both of these stories Jesus is dealing with explicit issues of purity or cleanliness in Jewish tradition.

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